On June 19, 1984, the professional basketball world was introduced to names like Hakeem – then “Akeem” – Olajuwon, Michael “Air” Jordan, “Sir Charles” Barkley and a point guard few outside of Spokane had ever heard of, John Stockton.
It’s been 30 years since we met them, and given their on-court accomplishments, many have proclaimed the ’84 NBA Draft class as the greatest of all time. But is it? Well, if you look closely at the numbers, it’s pretty hard to argue otherwise.
There were five Hall of Famers drafted in ’84 – the aforementioned big four and Brazilian superstar Oscar Schmidt – who combined to score 152,443 points in the regular season alone (over the course of his four-decade international career, Schmidt scored nearly 50,000). Stockton is the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, Olajuwon is first in blocks, and Jordan is third all-time in scoring. Combined, the big four have 46 All-Star appearances, 12 trips to the Finals, 8 championships, 7 MVPs and 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards between them.
Not bad, right? But those are just numbers. If you’re still not convinced about the superiority of the ’84 class, just ask a guy who part of it.
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“It was just an incredible class,” says Kevin Willis, who was drafted 11th that year by the Atlanta Hawks. “You’ve got Michael Jordan, the best player to ever play the game, bar none. Charles Barkley, one of the best power forwards to ever play. Hakeem, who was one of the top five centers the league has ever seen, and Stockton was just unbelievable. To be in that class with that group of guys is truly a blessing.”
Steve Bardo played on the University of Illinois’ famed “Flying Illini” squad that went to the 1989 Final Four, and was a second round pick of the Hawks in 1990. He currently works as an analyst for the Big Ten Network and remembers the ’84 class all too well, despite being just a sophomore in high school at the time.
“I grew up in Carbondale [Illinois] and we used to get a lot of SEC games. I remember watching Charles Barkley run roughshod over LSU and Kentucky one year,” Bardo says. “But outside of him, you had other guys who came into the league ready to play and make an immediate impact. Hakeem’s footwork was just incredible. Then of course you had MJ, who won a National Championship at North Carolina two years earlier.
“But I think the overall legacy of the main guys in the ’84 class is that not only were they great players, but they had long careers and played at a high-level every single year,” he adds. “That’s an accomplishment in itself.”
Despite the amazing careers of Jordan, Stockton, Olajuwon and Barkley, the ’84 draft was about more than just those four. There were other players selected that year that add to the depth and legacy of the class.
For starters, are you aware that Carl Lewis was taken in the 10th round by the Chicago Bulls? He was a track-and-field star at the University of Houston at the time, and though he’d never play in the NBA, he did go on to win 10 Olympic medals, which, you know, certainly counts for something.
Or how about Jerome Kersey? He was taken with the 46th pick in the second round out of Longwood University, a school so small that only current students and former alums know it even exists. Yet he went to two Finals in his 18 seasons, won a ring on the Spurs’ first championship squad in ’99 and had a better career than a host of players taken before him.
Leon Wood was the 10th overall pick and currently works an NBA referee. Cecil Exum, who attended the University of North Carolina with Jordan and whose son Dante will be a lottery pick in this year’s class, was taken in the ninth round. And then there was the last player chosen in the ’84 draft, Dan Trant, taken by the Boston Celtics out of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Trant never logged a minute in the NBA with the Celtics, and after time spent playing in Ireland, he’d go on to work as a bond trader. In a tragic twist of fate, he was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. His story was highlighted in a recent NBA TV documentary about the ’84 draft.
The 1984 draft was deep in talent and rich in storylines. And while there have been a few that have rivaled it – 1996 and 2003 are two that come to mind – 30 years later, it’s still the class that stands above all the rest. Many think this year’s draft might have a chance to compete with the class of ’84, but Willis and Bardo aren’t so sure.
“Never,” Willis says, “That ’84 class was it, man. Period.”
“I think this year’s class, from top to bottom, is as talented as any we’ve seen in years,” Bardo adds. “But can they top what we saw 30 years ago? I don’t think so. That class was special.”