The NBA is one of the biggest sports leagues in the world, and I have been a fan for nearly three decades.
Hakeem Olajuwon was the number one pick in the 1984 draft that was not Michael Jordan. To people who did not live in the eighties, this may be a very puzzling choice given what we know today.
However, during the '80s, big men were key to winning as the game emphasized inside play. Think of the prominent big men of the era—Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Bill Laimbeer, and Robert Parish. This was the age of the big man.
Hakeem was indeed a physical specimen. He stood at 7 feet tall and weighed 250 lbs. He had quick reflexes and was quite athletic. Unlike the slow, plodding big man which was common at the time, Hakeem moved like a big guard. He would even at times lead the fast break while dribbling down the court.
While Hakeem was an offensive machine averaging a 21.8 point per game clip throughout his career, he was best known for his defensive presence. He averaged 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks to go with 1.7 steals through his illustrious career. He was a nine-time All-Defensive team selection and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Together with fellow number one selection Ralph Sampson, Hakeem was able to propel the Houston Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals by upsetting the heavily favored Showtime Lakers. They not only scored a 4-1 upset, but also finished off the series in dramatic fashion. With the score tied at 112 and a second remaining on the clock, Ralph Sampson launched a twisting turnaround jumper that sank the Lakers at the buzzer. However, the Rockets fell in six games to Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
The following season, Ralph Sampson was traded to the Golden State Warriors for Eric "Sleepy" Floyd and Joe Barry Carrol. With his tag team partner gone, Hakeem would still be able to carry the Rockets to the postseason but never again to the NBA Finals until 1994.
When Hakeem got a chance to get back into the Finals, he made the most of it by edging the Patrick Ewing-led New York Knicks in seven games. Along the way, he helped dispatch the Portland Trailblazers 3-1, the Phoenix Suns 4-3, and the Utah Jazz 4-1. What was humbling was that Hakeem gave the credit to his teammates for helping him reach the promised land and did not at all hog the spotlight.
The 1994–1995 team was a special team with Olajuwon and Drexler leading the charge. They also had a good mix of role players: Sam Cassell, Mario Ellie, Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, and Robert Horry. The Rockets only won 47 games that year and ended up with the sixth seed and zero home-court advantage in the playoffs. This meant every round they would go through would be against an elite team. The first round was against Karl Malone and John Stockton for the 3rd-seeded Utah Jazz. The second round was against Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson of the 2nd-seeded Phoenix Suns. The Western Conference Finals pitted them against David Robinson of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. The Finals then see them handily vanquish the up-and-coming Orlando Magic led by a young Shaquille O' Neil and Penny Hardaway.
In the 1998–1999 Season, the Rockets had one last chance to win a championship under the Olajuwon era as they had Charles Barkley and a recently acquired Scottie Pippen. This formed a superteam. Though the three players were past their prime, what really sunk them was age and injury. Had this team been formed a few years earlier, this team would have dominated the west. But age, injury, and lack of chemistry ultimately doomed this superteam.
On August 2, 2001, the Hakeem Olajuwon era would end in Houston as he was traded to the Toronto Raptors for a 2002 first-round draft pick (Bostjan Nachbar) and a 2002 second-round draft pick (Tito Maddox).
This marked Olajuwon's last season in the NBA. The Rockets then retired his jersey soon after. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Despite Olajuwon being retired almost two decades ago, he is still very much active in popularizing basketball in Africa. Unlike many basketball players who have spent their fortune on gambling, cars, and women, Hakeem has spent his to promote his Islamic faith, to help orphans, and to help his home country of Nigeria.
Hakeem was not only a legend on the court but off the court as well.
Charles Barkley is known to people today as a TNT analyst for the show NBA on TNT. He is in the panel together with Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O' Neil, and Kenny Smith.
Charles is on the show for his boisterous personality. He has become notorious for hating on analytics people and the women of San Antonio. There was even a time when then-mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, responded to Barkley in a tongue-in-cheek manner where he made fun of Barkley's poor golfing skills as well as his lack of championship rings.
Barkley has also been made fun of because of his love for doughnuts and churros.
