It didn't appear like 1984 would be a very good year for Chicago.
The Chicago Cubs seemed certain to go to their first World Series since 1945 before they lost three consecutive games in San Diego. The Chicago Bears were shut out in the NFC championship game. What looked like a Chicago White Sox dynasty after the brilliant pitching in 1983 led the White Sox to the postseason for the first time 24 years broke down with injuries and off-court issues to a below .500 record in 1984. George Orwell had called it: Trouble ahead! And then seemingly all the Bulls' creativity in trading away their leading scorer and losing 14 of their last 15 games wasn't enough to get into the then coin flip for who was expected to be the basketball star of the next generation, Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon.
So the Bulls fell to the No. 3 pick. Houston won the flip when Portland, which had acquired the pick from a previous trade with Indiana for center Tom Owens, called tails and it came up heads. That enabled Houston to select Olajuwon. Portland, in need of a center, went for Sam Bowie. And North Carolina guard Michael Jordan fell to No. 3 and the Bulls.
We know the rest of the story. That draft, which many regard as the best in NBA history, produced with Jordan and Olajuwon four Hall of Fame players, including Charles Barkley and John Stockton; players in Jordan and Olajuwon who won eight consecutive league titles; three players who were league MVPs in Jordan, Barkley, and Olajuwon with a combined seven MVP awards and Jordan and Olajuwon Defensive Player of the Year winners.
And in Jordan, arguably the player most regard as the best in NBA history. But what is the best NBA draft ever?
Here's a look at my top 10:
Bill Walton, Moses Malone, Jamaal Wilkes and George Gervin Hall of Famers. Perhaps should be ranked higher because of star power and seven titles with Wilkes with four from Golden State and the Lakers. That was the heart of the NBA/ABA wars with Malone out of high school as a low round ABA pick and Gervin, also unheralded, and to the ABA before both starred in the NBA. It was a talented draft with Maurice Lucas, who also went to the ABA first, Truck Robinson, Bobby Jones, and John Drew.
Bill Walton playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Rick Barry, Gail Goodrich, Billy Cunningham and Bill Bradley Hall of Famers with some high-level role-playing stars like Bob Love, Jerry Sloan, and the Van Ardsdales. All four of the Hall of Famers played for title teams with only Bradley on multiple champions. Barry was the great talent with some considering him a top 10 all-time NBA talent whose career was marked by controversy with stints in the ABA and NBA.
Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Karl Malone and Joe Dumars Hall of Famers. That was the year of the first lottery drawing after the late-season frenzy in 1984 to lose games to get a chance to draft Olajuwon. That draft also had Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, but the pick was voided and he was selected the next season by Portland and didn't come to the NBA until 1995. That was a deep class with the likes also of Xavier McDaniel, Charles Oakley, Detlef Schrempf, Terry Porter and Bill Wennington (OK, he asked me to put that in). Only Dumars won titles, but the others all were Dream Team stars.
Patrick Ewing was the Number 1 pick out of Georgetown.
Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, Calvin Murphy, Nate Archibald and Dan Issel Hall of Famers. Issel went to the ABA first, but with six Hall of Famers, that's the most of any class. The 1984 class technically claims five with Oscar Schmidt drafted, but he never played in the NBA.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and perhaps Chris Bosh in the Hall of Fame, though all are active now. If the Heat win this season's NBA title, that would be 10 titles for the threesome. James is the best player in this era with four MVP awards and they all still have years to go.
The 2003-04 NBA Rookies.
Chet Walker, John Havlicek, Dave DeBusschere and Jerry Lucas Hall of Famers and All-Star big men like Zelmo Beatty and Len Chappell. It's an often-overlooked class, but all four were on title teams and combined for 12 championship teams. "It's the nature of it that people forget about some of those guys, but that was a heck of a draft class," said Walker, who was wingman for Wilt's great 76ers' title team in 1967.
Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones Hall of Famers. They're by far the winningest group in league history with 27 combined titles, Russell with 11. Russell and Heinsohn also combined for four head coaching titles. Willie Naulls also was an All-Star in that draft and a high-level player in his era. But no draft has produced winning like that one even if it was mostly due to Russell.
Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash likely Hall of Famers. There also were a half dozen others in that draft selected to All-Star games. None, obviously, are in the Hall of Fame yet, but that draft set the stage for the post-Michael Jordan NBA era with Iverson, Bryant, and Nash all winning MVP awards and Bryant and Allen part of seven title teams.
The 1996 NBA Draft Class.
Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Lenny Wilkens, Hall of Famers. That draft concluded the beginning of the modern NBA with Bill Russell in 1956, Elgin Baylor in 1958 and Wilt Chamberlain in 1959. That's arguably five of the top 10 of all time with Robertson, Baylor, and West. Tom Sanders in that draft is in the Hall of Fame for all-around contributions, including playing with the title Celtics. But the Big Three were all Top 50 players and a case could be made for Robertson and West among the top five. They were denied numerous titles because of Russell and the Celtics, but they represented the NBA as much as any.
It only has one top 10 player, but probably No. 1 in Jordan. Olajuwon generally comes in the 10-20 range with Barkley and Stockton more in the second 25 even as Stockton was the career assists leader. But that draft dominated a decade with the Bulls, Houston, Utah and when Barkley was in Phoenix the elite teams of the decade. The late 1950s would have been the top draft if Wilt and Russell were together or with West, Robertson or Baylor as those players created the modern NBA as we know it. Other top 10 players weren't mentioned, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, because they didn't come in with strong classes. Bird and Magic started the same season, but Bird was drafted a year earlier. Abdul-Jabbar was the only Hall of Famer from his 1969 class that had JoJo White, Bobby Dandridge, and Norm Van Lier. Perhaps Shaq and Alonzo Mourning make a case for 1992, but it was weak after that. Baylor in 1958 had only Hal Greer as a Hall of Famer, though Wayne Embry was in that draft and in the Hall of Fame as a contributor, which included playing. Guy Rodgers was a top player in that draft, which put it on the edge of the top 10. Tim Duncan in 1997 was pretty much on his own just before Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, and Vince Carter in 1998 and none drafted in the top four. Julius Erving in 1972 was headed to the ABA in a draft headlined by Bob McAdoo with few other top players. There also are some other drafts that could emerge, like 2008 with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love and 2009 with Blake Griffin, James Harden, and Stephen Curry. It's not easy and is a close choice. You can make the case for others, but it's tough to make a compelling case to top the 1984 draft as the best ever. It turned out to be a pretty good year for Chicago after all.