The 2014 NBA Draft, which is being widely touted as maybe the deepest Draft in recent memory, is just weeks away. It will provide an opportunity for several franchises to impact their teams and shape their futures.
It is also perhaps perfect timing NBA TV will debut a terrific documentary on a Draft three decades ago that still stands as the greatest draft in NBA history.
The documentary, with the hashtag-friendly title “THE84DRAFT,” first airs on NBA TV on Monday, at 9 p.m. ET. This is the latest film in NBA TV original’s line of documentaries, like last year’s Emmy Award-winning “The Doctor” and 2012’s “The Dream Team.” Steve Nash, who was part of his own iconic Draft class in 1996, narrates “THE84DRAFT,” which is jammed with footage basketball fans will thrill to see.
Even a casual sports fan has felt the reach of the ’84 Draft, as it contained players who literally changed the game forever, like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and John Stockton. Yet what made the 1984 draft so special isn’t just the five Hall of Famers it produced, rather the compelling stories from players picked deeper in the draft, even down to the final selection.
Watching the footage of the actual draft broadcast, it’s clear that things are radically different now. Three decades ago the draft was called the “college” draft, a word not immediately associated with current drafts. The 1984 draft happened during daytime hours and was aired on USA Network. Olajuwon, the first overall pick by Houston, was in attendance wearing a tuxedo, and was greeted by a mustachioed David Stern, who was presiding over his first draft as commissioner of the NBA. The team representatives in the Felt Forum sat at banquet tables, and empty seats ringed the event floor.
The television broadcast ended after two rounds, but the Draft went on for a whopping eight more rounds for a total of 10. By the time they got to the later rounds, teams were burning picks on novelties, like when the Bulls drafted Carl Lewis in the 10th round. But there were plenty of key contributing pieces to be unearthed in those middle rounds. With the 70th overall pick, the defending champion Boston Celtics drafted Rick Carlisle, who says of going to such an established team, “I thought it was death for any kind of career.” While Carlisle managed to make the Celtics and win a title, his career as a player ended a few years later. But he moved into coaching in 1989 and has been on NBA sidelines ever since, winning a title in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks.
One wrinkle in the 1984 draft story is the 1984 Olympic trials, which were held in Bloomington, Ind., just weeks before the draft. With numerous NBA scouts in attendance, Barkley used the opportunity to showcase his all-around game, repeatedly going coast-to-coast and dunking against the better wishes of Olympic coach Bobby Knight. Barkley did not make the cut for the Olympic team.
Stockton, largely unknown out of Gonzaga, also didn’t make the Olympic team’s final cut. But, he proved his mettle against the nation’s best players and was selected 16th overall.
Leon Wood made that 1984 Olympic team and was the 10th overall pick in the ’84 Draft, drawing comparisons to Isiah Thomas. But Wood never found a home in the NBA and ended up playing overseas. If his name sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because Wood eventually made it back to the NBA, where he’s been a referee since 1996.
The most entertaining character in “THE84DRAFT” may be Oscar Schmidt. The legendary Brazilian player –fifth Hall of Famer in this draft class — was well known for his exploits with the Brazilian National Team and his club teams in Italy, where a young Kobe Bryant grew up admiring him.
“Oscar Schmidt was like my Larry Bird, but I actually liked him,” Bryant says with a laugh. “You know what I mean? He was Bird before I had a chance to see what Bird really was.”
Schmidt remains incredulous even today over being drafted in the sixth round of the ’84 Draft by the New Jersey Nets. But when the Nets offered him a guaranteed contract, he had to turn it down because it would have invalidated his international amateur status with Brazil.
Plenty of time is devoted to the marquee names of the ’84 Draft, including the thought process that led to the Portland Trail Blazers passing on Jordan to draft Sam Bowie with the second overall pick. The Bulls snagged Jordan with the third pick, and former Bulls GM Rod Thorn remembers getting a call from an assistant coach after the first day of practice and being told: “You didn’t mess this draft up.”
In many ways, the 1984 Draft framed the future of the NBA. These players changed the way basketball was played, not only in the NBA but also around the world. Thirty years later, it’s still a story worth telling.