Back in his playing days, Charles Barkley was known as "the round mound of rebound." He was a good scorer and rebounder despite being undersized. Charles had the fortune of being drafted to the World Champion Philadelphia 76ers team with Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, and Moses Malone.
Moses took Charles under his wing and taught him how to be a better player and how to get better conditioning. With this Barkley was able to develop and become a star player.
Barkley was a beast for the 76ers and averaged a career-high 28.3 PPG in the 1987-1998 season and 14.6 RPG in the 1986-1987 season. Barkley was a constant double-double threat anytime he stepped unto the court.
Barkley tried his best to bring the Sixers to the promised land but failed to after Dr. J and Moses left. The Sixers were mired in playoff futility as they made the playoffs but were quickly dispatched by the opposing teams. The Sixers failed to surround Barkley with the necessary talent to help him succeed.
Barkley demanded a trade as the Sixers were going nowhere. He was then traded to the Phoenix Suns for a package of Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.
Sir Charles felt rejuvenated in Phoenix. He was surrounded by much better talent. He had Danny Ainge, Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Richard Dumas, and Dan Majerle.
In Barkley's first season with Phoenix, they got the best record in the league with 62 wins and only 20 losses. Barkley also got a long-overdue MVP award for his hard work and leadership. Barkley led the suns with 25.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG, and 5.1 APG. He did this while shooting an efficient 52% on the floor.
Barkley would reach the NBA Finals for the first and only time in his career after going through the Lakers, Spurs, and Sonics. The Suns were a good team but had no answer for Michael Jordan. He had three 40-point games, one 50-point game, and two 30-point games and was simply superhuman. Barkley's Suns lost in six games.
After four seasons in Phoenix, Barkley was dealt to Houston for a package of Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Mark Bryant, and Chucky Brown.
The arrival of Barkley in Houston formed a big three with him, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The trio would have two seasons together but failed to capture a championship ring.
Barkley's third season with Houston saw Clyde retire and be replaced by Bulls legend Scottie Pippen to form a new big three. Barkley and Pippen never got along, and this trio did not produce a ring either.
Injuries started to creep up on Barkley, and he retired after the 1999–2000 season where he only played twenty games.
Despite Barkley's lack of championship hardware, he is still well respected for his accomplishments and was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
John Stockton is best known for being Karl Malone's partner in crime. The duo was successful for two decades and even reached the NBA Finals twice.
John was not a highly touted prospect and fell to the Jazz with the 16th overall pick. He would later join forces with the Jazz's 1985 pick, Karl Malone, to form one of the best one-two punches in league history.
John was not an Allen Iverson-type who had an immediate impact on the league. He was more of a Steve Nash-type who took years to develop. John did not even start many games in his first couple of seasons in the league. He was the backup for point guard Rickey Green.
John was more of a pass-first type of point guard like Steve Nash and not a shoot-first guard like Russell Westbrook. While John's first-year stats were not jaw-dropping in any way, they were solid. John scored 5.6 PPG and had 5.1 APG and 1.3 SPG in limited playing time.
John would slowly get more playing time in the next couple of seasons, and in his fourth season, John was able to achieve a break-out year. He averaged 14.7 PPG, 13.8 APG, and 3 SPG. John would then go to average double figures in both scoring and assists for a decade.
He would go on to compile 15,806 assists, and 3265 steals: both are all-time numbers in league history. He also has played 1,504 games for a single franchise - the Utah Jazz, placing him second all-time after Kobe Bryant.
Stockton and Malone would propel the Jazz to playoff contention in the '80s and '90s. They even reached the NBA Finals twice: in 1997 and 1998. They beat every good team in the West to reach the Finals only to be trounced twice by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
John retired without a ring but is still widely adored for having a hall-of-fame career and holding many individual records. He is widely considered one of the best Jazz players ever and one of the best point guards in the history of the game.
Otis was not a superstar like some of his fellow 1984 NBA Draft compatriots. He was, however, a very good player. Right from the get-go, Otis had potential. He had a very solid rookie season with 12.8 PPG and 6.8 RPG shooting at a 60% clip.
