The 1984 NBA draft that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan changed the landscape of the league for years to come. Olajuwon was the Houston Rockets’ No. 1 pick, while MJ was nabbed by the Chicago Bulls as the third name off the list.
Bill Simmons, who did an in-depth look at the draft, was stunned by a mouthwatering what-could-have-been had the Rockets done everything right. Had Houston pulled off a string of masterstrokes, they could have been a dynasty in the 1980s.
“That’s a staggering what if! MJ playing with a super-duper star center? Drexler becoming MJ’s Pippen? It’s like imagining a Microsoft-Apple merger in 1981 or Hulk Hogan being in a Rocky movie.”
(Hulk Hogan did appear in 1982’s “Rocky III.”)
The Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers had the first two picks of the 1984 draft. Houston was enamored with Hakeem Olajuwon despite already having a 7-foot-4 All-Star in Ralph Sampson. Portland, on the other hand, was still looking for Bill Walton’s replacement after injuries robbed the big man of his true impact.
Had Houston accepted the Blazers’ offer of Clyde Drexler and the No. 2 pick for Sampson, NBA history would have been vastly different. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler would have ruled the league.
Simmons also emphasized that Olajuwon ruefully included in his autobiography how his team failed to grab a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:
“The Rockets could have had a lineup with me, Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan. … But the Rockets never made the move.”
The Blazers didn’t want to draft Jordan as they already had Drexler. The late Bobby Knight, who coached MJ at the 1984 Olympics, implored then-Portland general manager Stu Inman to draft Jordan and play him at center.
The Blazers refused Knight’s advice and ended up committing one of the biggest blunders in draft history by getting Sam Bowie. The 7-foot-1 center from Kentucky had a career beset by injuries.
How dominant would the trio of Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler have been?
Hakeem Olajuwon won two championships and Drexler one (in 1995 after being traded in February) without Michael Jordan on the Houston Rockets. Having them on the roster at the same time would have annihilated the competition.
From 1991 to 1998, the NBA was ruled by teams led by “The Dream” and “His Airness.” Jordan earned six NBA Finals MVPs while Olajuwon got the other two. There’s no doubt that they would have figured things out.
Drexler wouldn’t be a slouch either as the third option on offense. He sometimes played the three spot, when the situation called for it, with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Clyde the Glide” would have had no problems playing alongside Jordan.
(Drexler and Olajuwon also played together with the University of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama, one of college basketball’s most iconic teams.)
Had the trade happened, the NBA would have seen a starting unit made up of John Lucas and Michael Jordan in the backcourt. Clyde Drexler would have gotten the small forward role, while Hakeem Olajuwon would man the middle. Whoever the Rockets play at power forward, maybe Robert Reid, wouldn’t even matter.
If healthy, they would have been tough to deal with even during the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson era. The 1990s would have undoubtedly belonged to them, if not much of the 1980s.