The Chicago Bulls’ reaction to drafting Michael Jordan wasn’t what you think it would be

Michael Jordan holds up his Chicago Bulls jersey in 1984. Photo / Getty

Michael Jordan holds up his Chicago Bulls jersey in 1984. Photo / Getty

Of all the stories written about Michael Jordan amid the release of The Last Dance documentary it’s a column written 36 years ago that’s perhaps the most interesting.

While everyone interviewed for ESPN’s record-breaking 10-part series is largely relying on their memory of what happened decades ago while recounting the legend of His Airness, this 1984 Chicago Tribune piece provides a real-time take.

It was written in the wake of the Bulls selecting Jordan with the third pick in the 1984 draft after the Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon first and the Portland Trail Blazers infamously called out Sam Bowie’s name second.

The Bulls may have been thrilled Jordan fell to third, but it was certainly muted excitement in the eyes of Bernie Lincicome, whose column carried the headline “Apologetic Bulls stuck with Jordan”.

Writing with a heavy dose of sarcasm, Lincicome was bemused the underachieving franchise wasn’t more enthusiastic when talking about a recruit he considered the “greatest natural basketball talent, inch for inch, in this young decade”.

Lincicome accused the Bulls of trying to “avoid Jordan” by seeking to trade the third pick for a centre.

His view was backed by comments from Bulls general manager Rod Thorn, who is hailed for drafting Jordan but said at the time: “We wish he were 7 feet but he isn’t. There just wasn’t a centre available. What can you do?”

Michael Jordan holds up his Chicago Bulls jersey in 1984. Photo / Getty
Michael Jordan holds up his Chicago Bulls jersey in 1984. Photo / Getty

It was no secret Olajuwon was the most sought after player in the draft after his exceptional college career in Houston, so Thorn wasn’t speaking out of turn when he said: “If we had our choice between Bowie and Jordan we would still have taken Jordan. But Olajuwon was the big prize.”

And Thorn may have been attempting to limit the weight of expectation ready to be placed on the North Carolina star’s shoulders when he added: “Jordan isn’t going to turn this franchise around. I wouldn’t ask him to.”

But it’s hard to forgive this assessment of Jordan’s scoring ability. “He’s a very good offensive player,” Thorn said. “But not an overpowering offensive player.”

Keith Brown, who worked in ticketing for the Bulls and represented them at the draft in New York, told NBA.com this week the team’s fanbase wanted a big man.

“At the time, it was a centre dominated league,” Brown said. “What we heard every single day in the office from season ticket holders and fans: ‘You’ve got to get a centre.’ There were a lot of people at the time who wanted Sam Perkins (picked fourth) or Mel Turpin (picked sixth). There was never anyone in the Bulls organisation lobbing for anyone but Jordan. But certainly outside the organisation they wanted us to draft a centre.”

It took Jordan all of one practice to let the Bulls see exactly what they had.

“When (training) camp started we were in the conference room having lunch the first or second day of practice at Angel Guardian gym,” Brown said. “It’s around noon and (coach) Kevin Loughery comes walking in. Rod Thorn looks down at his watch and asks him what he’s doing there. He knows the team is practising. Kevin says, ‘I had to cut practice short.’ Rod says, ‘What do you mean?’

“Kevin Loughery says, ‘That kid Jordan, every single trip down the floor he steals the ball on defence. And every trip on offence he dunks the ball. He was demoralising the team. So I had to cut practice short.'”

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