Column: Remembering The Famous 1984 Draft With Jim Petersen

The 1984 Draft featured five future Hall of Famers, including Michael Jordan (right) and John Stockton (left). There is always room for debate, but the 1984 Draft—which celebrated its 30th anniversary on Thursday—remains arguably the best in league history.
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by Mark Remme
Web Editor
@markremme

Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of the 1984 NBA Draft. It’s an event that’s become synonymous with greatness, not only because of the Hall of Fame players (there were five of them) that came out of that group but also the collection of strong role players and future coaches/basketball personalities that were part of that group. The ’84 Draft, today, is widely viewed as the greatest of all time. And with NBATV’s “The 84 Draft” documentary, which premiered in May, a new era of NBA fans can begin to appreciate just how good that Draft was.

I thought it would be fun to sit down and chat with our own Jim Petersen, the Wolves’ longtime color analyst who was selected 51st during that Draft, to talk about his personal memories from the Draft process as well as his impressions on the greatness of those players. So I chatted with him on Friday and had a great time re-hashing the past. You can hear the full interview on a special edition of my podcast this week, and I’ll also be writing a story about Petersen’s road to the NBA and some of the interesting twists and turns he went through along the way.

Jim Pete is one of the great basketball minds and personalities I’ve been around, and it’s incredible listening to him think back 30 years to one of the most important times of his professional life. I thought I’d go through a few of them on this week’s Full Timeout:

The Jordan Debate

The biggest debate of the 1984 Draft, which will forever live in NBA trivia games, is who would go No. 2 overall. The Houston Rockets had the top pick, and there was no debate there. They were taking Hakeem Olajuwon, the big man from Houston who helped Phi Slama Jama become a nationally-known powerhouse in the early 1980s. Olajuwon would eventually go on to be one of the top centers in NBA history, and he’s widely known for being perhaps the most technically-sound big to ever play the sport. The Dream Shake was, well, virtually unstoppable. When he snagged two NBA titles during the non-Jordan years of 1994 and 1995, he cemented his status as an all-time great.

But going back to the original thought: Would the Portland Trail Blazers take UNC’s Michael Jordan, or would they opt for Kentucky center Sam Bowie. Bowie was an incredible talent during a time in league history when the NBA played inside out. Adding a center like Bowie could put the Blazers over the top, especially since the team was already talented and had a shooting guard named Clyde Drexler who was going to be a scoring threat for years to come. So Bowie went to the Blazers, and Jordan fell to the Bulls.

Today, knowing Bowie went second makes people cringe. How do you take him over MJ? But back then it wasn’t so cut and dry.

“Getting the big man to go along with that talented team—they would get Terry Porter, too, the next year in ’85. So it wasn’t such a long shot,” Petersen said. “It is now, in hindsight, but back then it wasn’t so much. Portland’s been snake-bitten with their draft history. Whether it be Mychal Thompson broke his leg the first year, Sam Bowie came in and does what he does. Obviously Brandon Roy had his problems, Greg Oden had his problems. So they had this Draft history of being snake bit, but the Sam Bowie thing wasn’t a stretch.”

John Who?

Petersen had a great story about meeting John Stockton for the first time. Back then, Stockton was a little-known point guard out of Gonzaga—long before the Zags became perennial darlings in the NCAA tournament. There weren’t big television contracts, so there weren’t ways to see players like Stockton play on a regular basis (or ever, depending on where you lived). So Jim Pete had never heard of Stockton before, but they met up as part of a post-college tournament on in Montana and ended up on the same team.

In their first practice, Petersen said he went 1-on-1 against Stockton. The future NBA career assists and steals leader kept stealing the ball from Pete, driving to the hole and scoring. Petersen started thinking, OK, this guy has some game.

Then, while the group was hanging out in the house they in during their downtime, Stockton was informed by their coach he received a request from Bobby Knight to attend the U.S. Olympic Trials. That’s when it really sunk in that this relatively unknown player would be special.

“I was like, who is this guy?” Petersen said. “I had no idea who John Stockton was, but I sure found out after that. So John Stockton and I always had this connection because of this barnstorming thing we did in Montana before the NBA Draft.”

Debating The Best Draft Ever

This group’s greatness is well-documented. Not only were there elite players, but they also had role players that turned into exceptional coaches like Rick Carlisle. But during our conversation, Petersen did briefly play devil’s advocate a bit with the ’84 Draft’s legacy, saying the one thing that takes away from this group’s elite status is probably the number of championship headliners in the group. Yes, there were five Hall of Famers, but only Jordan and Olajuwon won titles—albeit they won eight combined. Charles Barkley and John Stockton both went ringless, and Oscar Schmidt, a Brazilian who is basketball’s all-time leading scorer with more than 49,000 points, never played in the NBA. But this class spent the early portion of its NBA journey during the prime years of Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics and Isiah’s Pistons. Then Jordan took over, and there’s only one ring to be won each year.

The two NBA Draft classes that enter the debate for best of all time would be the 1996 group (Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic, Stephon Marbury, etc.) and the 2003 Draft (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony). Who ultimately gets the nod is really up to you individually. But all things considered, when you factor in the number of players who impacted the game during such a very important transitional period in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s hard to argue against the overall pop culture and international importance of the 1984 Draft.

No question, this Draft class will always be special to Petersen.

“A lot of great players, a lot of great stories,” Petersen said. “I’m just proud to be part of the ’84 class.”