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8/Sam Bowie Medical Evaluation and Clearance of Athletes to Play June 19, 1984 “Portland selects Sam Bowie. University of Kentucky.” Commissioner David Stern’s announcement of the second pick in the 1984 NBA draft surprised few people. After all, Bowie had arrived at Madison Square Garden carrying a Portland Trail Blazers jacket. “Sam Bowie, the young man who came back from a stress fracture injury of the left shin bone. He was out for two seasons, redshirted, and he has come back. He has returned strong with Kentucky. And he’s now the second pick in the draft.”1 Those words, spoken by USA Network commentator Al Albert, were followed by an analysis by Lou Carnesecca. The former St. John’s coach complimented Bowie’s quickness, his ability to block and pass, and his ability to run up and down the floor. “I think he’s gonna make a great, great pro,” Carnesecca proclaimed. In reference to Bowie’s two-year injury layoff, Carnesecca remarked, “Well, I think it shows the type of perseverance he has. That he was able to withstand all that misery and come back and perform, and look where he is now.” Moments later, after Bowie had shaken hands with the NBA commissioner, he answered questions from USA’s Eddie Doucette about the evaluation performed by his new team. “Well I went up to Portland, and they gave me about a seven-hour physical. They didn’t let anything out. I don’t know if that’s referring back to the Bill Walton situation. I know he had a stress fracture, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m 100% sound.” Sam Bowie’s selection as the second pick in the 1984 NBA draft is widely considered to be the worst pick in NBA history. It wasn’t that he followed University of Houston center Akeem (now Hakeem) Olajuwon, as much as the player who was taken after him. The Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan with the third pick. Years later, in an ESPNU documentary about his injury-plagued career called 132 / That’s Gotta Hurt Going Big, Bowie denied that there was controversy over the Trail Blazers passing on Jordan at the time. “No one batted their eye. No one said, ‘Do you believe Portland took Bowie before Jordan?’”2 The Portland Trail Blazers entered the draft looking for a big man. In the prior draft, the team had selected small forward Clyde Drexler, an athletic shooter and future Hall of Famer. They also had Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe. They needed a center. In 1977 the Trail Blazers won an NBA championship led by center Bill Walton, but chronic foot injuries limited his effectiveness. Walton left the team in 1979. General manager Stu Inman looked to find a center to guide the team back to the playoffs. Inman had two players in mind to fill the void in the middle. Entering a coin flip that would determine if Portland or Houston would obtain the first pick, the Trail Blazers planned to pick Olajuwon if they won the coin toss and Bowie if they didn’t win it. Larry Weinberg, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers from 1975 to 1988, called that coin toss—unsuccessfully. “I don’t kid ya. I would have been ecstatic if we had won. I’m thrilled that we’ll be having the opportunity to draft the second best player in the college draft.”3 Word spread around the NBA that the Blazers would select Bowie. The team flew him to Portland for a medical evaluation with team physician Dr. Robert Cook. The center discussed the team’s motion offense and how he could play Walton’s former role with head coach Jack Ramsey. Bowie felt confident he was headed to the Pacific Northwest. Not everyone was convinced that Bowie was the best choice, though. University of North Carolina head coach Dean Smith called Inman to lobby for Jordan. Indiana coach Bob Knight, who had coached Jordan in the 1984 Olympics, also implored Inman to draft Jordan. According to ESPN’s Tom Friend, Knight loved Michael’s killer instinct. “But, Bob, I need a center,” Inman argued. “Then play Jordan at center,” Knight responded.4 Even current Blazers Clyde Drexler and Mychal Thompson pushed for the team to pick Jordan, arguing that Drexler and Jordan could become “the greatest backcourt in history.”5 Portland took the center out of Kentucky. After the ESPNU documentary aired in 2012, Harry...


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