Michael Jordan wasn’t dressed in an expensive bespoke suit as he stood on stage in Manhattan to meet commissioner David Stern and smile for the cameras when he was selected for the NBA draft. The NBA Draft was a lot different back in 1984.
Draft Day was not even held at night – instead, it took place on a Tuesday afternoon in New York. Jordan wasn’t even there for the draft; instead, Jordan was engaged in two-a-day practices with Bob Knight, his coach in charge of selecting 12 amateur players for Team USA that would compete at that year’s Olympics. The 1984 Summer Olympics would be held in Los Angeles, and this would be the last amateur US team to win Gold. Of course, in 1988 the Russians upset a US team led by John Thompson, which led to the 1992 Dream Team where NBA players were allowed to play.
George Raveling was one of Knight’s assistants and served as coach of Iowa at that time; Raveling and Jordan became fast friends after meeting during training camp. To accommodate Jordan attending the draft via remote feed, Raveling drove him and two other entrants to a Bloomington television studio, where it could be watched live; Jordan eventually was picked third by Chicago.
After completing the draft, the group had only an hour to return to the Indiana University campus for their second practice session. Raveling asked what everyone wanted for lunch before leaving – Jordan spoke up immediately, with McDonald’s being his choice of food.
Once Jordan had been selected into the NBA in 1984, one of his first acts after entering was visiting a McDonald’s in Bloomington, Indiana.
Times have changed; back in 1984, Coach Knight’s team would be maybe the most incredible amateur basketball team ever assembled. No, forget maybe; they were and still are to this day the most amazing amateur basketball team ever assembled.
After this team was selected, they embarked on a coast-to-coast tour with nine scrimmages against NBA players, winning all nine contests before claiming gold at Los Angeles Olympic Stadium.
Knight’s biggest challenge was selecting a roster, an uphill task indeed. One player present included Villanova star Ed Pinckney, who thought he stood a good chance after playing for Team USA at Pan-Am games back in 1983.
“We took a picture at the camp of all of us who participated and posed for it,” Pinckney recalls. “Now, when I look back at that picture, nearly everyone from that group ended up becoming great players on their respective teams – many had long and successful NBA careers; some went on to become Hall-of-Famers; there were incredible coaches too; it truly was an impressive group.”
Initially, were 74 players in the pool; seven went on to the Hall of Fame — Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Joe Dumars, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin and John Stockton. Pinckney, Michael Cage, Antoine Carr, Dell Curry, Ty Corbin, Sam Perkins, Chuck Person, Terry Porter, Alvin Robertson, Wayman Tisdale, A.C Green were all considered great success within their respective leagues. The talent pool was outrageous for Coach Knight to pick from.
Leon Wood was an NBA bust who later returned as a referee, while Roy Tarpley had tremendous talent but suffered substance abuse issues that derailed his career. Additionally, Pearl Washington (an ex-Brooklyn streetball legend who struggled in the NBA), Kenny Walker and Terence Stansbury made headlines as future slam dunk champions.
“Even at that early time, there was an overwhelming sense that this would become one of the great gatherings of young talent ever seen,” noted scout and journalist Frank Burlison. “From late April through early May, Bloomington saw literally hundreds of these players.”
There were Legendarycoaches like Bobby Knight, Pete Newell, George Raveling, Don Donoher and John Thompson – not to mention Hank Iba from Oklahoma State, who would make appearances. It was truly incredible being courtside while witnessing all these legendary coaches and young players that often become great basketballers themselves.
With so much talent on his roster, Knight found selecting his final roster difficult. Throughout the trials and scrimmages, he displayed his famous temper and stubbornness, drawing reporters’ focus back onto himself rather than the players themselves – precisely what Knight wanted for a more effortless team experience. He lambasted referees at one scrimmage in Milwaukee, punching away the ball to earn himself his third technical foul in seven games!
Knight was involved in an intense exchange with reporters after the game and responded: “What am I supposed to do, stand around while some kid gets hurt who may soon have a million-dollar contract, or has an NBA career coming up due to some idiot with an ignorant whistle who doesn’t know how to blow it? Don’t be ridiculous.” Jordan later commented on Knight and likened him to Dean Smith while noting the only difference was vocabulary usage;
Knight was publically bold yet privately delicate. Aware that there would be some heartache with the initial round of cuts — over 50 young players would be sent home initially — Knight brought in former star player Dave Cowens from the 1968 Olympic trials, Cowens surprisingly did not make the team in 1968, but later earned Hall-of-Famer status with the Celtics, Knight hoped that would comfort some of the great players that were about to be cut.
