Some drafts stand out more than others. The 1983 NFL Draft saw John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly all go in the first round, for example. You could argue that the 1984 NBA draft was just as significant. Although he wasn’t the No. 1 pick, Michael Jordan is the basketball player many consider the greatest of all time.
Let’s look at the two players who were drafted before Michael Jordan and try to determine what the respective teams were thinking when they passed on the future Hall-of-Fame shooting guard.
No. 1 draft pick: Hakeem Olajuwon
After taking the University of Houston to heights it had never seen, there was no question about Hakeem Olajuwon being the consensus choice for the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
The center was an excellent player for the Cougars, so it made perfect sense for him to stay in town. The Houston Rockets severely lacked a post presence and he stepped in and became one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Olajuwon’s NBA career was cemented by back-to-back championships he won in Houston. Many have argued about whether the Rockets would’ve won those titles if Jordan didn’t abruptly retire. Jordan missed a full season and part of a second between his two three-peats in Chicago.
Those matchups would’ve been amazing to see. We wonder how the Bulls front line would have handled the player widely viewed as the best center in the NBA, even embarrassing league MVP David Robinson in their head-to-head playoff matchup in 1994.
No. 2 draft pick: Sam Bowie
This is the pick everyone remembers most from this draft. The Portland Trailblazers passing on Jordan has gone down as one of the biggest mistakes in sports history.
The team acquired the pick in a trade with the Indiana Pacers for Tom Owens, who ended up playing just one season with Indiana. With a young shooting guard already established in Clyde Drexler, the Trailblazers felt like they didn’t have a need for Jordan at one of the wing positions.
Instead of taking the better player, the team chose Sam Bowie at the center position. Bowie was plagued by injuries throughout his career and is viewed as one of the NBA’s biggest draft busts of all time.
For his career in Portland, he averaged 10 points and eight rebounds per game, while playing in just 42% of the games during four full seasons with the Blazers because of leg and foot injuries. Even by those standards, Jordan was head and shoulders a better player than Bowie out of the gate.
No. 3 draft pick: Michael Jordan
After Portland passed on Jordan at No. 2, the Bulls quickly selected him as the cornerstone of Chicago’s franchise. All he did was average 28 points per game as a rookie, while winning his first scoring title by his third season, putting up over 37 points per game.
So we believe even if Bowie were healthy during his time in Portland, his impact wouldn’t have been as significant as Jordan’s. MJ went on to lead the team to six NBA championships in an eight-year span. He also won five MVP awards, was a 10-time scoring champion, and made 14 All-Star teams.
Do you think the Blazers regret passing on Michael Jordan?
The NBA draft isn’t an exact science. Everyone knows this. However, we think it’s fair to ask what the Trailblazers were thinking on draft night.
Michael Jordan had already proved himself as one of college basketball’s most clutch players. Portland passing on him changed the course of the NBA forever.