Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, NBA

Michael Jordan Epitomized Magic Of 1984 Draft, 40 Summers Ago

In 1984, Michael Jordan was about as close to a real-life superhero as you could get.

There was just something about the way he carried himself, about how he could fly on the court, that made every young kid want to be just like him.

Jordan was entering the NBA out of North Carolina. Back then, he declared for the draft following his junior year.

Think about that. The great Michael Jordan stayed in college for THREE of the four years. Today, a prospect with Jordan's talent would already have been in the NBA for three years.

Not that one way is better or worse. It was just a different era.

You probably know the story. Jordan hit the game-winning shot in the NCAA championship game as a freshman, lifting the Tar Heels to a win over fellow freshman Patrick Ewing and Georgetown.

But you may not know how Jordan's career at Carolina ended. That came in the Sweet Sixteen of the '84 tournament. Coach Bobby Knight and Indiana stunningly found a way to slow down Jordan, at least for one night. Jordan scored 13 points and fouled out of his final college game.

Future Cavs great Brad Daugherty was also a member of that North Carolina team. And yes, former college coach and current analyst/radio host Dan Dakich played a major role in containing Jordan.

So Jordan's NCAA career came to an unceremonious conclusion. But greatness is always measured in success, and not failures, isn't it?


Back in 1984, no one really watched the NBA draft. It may have been on TV, I don't really know. This was the days before ESPN and social media, before the days of countless mock drafts and endless pre-draft workouts.

Most of us just saw who was drafted where in the next day's newspaper, accepted it and went about our business. We weren't a society overrun with screaming 20-somethings pretending they knew more than the people who actually got paid to pick.

The NBA still wasn't much of a thought in 1984, despite the emergence of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. It was growing in popularity, for sure. But it was still buried in the hearts of most sports fans, behind the NFL, baseball, college football, college basketball, and maybe even golf, boxing and tennis, too.

So no one really said much when Jordan was drafted third overall. Hakeem Olajuwon (then known as "Akeem") was chosen first by the Houston Rockets. That made sense. Olajuwon was an amazingly athletic big man, who just happened to play down the road at the University of Houston. The Rockets couldn't wait to pair him next to Ralph Sampson to form The Twin Towers.

And let the record show that Olajuwon (1986) actually reached his first Finals five years before Jordan (1991).

Anyway, after the Portland Trail Blazers went with Sam Bowie out of Kentucky (long story), Jordan was selected third by the Chicago Bulls.

I was a kid and I didn't know much about the Bulls. Again, there was no such thing as ESPN or NBA League Pass. There was no such thing as'"regional sports networks" televising every team's home game.

I grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, just outside of Akron and about a 30-minute drive to Cleveland. If you wanted to watch the Cavaliers, you pretty much had to buy a ticket and go to the game. At that point in my life, I can guarantee I had never seen the Chicago Bulls — live, or otherwise.

I only knew their team colors were red and black. I likely only knew that because of basketball cards or pictures in Sports Illustrated. As soon as I learned the Bulls had drafted Jordan, red and black is what I wanted to be.


Yes, I owned an pair of the original Air Jordans. I somehow coaxed my dad into buying them the day after they hit the market. My father was an extremely mild-mannered man, but I remember him raising a fuss about the price of the shoe.

I'm not sure what they cost — maybe $100. In 1984, that was outlandish for a basketball shoe. But I had to have them. My dad rolled his eyes and caved. He knew basketball was an obsession. I think he was just happy I enjoyed something he also enjoyed. Whatever the reason, he delivered.

The Bulls still weren't on TV, at least not in Cleveland, during Jordan's rookie season. But I read the descriptions of his games in the paper. I watched the occasional Jordan highlight, like maybe one or two a week, on the local news. I remembered how he could fly at North Carolina. I pictured him soaring to the basket in the Chicago red and black.

I also bought ankle weights. I would put them on, put on my Air Jordans and go out to the driveway and jump as high as I could ... over and over and over again.

Jordan is 6-foot-6. At the time, I was about 5-6. But I read a story about how Jordan's older brother was 5-9 and could dunk. Hey, if Larry Jordan could dunk, maybe I could, too.

It was as if I believed the shoes could help me get there. I remember sometimes putting them in my bed, with my basketball, as I secretly listened to Joe Tait call West Coast Cavs games on the radio on a school night.

Little did I know then that those nights would remain among my favorite for the rest of my life.


For the first years of his career, Jordan was viewed as little more than a great individual showman. Eventually, more and more of his games started to show up on cable television.