Otis would be an essential part of the Kings' squad along with Reggie Theus as they could score 20 points on any given night. However, the Kings were not a good team and only managed to place 10th in the Western Conference back when the conference had only 12 teams.
After his fourth season with the Kings, he was shipped to Houston in exchange for Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen. Thorpe would provide Houston with another solid scoring option as he was a very efficient player.
Thorpe scored double figures in all his six and a half seasons in Houston as well as average double-digit rebounding numbers thrice. He would even be instrumental in helping Houston win its first championship. Houston placed second in the Western Conference Standings and beat Portland, Phoenix, Utah, and New York to capture the crown.
In Houston's title defense season, they struggled mightily, and in order to break out from the funk they were on, they traded Otis to the Trailblazers in exchange for Clyde Drexler and Tracy Murray.
The swap proved to be successful for Houston as they won the championship with the lowest seed ever (6th seed). They successfully vanquished four elite teams: Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Orlando to successfully defend their crown.
In the meantime, Otis would bounce around the league after his stint in Portland. He would retire after the 2000–2001 season as a member of the Charlotte Hornets.
Michael Jordan was a highly touted collegiate player out of the University of North Carolina. He sank the game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA Championship game against the Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas. The third pick of the 1984 NBA Draft was even better than expected and immediately ran roughshod over the NBA. This maiden season was capped off with Jordan winning Rookie of the Year honors.
Michael was a star from the moment he played in the NBA. As successful as Jordan was individually, it took him a while to achieve postseason success. The Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons proved to be hurdles that Michael's talents could not overcome.
Times changed with the emergence of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. Scottie was the team's lockdown defender that clamped down on the opposing team's best player. Horace was a good interior presence who could defend, hustle for rebounds and block a few shots. Together with Michael, the trio finally vanquished the Detroit Pistons and beat the Los Angeles Lakers to capture Jordan's first NBA championship.
With this, the Bulls became a dominant force in the East and would win two more championships. This time against the Clyde Drexler-led Portland Trailblazers and the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix Suns.
After winning the third championship, Jordan took a short hiatus and tried his hand at baseball. Though he did not succeed at this endeavor, Michael was able to fulfill the dream of his late father, James Jordan, that Michael play Major League Baseball.
Jordan came back in 1995 with the simple statement of "I'm Back." Michael was able to propel the Bulls to a 13-4 record. They, however, fell in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the upstart Orlando Magic. The Magic boasted of two superstars in Shaquille O' Neil and Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway along with three quality starters in Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott, and former Bull Horace Grant. The Magic hastily dispatched the rejuvenated Bulls in six games.
The next season was a challenge for Jordan. A lot of people were wondering if he still had "it." He responded to the challenge by leading the Bulls to a 72-10 record, beating the 1971–72 Los Angeles Lakers' longstanding record. This was the best record ever and was only bested two decades later by the Golden State Warriors. The Bulls would cap this historic season by winning the championship against the Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton Seattle Supersonics.
The Bulls would still be dominant for the next two seasons. They would run roughshod over the league and would beat the Utah Jazz for the next two seasons. In the first matchup with the Jazz, Steve Kerr was the hero by hitting a clutch three-pointer. In the second go-around, it was Michael himself who sealed the deal with a shot over Bryon Russell—thus capping an epic career.
Everyone thought this was a storybook ending to a superb career. Michael would, however, return a few years later with the Washington Wizards. He had clearly declined from what he was in Chicago. He was still, however, a very good player and still better than some of his younger contemporaries.
He never made the playoffs with the Wizards and did not have enough good players around him.
Despite the Washington years, people will always remember the hundreds of highlights and memorable moments in Michael Jordan's career.
To many people, he will always be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time).
Best in the 1984 Draft
Questions & Answers
Question: The top four is a given for sure! What do you think about number five? Even though he never played in the NBA Oscar Schmidt was one of the most prolific basketball players of all time. After that, I would probably throw in Kevin Willis, Jerome Kersey & Alvin Robertson.
Answer: The article is titled "5 of the the best" not "5 of the best" so I included 5 quality players which does not mean they are the only ones in there.
© 2018 Jan Michael Ong
Troy Taylor from Anywhere on February 18, 2018: