Michael Jordan missed his name being called out at the 1984 NBA Draft for a very personal reason. Some people say it was because he had just been cut from the University of North Carolina, while others believe that he didn’t want to make any scene on TV and give away who would be drafted first overall. We may never know why MJ skipped hearing his own name but one thing is certain: as soon as this happened, it became an iconic moment in basketball history.
It’s now considered one of the major rites of passage for NBA hopefuls. A player steps onto the stage after hearing his or her name called during the NBA draft, exchanges an embrace with the commissioner, dons the cap of the team that picked him (even though he’ll never wear that team’s uniform, an argument for another day), and enters the brotherhood. That wasn’t always the case, however. After the commissioner called his name, one of the best players in recent NBA history never went across the stage. Michael Jordan, on the other hand, had a typical Jordan justification for bypassing the draft.
The NBA Draft of 1984 was not a primetime event. Instead, the 37th annual player selection in the league’s history was held throughout the day. It broadcast on USA Network, a cable station accessible in tens of thousands of households throughout the United States. With all of the excitement surrounding the draft, it’s easy to forget how far the NBA has gone in only a few decades.
All we heard when the Chicago Bulls signed Michael Jordan was his name.
The NBA Draft of 1984 features a number of historical facets. The top selection was chosen by a coin flip in the previous draft. In 1985, the NBA instituted a draft lottery.
That’s because the Houston Rockets sank hard in 1984 to reclaim their place at the basement of the Western Conference. For the second year in a row, Houston was selected #1 overall. Because of the trade of basketball icon (checks notes) Tom Owens, they won the coin flip from the Portland Trail Blazers, who had owned the Indiana Pacers first-round selection three years before.
After drafting the best big man available in 1983, the Rockets went big again. In 1983, they picked Virginia star Ralph Sampson, and in 1984, they stuck close to home. Hakeem Olajuwon, a center from the University of Houston, was chosen by Houston. As a result, the Twin Towers were built.
Portland took a big guy with the second overall selection. They plucked Sam Bowie, a terrific big guy with weak legs, from Kentucky, where he needed six years to complete his four seasons of eligibility with the Wildcats.
Michael Jordan was selected third overall by the Chicago Bulls. The rest, as they say, is history, with six championships, five NBA MVP honors, a Rookie of the Year trophy, ten scoring crowns, and the honorary title of “greatest player ever” from many observers.
Jordan opted out of the draft for a Jordan-esque reason.
Olajuwon wore a black tuxedo with a bright red bow tie while holding aloft a catsup-and-mustard-colored Rockets jacket at the Felt Forum inside New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Michael Jordan, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen at the Felt Forum or anywhere in New York.
He was preoccupied with other matters. Jordan was in Bloomington, Indiana, on June 19, 1984, the day of the draft, training for the United States Olympic basketball tryouts.
Jordan and a few other players traveled to a TV studio in Bloomington to watch a remote broadcast, according to Sean Devaney of The Sporting News. Before returning to the Indiana University campus for practice, assistant coach George Raveling brought the group to McDonald’s.
Jordan did, in fact, purchase lunch from a Bloomington McDonald’s after learning of his draft destiny. He was living it up in style.
On a roster that featured future Hall of Famers Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing, Jordan led Team USA to a gold medal in the Los Angeles Olympics. Jordan was joined on the team by Leon Wood, Sam Perkins, Vern Fleming, and Jeff Turner, all of whom were first-round choices in 1984.
Michael Jordan proved to be the most talented of the group.
The top choice in the 1984 NBA Draft, Hakeem Olajuwon, was in New York to hear his name called, but Michael Jordan was not near Madison Square Garden when the Chicago Bulls took third overall. | Getty Images/Bettmann Archive | Getty Images/Bettmann Archive
Following the Olympics, Michael Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls and went on to have a successful career. Olajuwon, another Hall of Famer from the 1984 NBA Draft, felt the same way. Bowie’s career didn’t go as planned, as he fractured his leg (again) in his second season after a respectable, but not remarkable, NBA career.
In addition to Jordan and Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton, both Hall of Famers, were selected in the first round. Oscar Schmidt, a Brazilian hero who never played in the NBA but was drafted in the sixth round by the New Jersey Nets, brings the total number of Springfield honorees in that selection to five.
When Michael Jordan was picked, he never got to hear his name announced or meet the commissioner. Jordan, in true Jordan form, was preoccupied with basketball and didn’t have time for the fanfare.
Basketball Reference provided the draft information.
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