30 Years Later, the 1984 Draft class gets its due in NBA documentary
MANILA, Philippines – In case you slept in this morning or didn’t hear news of the special, NBA TV released its latest documentary on June 10 (PH time) which centered around the 1984 NBA Draft Class.
Titled ‘The 84 Draft’ and narrated by Steve Nash, the program took a look at certain players picked during the 1984 NBA Draft and what they accomplished in their respective NBA careers. While we didn’t get much inside track and information except for a few nuggets – Julius Erving for Michael Jordan, anyone? – NBA TV managed to do an incredible job of focusing not only on personalities from the ’84 class to have memorable careers, but even a few that went under the radar and carved out different paths.
As ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon stated towards the end of the documentary, many regard the class of 1984 to be the best ever. Different years could possibly have a say in the conversation, like 1996 and 2003, but it’s safe to assume that the draft from 30 years ago played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of the NBA today, not to mention the way we approach the game of basketball.
Obviously, you can’t look at the 1984 draft class without thinking of the third overall pick, who went on to become arguably the greatest basketball player in history. But there were many other great players and stories that NBA TV did a fantastic job of centering on as well.
The media, basketball fans, and almost everyone else love Michael Jordan. However, all throughout the documentary, it didn’t feel as if MJ was being singled out as the best of the crop, even if it is a fact recognized around the world. True, he was the most successful out of everyone from that class, but he did not receive more attention in the documentary compared to, say, Hakeem Olajuwon or Charles Barkley. Even guys who aren’t as widely recognized in the books of NBA history such as Rick Carlisle and Dan Trant (rest in peace) were given a lot of the spotlight, and it was something very refreshing – especially for basketball purists.
This is something we should commend NBA TV for. MJ is an attractive draw, and highlighting most of the special on “His Airness” would have probably increased ratings further. But they did not go this route, and I believe it’s what made the whole thing much better. After all, the documentary was titled ‘The 84 Draft’ and not ‘Michael Jordan and the rest of the Crew.’
Discounting the six-time world champion, the order of players from 1984 who turned out to have the most accomplished careers goes as follows: Olajuwon, Barkley, and John Stockton, etc. We all knew why Houston picked Hakeem No. 1 in the draft, but it was nice to get more vantage points on the issue, which also affected Portland’s choice at No. 2 – and critics have made sure to never let the latter forget about it.
In the early decades of NBA basketball, having a big man who can dominate in the post was essential for every team. Frankly, that philosophy remained constant until 2011, when the Dallas Mavericks won by leaning on the shoulders of Dirk Nowitzki, who operated mostly from the perimeter. The revolution of “small ball basketball” took a step further the year after, when the Miami Heat utilized the method to win its second franchise championship and the first of what could possibly be three straight by using the same style of play.
But, 30 years ago, it was a different story. After acquiring big man Ralph Sampson the year before, the Rockets saw an opportunity to create a dual machine in the paint by adding Olajuwon to the mix. It was a smart decision, as Houston made it to the NBA Finals two years later and was guided by Hakeem to two straight titles eight seasons after.
Portland, which was debating whether to take Jordan or Sam Bowie, took the second because they believed in the tradition of having a dominant big. It should be noted that this was a time when the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics were ruling the league. While those two had Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, they also had dominant guys inside like Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Kevin McHale. The Trail Blazers, believing pairing up their current star Clyde Drexler with a big like Bowie would propel them to greater heights, took the seven-footer, altering the course of basketball history.
You know how the rest of the story goes, as Bowie flamed out to a forgettable career while MJ rose to Basketball Nirvana. But digging in deeper, Jordan’s success opened a new theme in the league where perimeter players began to dominate, and he spearheaded the movement. Magic and Bird were pretty monumental, too, but they played at a time where big men still ruled the association. With Jordan’s airborne talents, the league shifted to a new direction, with the help of marketing by brands such as Gatorade, Nike, and many others. Moreover, as basketball’s popularity rose in European countries, players wanted to “Be like Mike” more than they did Kareem, paving the way for today’s game, where it’s a necessity for a power forward – and sometimes a center – to be able to spread the floor.
However, tradition is still tradition, and NBA teams continued to draft bigs first overall until recent memory. The Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards picked Michael Olowakandi and Kwame Brown, respectively, during the turn of the century, and that didn’t turn out so well. Later on, Houston gambled their future on another big – Yao Ming – while Portland hoped for the best by selecting Greg Oden, but the careers of both guys malfunctioned due to injuries.
No post-dominant center has been selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft since 2008, adding more fuel to the discussion of how the game has changed. Jordan’s success, which was preordained by the Blazers’ selection of Bowie, had a lot to do with that.
The documentary also had other noteworthy moments such as how Barkley used the try-outs for Team USA to increase his draft stock, while Stockton likewise did the same. I was also impressed by the story Leon Wood, the tenth overall pick of the draft, who went on to become an NBA referee. There are always tales of how lottery picks fail in the big leagues and either become a journeyman or play abroad, but Wood’s tale is unique because he opted to stay in the league by taking on a different challenge.
Carlisle’s part was intriguing because it showed how, sometimes, having a good attitude and establishing great relationships can yield great things in the future, even if you don’t turn out to be the best player on the floor. That was the case with him, as his relationship with Bird while they were teammates played a critical role with the latter offering Rick an assistant coaching position in Indiana. And ironically, Carlisle has gone on to have a better coaching career than the Boston Celtic great.
And of course, there was Oscar Schmidt, who willingly sacrificed an NBA career in order to represent his hometown of Brazil in the national stage – a decision which turned out for the best.
We are a few weeks away from the 2014 NBA Draft, whose class many are heralding to be at par with ’84, ’96, and ’03. With three potential superstars up for grabs and a couple of probable All-Stars rounding up the rest of the crew, 30 years from now we may have another show dedicated to this year’s incoming rookies.
‘The 84 Draft’ was a spectacular special that would be enjoyed by both die-hard and casual basketball fans. From the different tales of the class members, to the tear-jerking tribute to Trant who died on the tragic day of 9/11, to how the events of yesteryears have influenced today’s brand of basketball, the documentary is definitely a must-watch. - Rappler.com
Naveen Ganglani is a sports journalist for Rappler.com who has covered leagues both international and in the Philippines. He also watches way too much movies and TV and plays video games way too often. Follow him on Twitter: @naveenganglani