“He came in and spoke about not making the team, which I found great,” Pinckney recollected. “At first I thought ‘Oh no – hope I don’t go home on the first bus.’ However, his talk was great: perseverance, hard work — all things we took to heart as someone who hadn’t made it!” “So all those guys who eventually had to leave took heart from his words of advice!”
There was significant debate surrounding which players would be sent home. Barkley quickly established himself as one of the three best players at camp during trials, showing off scoring, ballhandling, and passing skills not generally associated with power forwards. Unfortunately, Knight was concerned about Barkley’s height; ultimately, he wanted Jordan as the featured scorer, so keeping Barkley could create a potential chemistry issue – so Knight cut him.
Stockton was also caught off-guard. Arriving from Gonzaga as an unknown, Stockton quickly established himself as one of the premier point guards. However, size ultimately cost Stockton his spot; Knight ultimately chose Leon Wood (6-3) over Stockton as one of his starting point guards.
Knight also took time out during this process to meet with NBA personnel executives his opinions on each player that was cut.
“Coach did something, not many people know about or discuss enough,” Raveling remarked. “He gave all those guys a chance to be seen by pro scouts; in our practices, there were multiple pro scouts who came and talked with our players; when Charles got cut there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was going into the NBA; with John Stockton coach told John: ‘You probably should have made this team, you are good enough; however I will promote you so all scouts and teams know who John Stockton is so they know all about your talents and abilities’.”
“He promoted each player he cut without them even being aware, often by going directly to scouts to explain their exclusion as not due to ability or talent but because their team wasn’t meeting its composition goals.”
….. In 1984, this was the Olympic team that competed:
Centers: Patrick Ewing and Jon Koncak.
Forwards: Wayman Tisdale, Sam Perkins, Joe Kleine and Jeff Turner
Guards: Michael Jordan, Chris Mullin, Steve Alford, Alvin Robertson, Vern Fleming and Leon Wood
While four players averaged double figures at the Olympic games, it is undisputed that Jordan was the star performer during that July and August.
Jordan first showed his pro potential during Team USA practice scrimmages against NBA players. While he experienced early struggles on Team USA’s practice schedule — which took them from Providence, R.I. through Indiana’s Hoosier Dome with its record attendance of 67,596 fans) to Greensboro, North Carolina for their final homecoming game and finally, to Portland, where the team that did not choose Jordan resides.
Larry Drew, then the guard of Kansas City, also faced off against Jordan during a scrimmage game. Jordan scored only 16 points but scored several during a 19-2 run, which Team USA utilized to gain control in the second half. These highlights include an 18-foot jumper, a big dunk, and four free throws made during that run.
Drew noted, “To be completely honest, I hadn’t heard much about Michael Jordan until our exhibition game against them and a subsequent phone call with my brother afterwards to inform him of a kid playing for USA Basketball who I just played against and said something along these lines: ‘There is a kid from this USA team I just played against that we will soon hear more about in the league.’”
After 1984, USA Basketball saw significant change. They suffered their first-ever semifinal loss against the Soviet Union’s team that featured Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis at the 1988 Olympics, then, starting in 1992, began including NBA players.
“Looking back now, Coach Knight accomplished more than we realized then,” Raveling observed. “From inviting hundreds of guys, using all facilities at Indiana, and employing about 30 staff members – everything ran extremely smoothly thanks to him.”
“But as is well-known, some Hall-of-Famers did not make the team. The coach had a vision for what type of team would help us win; we weren’t trying to assemble an All-Star roster; rather, we were selecting players we thought had what it took to win gold medals.” It all came down to team composition – having all the essential pieces necessary for victory was ultimately our mission.”
It was what Knight did at Indiana for years; he fit guys into his system and they excelled and became better as a team than they were as individual players.
No matter what one recalls about the 1984 Olympic team – whether that means Barkley and Stockton were cut, Jordan’s brilliance or Knight’s sharp words – their mission was clear – win gold medal. And they accomplished it!
They won every game by double digits. There was disappointment with the Russians not competing, but in the end, this USA Basketball team was too good for even the Russias, who did have some great players.
In 1984, we did not realize what we were watching as the greatest coach in basketball history teamed up with the most talented basketball player that ever lived. 1984 was a special season.
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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