At long last, the Utah Jazz walked around in the summer of 1984 with heads held high.
A perennial punching bag since the NBA franchise was born a decade earlier in New Orleans, the Jazz had just enjoyed their finest season — one highlighted by a division championship, their first-ever trip to the playoffs and more individual accomplishments than any team in the league.
The first round of the 1984 NBA draft
Team Player Position School
1. Houston Akeem Olajuwon Center Houston
2. Portland Sam Bowie Center Kentucky
3. Chicago Michael Jordan Guard/forward North Carolina
4. Dallas Sam Perkins Center/forward North Carolina
5. Philadelphia Charles Barkley Forward Auburn
6. a-Washington Mel Turpin Center Kentucky
7. San Antonio Alvin Robertson Guard Arkansas
8. L.A. Clippers Lancaster Gordon Guard Louisville
9. Kansas City Otis Thorpe Forward Providence
10. Philadelphia Leon Wood Guard Cal-Fullerton
11. Atlanta Kevin Willis Center/forward Michigan State
12. b-Cleveland Tim McCormick Center Michigan
13. Phoenix Jay Humphries Guard Colorado
14. L.A. Clippers Michael Cage Forward San Diego St.
15. Dallas Terence Stansbury Guard Temple
16. Utah John Stockton Guard Gonzaga
17. New Jersey Jeff Turner Forward Vanderbilt
18. Indiana Vern Fleming Guard Georgia
19. Portland Bernard Thompson Guard/forward Fresno State
20. Detroit Tony Campbell Guard Ohio State
21. Milwaukee Kenny Fields Forward UCLA
22. Philadelphia Tom Sewell Guard Lamar
23. L.A. Lakers Earl Jones Center District of Col.
24. Boston Michael Young Forward Houston
a-Traded to Cleveland; b-Traded to Seattle
Frank Layden was named the Coach and Executive of the Year — a double unmatched to this day. Adrian Dantley won the scoring title. Mark Eaton led the NBA in blocked shots. Darrell Griffith was the top 3-point shooter. Rickey Green led the league in steals.
"It was an interesting time for the Jazz," said former Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Lex Hemphill.
Things were about to get more interesting, too.
Thirty years ago, the NBA draft that would become the greatest in history was loaded with so many potential stars that teams — most notably Houston and Chicago — purposely lost late-season games to improve their chance of securing a top pick.
The Rockets? They lost 14 of their last 17. The Bulls? They lost 14 of their last 15.
Layden confirms the blatant tanking that took place.
"Yes," he says, "I had a high-ranking executive tell me, ‘It’s a business decision.’"
University of Houston center Akeem Olajuwon (who later changed the spelling of his first name) and North Carolina’s Michael Jordan led the list of mouth-watering prospects.
There were others.
Kentucky’s 1-2 inside punch of Sam Bowie and Mel Turpin, North Carolina’s smooth Sam Perkins and Auburn’s pudgy Charles Barkley all looked like potential stars.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they were positioned far from the scramble for the most highly prized players. Their unexpected success during the season left them with the No. 16 pick. Even in a deep draft, they would be lucky to find a serviceable player.
Or so it seemed.
Houston and Portland ended up in the coin-flip to determine the No. 1 pick, which everyone knew would be the freakishly athletic Olajuwon. Chicago owned the third pick — thanks to all those stretch-run losses — followed by Dallas and Philadelphia.
A month before the draft, new commissioner David Stern flipped the coin. A representative of the Trail Blazers called "tails." It turned out to be "heads," making the Rockets a winner.
In his book "Tip-off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever," author Filip Bondy reported that Houston public relations director Jim Foley tore off his dress shirt. Underneath, he wore a T-shirt. On it, printed in large block letters, was a simple message: AKEEM.
The Portland people in Stern’s office were devastated.
The Blazers were so desperate for a center on a team loaded with perimeter players that they had already been fined a league record $250,000 for illegal contact with Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Olajuwon. Ewing stayed in school another year, but Olajuwon came out and would now be playing for the hometown Rockets.
On draft night, Houston made it official by selecting Olajuwon. Portland followed by taking the injury-plagued Bowie, who ended up playing 139 games in five seasons with the Blazers.
With the third pick, Chicago gratefully grabbed Jordan before Dallas selected Perkins and Philadelphia settled for Barkley over Turpin.
Years later, Olajuwon, Jordan and Barkley ended up in the Hall of Fame. So did an undersized point guard from little Gonzaga University named John Stockton, who remained on the board.
Although he had caught the attention of NBA personnel-types by playing well at the Far West Classic during the holidays and the recent U.S. Olympic Trials, Stockton was hardly considered a sure thing.
Portland was considering him at No. 19 or in the second round and Gonzaga coach Dan Fitzgerald had piqued Stockton’s interest with information the Jazz had made some late inquiries about him.
But Utah? That didn’t make sense.
The team’s point guard, Rickey Green, enjoyed his best season in 1983-84 and played in the All-Star Game. Young backup Jerry Eaves also seemed capable. He scored 21 points and handed out eight assists in a season-ending 146-128 loss to the San Diego Clippers.
"The Jazz certainly didn’t look like they needed a point guard," Hemphill said."
Layden agreed: "It wasn’t a dire need and we hadn’t seen much film on him. But all the reports were good."
Still, Layden wasn’t completely sold on Stockton.
If Phoenix hadn’t taken Jay Humphries of Colorado at No. 13 or Dallas hadn’t selected Temple’s Terence Stansbury at No. 15, Utah might have made a different decision.
Instead, team owner Sam Battistone stepped to a microphone and told a draft-party crowd at the Salt Palace, "This year, the Utah Jazz select John Stockton from Gonzaga."
Nobody cheered. Nobody booed. Everybody just sat there, wondering if they had heard correctly.
"I’m not sure what I was expecting," Hemphill said, "but I don’t remember John Stockton’s name being mentioned by anyone before the draft. I think it was a shock to everyone. There was just silence in the arena. ... It was like, ‘Who?’"
In Spokane, congratulatory phones calls poured into the Stockton home.
In Salt Lake, Layden took a call from Portland general manager Stu Inman, who wondered if the Jazz drafted Stockton so they could trade him.
Layden admits the idea crossed his mind.
"We heard Portland was going to take him after us," he said. "So I thought, ‘Who knows? Maybe we end up making a deal with them.’ But he ended up sticking with us. Thank goodness."
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