By Filip Bondy
The 1984 NBA draft stands as probably the greatest in the history of the league. Hakeem Olajuwon (#1), Michael Jordan (#3), Charles Barkley (#5), and John Stockton (#16) went on to join the 1996 list of the game's top 50 players of all-time. Also included in the draft were Sam Perkins (#4) and Jerome Kersey (#46). In many ways, this draft changed the NBA.
First of all, this was the last NBA draft in which the top pick was decided by a coin flip. The Houston Rockets pulled some suspicious moves down the season's stretch that made them appear to be tanking games. As a result, the league adopted a lottery format the next season.
Second, there was Hakeem Olajuwon. After his presence, the league began scouting foreign players more actively. Unlike the 1985 draft, when nobody had heard of Manute Bol, today, there is rarely a foreign talent that has not been scouted by the league.
Third, was Michael Jordan's advertising appeal. He was the first African-American athlete to push endorsements into the stratosphere, taking Dr. J's cross-racial appeal to another level.
Fourth, there was Charles Barkley's outspokenness. In his book "Keeping it Real", Larry Platt points to the irony of Barkley's disgust with the outspokenness and attitudes of the younger players, while many of them looked up to Barkley as an example. He became a popular anti-hero with his "I am not a role model" speech and his fights, as well as his wit.
Fifth, there was the change in draft philosophy. Portland pulled one of the all-time draft blunders by drafting Sam Bowie #2 over Jordan. The idea was that you win with size. Everyone believed it back then. Since Jordan, teams have more often went after the best available player.
The author tells the background of a handful of the impact players, summarizing their background, focusing heavily on their college careers, and after the draft, summarizing their careers and impact. More intriguing are the numerous "what-ifs". The Sixers offered Andrew Toney and the #5 pick to Chicago for the 3rd pick, because they wanted Jordan badly. Many scenarios are spelled out, such as if Houston had selected local hero Clyde Drexler with the 3rd pick in the previous season, instead of Rodney McCray. In this scenario, Portland does not draft Drexler, and becomes more likely to draft Jordan. There are scenarios about Houston not tanking, and how it affects the outcome.
The book was very informative and well-written and researched. I have read some complaints that it did not offer a lot of new information. If you know a lot about the college careers of these players, you may not gleam a lot. Their pro impact should be known to almost all who would pick up the book. The main point of the story is explaining how this draft changed the NBA. The author seems to dodge this throughout the book (besides the explanation of the draft lottery's origins), until the epilogue. Then he takes these various stories and ties them up brilliantly.
Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever. Filip Bondy. Da Capo Press. 2007.