If the NBA TV documentary The 84 Draft accomplishes nothing else, it answers the question of what the Portland Trail Blazers could possibly have been thinking when they chose Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. However, it has a lot more to offer than that. It's an entertaining, insightful look at perhaps the biggest draft in NBA history, one that produced Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton.
Today the NBA draft is a prime-time event seen by millions worldwide, but 30 years ago it was held on a Tuesday afternoon at New York City's Felt Forum and most of the top picks didn't even attend. Interest was low enough that the NBA paid the USA cable network to produce the draft. This probably didn't matter to the Houston Rockets, who for the second straight year had won the number one pick. Houston chose 7-foot center Hakeem Olajuwon, who joined the previous year's top pick, 7-4 Ralph Sampson. Together, Olajuwon and Sampson formed what was known as the "Twin Towers."
The Blazers had the second pick and needed to chose between Bowie and Jordan. Believe it or not, there actually seemed to be good reasons to take Bowie over Jordan at the time. Bowie seemed to have all the necessary qualities to be a successful NBA center, and for decades it had been conventional wisdom that center was the most important position. In fact, a decade earlier the Blazers had drafted 7-foot Bill Walton, who led them to a championship. Furthermore, Portland already had talented guards, including Jordan-like Clyde Drexler. But the leg problems that had plagued Bowie at the University of Kentucky - he missed two full seasons due to a stress fracture - resurfaced in Portland and effectively ruined his career. Jordan, meanwhile. . . well, you know already. It's funny to see him in an interview expressing hope that he can "contribute" to the dismal Chicago Bulls.
Also funny is the sheer number of weight-related nicknames Barkley had when the Philadelphia 76ers took him out of Auburn University with the fifth pick. Given Barkley's famously brash personality, it's no surprise to hear that he suggested ending his team's losing streak by focusing the offense on him. Stockton would never have made such a pronouncement; playing at small Gonzaga University, he figured he would turn pro - in Europe. Instead, the Utah Jazz selected him with the 16th pick, and he went on to set NBA records for assists and steals.
But the film doesn't focus solely on the draft's stars. Some of the most interesting stories concern lesser names. Rick Carlisle, for example, was a third round pick out of the University of Virginia who managed to earn a spot on a Boston Celtics roster featuring several future Hall of Famers, win a championship and become friends with Larry Bird. Carlisle's playing days came to an end in New Jersey, but it was there he began his coaching career. Today, Carlisle has won Coach of the Year honors and led the Dallas Mavericks to the 2011 championship. Leon Wood was drafted much higher - 10th overall by the 76ers - but proved to be a mere journeyman. He eventually returned to the NBA as a referee, making calls against men he had once played against.
The most inspiring part of the film concerns Oscar Schmidt, who grew up loving basketball in Brazil, home to the world's most passionate soccer fans. It was widely believed in 1984 that foreign players couldn't make it in the NBA, but the New Jersey Nets were willing to take a chance on him. They offered him a generous contract, but Schmidt turned it down because it would have meant having to give up playing on Brazil's national team, which he considered far more meaningful. Schmidt showed the NBA just what it was missing when Brazil faced a seemingly unbeatable U.S. national team in the gold medal contest of the Pan Am Games in 1987. Brazil trailed by 14 points at the beginning of the second half, but Schmidt put on a brilliant performance and powered his team to victory. He played until he was 45 and scored approximately 49,000 points during his career.
The 84 Draft is a valuable record of an important moment in NBA history. It's good enough that even a Blazers fan will enjoy it. Well, probably.