I REMEMBER ... Rod Thorn
Former Chicago Bulls general manager
Thorn, now 69, would have taken Olajuwon (right, next to David Stern) but not Bowie (left) with the No. 1 pick.
he Portland Trail Blazers’ selection of 7-foot-1 Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft is widely regarded as a colossal mistake. But that’s not fair, says the man who selected Jordan: former Bulls general manager Rod Thorn. Portland already had two solid wings and needed a big man. Plus, Thorn says, nobody had any
inkling Jordan would become the greatest player in the history of the league. Houston had the first pick as the result of a coin toss and used it to take Hakeem Olajuwon. Then Portland picked second ahead of Chicago at No. 3. Thorn, now the president of the New Jersey Nets, recounted the most influential draft in NBA history for Sporting News.
Everyone would’ve taken Olajuwon at No. 1, including me. I don’t care what they say today. Unless Olajuwon some way got to 3, Jordan was our guy all along. Our biggest debate among our draft people was, “Who do we take if Portland takes Jordan?” Our debate came down to Sam Perkins and Charles Barkley. We probably would’ve taken Perkins. Portland had Clyde Drexler and Jim Paxson, two very good wing players. Drexler went on to become one of the top 50 players of all time. Portland needed a big player. G.M. Stu Inman, who was one of the better drafters back in those days, told me a month before the draft that if Bowie passed the team physical, Portland would take him. About a week before the draft, I called him and asked, “Did Bowie pass your physical?” He said yes. There are certain guys that if you ask, they might tell you, but it might not be the truth. He was a very straightforward, honest guy. He and I had a good relationship over the course of time. I felt he would tell me the truth, and I would’ve done the same thing for him. Sometimes it’s just fate. I did not have any idea Jordan would become what he became. My feeling was he’d be a good player, hopefully at some point in his career maybe be an All-Star player. Anyone who says they were prescient enough to know Jordan was going to be what he turned out to be, I find that hard to believe. When Michael came into the league, he was not a great shooter. He developed that over the course of his career. He was an incredible athlete—I don’t think he’s given enough credit for that. When he came into the league, he attacked the basket virtually every time. He had incredible body control. He had as fierce a competitive streak in him as anybody I’ve ever seen in sports. Plus, from the start he could play with minor aches and pains and play at a high level. He was the best player we had, right from the first practice. He averaged 28.2 points his rookie year, was the runaway rookie of the year and put the Bulls in the playoffs. By the end of that year, the Bulls knew they had something special. — As told to Matt Crossman
BOWIE, STERN, OLAJUWON: MARTY LEDERHANDLER / AP; THORN: BILL KOSTROUN /AP