TBS, also known as "The Superstation," started to show two national games every Friday night. ESPN came on the scene. So did "SportsChannel," the forebearer of FSN or what Ohioans now know as FOX Sports Ohio. Our cable package also carried WGN out of Chicago. So I started to see more of Jordan.

The first time I saw him play as a pro was in 1986. It was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first round. Jordan and the undermanned Bulls were in Boston, facing Bird, McHale, Robert Parish and the rest.

Jordan erupted for 63 points and the Bulls took the game into two overtimes before losing. The Celtics had lost just one home game that season (to Bowie and the Blazers, no less). They went on to win the title. They remain perhaps the greatest team I've ever seen. And a young Jordan almost single-handedly took them down.

A lot of people forget he missed all but 18 games because of a broken foot that season. He had to basically fight with the front office so he could play. Then he scored 63.

I loved that Celtics team; but I still loved Jordan. My fandom only grew after that game.

Then suddenly ... it stopped.


In 1986, shortly after Jordan's playoff masterpiece, the Cavaliers put together a team that everyone who follows the franchise still adores.

They drafted Daugherty at No. 1 overall following a trade with Philadelphia. They took Ron Harper at No. 8. They traded with Dallas to land a second-round pick by the name of Mark Price.

Hot Rod Williams was drafted in 1985, but was also entering his rookie season with that class. (He missed his first year after a point-shaving scandal at Tulsa, but was acquitted of all charges.)

Lenny Wilkens was hired as coach and by 1989, Larry Nance and Craig Ehlo came aboard as well.

My passion for that team had more to do with just growing up near Cleveland. Those Cavs passed, they cut, they hit outside shots and scored down low. They played basketball like you would read about it in the encyclopedia.

Harper was sort of their poor man's Michael Jordan. It wasn't easy to get Jordan to respect (or even acknowledge) his opponent, but he played pool with Harper on occasion.

The 1988-89 Cavs were fantastic. They raced to a 32-9 start. They won all six regular-season meetings against Jordan and the Bulls. Price, Daugherty and Nance became stars that would live on in franchise lore.

They finished 57-25 and in third pace in the Eastern Conference. Jordan and the Bulls were sixth. That meant a first-round matchup, the Cavs owning homecourt advantage.

Back then, the first round was a best-of-five format. Price missed Game 1 with an injured hamstring ... and the Cavs lost. I was stunned. But no big deal. Price came back for Game 2 and the Cavs won.

They lost Game 3 in Chicago, before stealing Game 4 in overtime. That was all they needed, I insisted. The deciding game was coming back to Cleveland. Series over.

Or so I thought.

A few days later, Jordan hit The Shot over Ehlo. Jordan hung in the air ... and stayed there. Just like I always admired him for being able to do. It's why I cherished him for the first four years of his career. On this day, though, that love vanished. It never returned. At least, not the same as it was at the beginning.


Jordan and the Bulls went on to win six championships. That Cavs team advanced no further than the East finals, in 1992, when they lost in six games to the Bulls.

I saw Jordan score 69 against the Cavs in a regular-season game.

I saw Jordan dunk so much at another Cavs game that the people sitting next to me stopped cheering for the Cavs — and clapped only when Jordan dunked.

I saw Jordan torment a very good Cavs team time and again. Eliminating them in the 1989 playoffs, again in 1992, again in 1993. It got to the point where I just stopped going to watch the Cavs play the Bulls.

Jordan cruised to a 6-0 record in the Finals. Meanwhile, those Cavs gave their fans tons of regular-season fun and some real hope. But they never came very close to a ring.

By the 1990s, I had moved past the hero stage of rooting for professional athletes. By 1997, I was sick of hearing about Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and "The Unbeat-a-Bulls."

What started as an innocent enthusiasm for a favorite athlete eventually turned to annoyance. By the time Jordan won his sixth title, I had started my career as a sportswriter. I went from wide-eyed boy to somewhat skeptical young man. I viewed sports a lot differently.

But on the day Jordan announced he was retiring from the Bulls for good, I came to really appreciate him one final time.

I remember where I was, sitting alone in my fairly empty Wyoming apartment, staring at the television. It was a time in my life when I was trying to push ahead to a life of writing about the NBA. I didn't know if I'd get there. I just knew I wanted to.

And as I watched the news, I knew the man they were talking about, Michael Jordan, was one of the driving forces behind my career decision. The world he created had a major influence in me wanting to be involved with the pro game, somehow, someway.

That's why I've never cared about those "greatest ever" debates. Jordan was just Jordan. For those of us who actually experienced it, that will forever be amazing enough.

He could fly. And because of that, in our own way, we believed that maybe we could, too.

(This article was originally published on Hoops Wire and republished with permission.)