The sad tale of Sam Bowie, the 7-foot-1 center drafted No. 2 overall by the Trail Blazers, one pick ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft, has tortured Portland fans for almost 30 years, and is the subject of an ESPN Films documentary, “Going Big,” which premieres next week on ESPNU.
With the Rockets openly coveting Hakeem Olajuwon with the No. 1 pick, Portland seemed to be in an enviable position in a first round featuring multiple franchise centers. Bowie, a University of Kentucky star, appeared to fill the Trail Blazers’ need for a center to team with second-year star Clyde Drexler, Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe. Drexler’s presence ruled out Jordan’s value. As the story goes, Bowie had a good rookie season, then suffered three broken legs and played in just 63 more games with the Trail Blazers. Jordan became the NBA’s best all-time player.
In “Going Big,” Bowie, Jack Ramsay, then coach of the Trail Blazers, and Harry Glickman, team president at the time, connect the dots on the team’s pre-draft thought-process leading to the now infamous pick. According to the Oregonian, Ramsay doesn’t recall the team considering Jordan. Glickman claims that not a single NBA executive or media member was critical of the team making Bowie the franchise’s foundation.
But did the Trail Blazers know everything about Bowie’s health going into the draft?
On Tuesday, the Oregonian reported Bowie’s on-screen revelation that he wasn’t totally honest during his pre-draft medical evaluations, particularly the pain he was already experiencing in his left leg.
“I can still remember them taking a little mallet, and when they would hit me on my left tibia, and ‘I don’t feel anything’ I would tell ‘em. But deep down inside, it was hurting. If what I did was lying and what I did was wrong, at the end of the day, when you have loved ones that have some needs, I did what any of us would have done.”
Later in the documentary, Bowie shows no remorse for misleading Trail Blazers’ doctors.
“I’m 51 years old now and my legs are broke down. I’m very proud, don’t feel like I owe an apology to anyone,” Bowie says in the documentary. “The bottom line is: Sam Bowie was drafted before Michael Jordan and you’re gonna have to accept that.”
“Anybody that knows me, from the hierarchy in the Portland Trail Blazers during my playing days to my teammates to my friends and family, knows I would never deceive or trick or lie to anybody,” Bowie told The Oregonian during a phone interview Wednesday. “I wasn’t raised that way. You can call me a lot of things, but don’t look at me as though I deceived or tricked (the organization).
“This is the first I’ve heard of anything like this,” Glickman told The Oregonian. “As far as I knew, he had a clean bill of health from our team doctor. This really shocks me.”