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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.

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