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Friday, March 29, 2013

Going Big - Bowie over Jordan

The big debate in basketball circles these days is whether or not LeBron James deserves to be ranked alongside the all time greats, particularly Michael Jordan.  James is showing that he is one of the greatest players of all time.  His statistics are tremendous - big numbers in all of the major categories.  On paper and in action LeBron James is clearly an all time great.  He's one of the few players who is a top scorer as well as a natural passer.  Because he's 6'8" and 240lbs, he's also a true rebounder and capable of rebounding in traffic amongst the sequoias of the NBA.  Now, in his 10th season, James has over 20,000 points for his career, and at age 28 may eventually rewrite the record book before he's finished.

The comparisons to Jordan are justified.  What has been resurrected because of all of this chatter is the fact that Michael Jordan was the 3rd pick of the draft.  LeBron James was the first pick of the draft after his senior year in high school.  Rumor has it that he would have been the first pick after his junior year were such things allowed.  Why was Michael Jordan the third pick?  Who could have possibly been considered superior to him?  Looking at the 1984 draft, we see this: 1) Hakeem Olajuwon 2) Sam Bowie 3) Michael Jordan.

Sam Bowie?

One of the questions in NBA lore has been 'What were the Portland Trail Blazers thinking taking Bowie over Jordan?  Sam Bowie has become a punch line - on the list of Biggest Draft Mistakes Ever Made.

It turns out that this is one of the greatest examples of 20/20 hindsight in sports.  Bowie was a talented, smart and capable seven footer - a rare commodity even in today's wholly international game.  He was also chronically injured.  This documentary clears up all the misconceptions surrounding the pick.  I remember Bowie when he was with the New Jersey Nets, and he could play - he was a double double threat every night and had legitimate size and skill.  What actually happened to Sam Bowie is complex and interesting, as is the analysis of the decision making process behind the pick.  Trail Blazer management used solid decision making skills, caution, good information - and it still blew up in their faces.  Here is what happened over 30 years ago - the explanation behind a seemingly ridiculous decision:

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