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Did Sam Bowie mislead Portland doctors before 1984 draft?

Dec 13, 2012, 8:44 AM EDT

Sam Bowie Getty Images

It is one of the legendary misses of the NBA Draft.

In 1984 Houston had the first pick and took Hakeem Olajuwon in a move no sane person has ever questioned.

But with the second pick in the draft the Portland Trail Blazers took Kentucky center Sam Bowie over North Carolina guard Michael Jordan. Yes, that Michael Jordan. (Charles Barkley, Sam Perkins and John Stockton were also drafted later in that year.) The way the game was played then it was thought you needed a great true center to win (the Lakers had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Celtics had Robert Parish at the time) and that a guard alone couldn’t win a title. Jordan changed that dynamic while Bowie had a career plagued by foot and leg problems and never came near his potential.

Now comes Bowie saying he was not honest with the Portland doctors at the time, the revelation part of a documentary called “Going Big,” which will air on ESPNU Dec. 20 (hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie).

“I can still remember them taking a little mallet, and when they would hit me on my left tibia, and ‘I don’t feel anything’ I would tell ‘em. But deep down inside, it was hurting. If what I did was lying and what I did was wrong, at the end of the day, when you have loved ones that have some needs, I did what any of us would have done…

“I’m 51 years old now and my legs are broke down. I’m very proud, don’t feel like I owe an apology to anyone. The bottom line is: Sam Bowie was drafted before Michael Jordan and you’re gonna have to accept that.”

Bowie had suffered a stress fracture as a sophomore at Kentucky, one that took a couple years to heal, and that was the start of the leg issues that held up his pro career. The revelation that he lied to Portland and NBA doctors about his health before the draft is new.

When ESPN used the quote above to promote their documentary, Bowie denied it to the Oregonian.

“Anybody that knows me, from the hierarchy in the Portland Trail Blazers during my playing days to my teammates to my friends and family, knows I would never deceive or trick or lie to anybody,” Bowie told The Oregonian during a phone interview Wednesday. “I wasn’t raised that way. You can call me a lot of things, but don’t look at me as though I deceived or tricked (the organization).

“I thought I would play 15 years and win a couple championships with the Blazers…

“My discomfort wasn’t to the point where I would say to the Portland Trail Blazers or anyone else, ‘My leg is extremely sore. I wouldn’t draft me. I don’t think I’m going to play a full career in the NBA,’” Bowie told The Oregonian. “That wasn’t the situation at all. The thing that bothers me is that I’m looked upon in some way as a liar. That’s never been my demeanor, my makeup, my character. By no means was I tricking or was it a premeditated position to lie and give somebody damaged goods. To say that I deliberately went into the Portland Trail Blazers’ front office and completely lied to them about my physical being could not be further form the truth.”

As teams do now, Portland had a full battery of tests done on Bowie before they drafted him, including X-rays and MRIs. They looked at everything. The doctors said he was good to go, Portland (which already had a promising young two guard in Clyde Drexler) went with the big man.

The rest of it is history.

  1. brianspider - Dec 13, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    In truth, it would be much more difficult to assess the kind of injuries Bowie had at the time. The MRI was just approved for use that year, and wasn’t common in practice until much later in the 80’s/early 90’s.

  2. fventricle - Dec 13, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    everything happens for a reason…think about what Jordan did for the game as a Bull…maybe things would have gone differently, who knows?

  3. zblott - Dec 13, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    Imagine the Blazers selected Michael Jordan in 1984, played him next to Clyde Drexler who slides over to the 3, still took PG Terry Porter in 1985 (he was the last pick of the first round, so he would have been available), and then convinced 1986 draft pick Arvydas Sabonis (again, last pick so still available) to come to the NBA long before he was a busted-yet-still-very-effective shell of himself in 1995. Remember that Sabonis just got done owning David Robinson in the 1986 World Championships.

    We’d be talking about MJ playing with a better PG than he ever had, Clyde who is obviously not quite Pippen but still great, and a much better center than he ever had. Considering how good Portland was from ’89 to ’92, it’s not a stretch to say Jordan would have been looking at 8 to 9 titles, maybe more if the whole gambling/baseball thing didn’t happened.

  4. funketheanalrapist - Dec 13, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    “when they would hit me on my left tibia, and ‘I don’t feel anything’ I would tell ‘em. But deep down inside, it was hurting”

    “Anybody that knows me, from the hierarchy in the Portland Trail Blazers during my playing days to my teammates to my friends and family, knows I would never deceive or trick or lie to anybody,”

    I’m not saying that other players don’t do this exact same thing, and Portland found nothing concerning enough not to draft him, but I don’t think anyone ever explained the definition of lying to Sam.

  5. Chris Fiorentino - Dec 13, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    I think the Blazers taking Oden over Durant will always be a bigger mistake. Everybody knew Oden had leg problems and their talent was at best even. The league is clearly not a big man’s league…there’s Howard then everybody else…and look how well the Lackers are gelling with him on the team.

    The Blazers got themselves talked into the whole “once-in-a-generation big man” hype instead of taking the healthy safer pick…which was Durant.

    • daddyghi - Dec 14, 2012 at 1:26 AM

      durant? safer pick? the guy cant even lift weights at a pre-draft camp…

  6. lemfaxx - Dec 13, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    Bowe, oden and roy… Its sad

    • bigmeechy74 - Dec 13, 2012 at 3:55 PM

      Not sure what a kansas city chiefs wr has to do with this….. but whatever

  7. magicbucs - Dec 13, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    At zblot…. Drexler was better than pippen. Carried the blazers to the finals. Pippen couldn’t get past the first round of the playoffs without MJ. Drexler was a better scorer too

  8. blazertop - Dec 13, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    The Blazers wanted to trade that #2 pick and Clyde to Houston for Ralph Sampson. Houston would have picked Akeem #1 and Jordan #2, and would have got Clyde in the trade. Dumbest trade Rockets never made.

  9. davidcl77 - Dec 13, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    Bonehead organization. There’s a reason why the Celtics and Lakers are who they are. Red and Jerry were masterminds. Look at all the #1 picks the Clippers had and always stunk until they got Griffin.
    But hey, why would the Trailblazers have wanted Durant? They got Oden, and he’s famous…. For showing his weinke on the Internet!

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