In the lead-up to the 2017 NBA draft, we look back at some of the more interesting draft selections from the past 50 years.
By Mick Minas.
Prior to the mid-1970s, the NBA draft did not have a designated finishing point. Instead of the two round format that fans of the modern game will be familiar with, teams were permitted to continue making selections until they decided that they wanted to stop. In 1974, the NBA decided to put an end to this potentially infinite draft format, with teams now ‘restricted’ to ten picks each. In 1985, the number of rounds was reduced to seven, before it was trimmed back to the current format of two rounds four years later. So, prior to 1989, there were plenty of opportunities for teams to make draft selections which were more about generating column inches in local papers than filling up box scores.
For example, did you know that despite leading the United States to two gold medals, Michael Jordan was not the most successful Olympic athlete drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984? That honor belongs to Carl Lewis, who won nine gold medals over an outstanding 18 year career in track and field. Lewis was drafted by the Bulls in the tenth round of the 1984 draft with the 208th pick, despite the fact that he had not played a minute of college basketball.
Dave Winfield’s professional baseball career began when he was selected in the first round of Major League Baseball’s 1973 draft. However, on top of being taken by the San Diego Padres with the fourth overall selection, Winfield was also selected in the NBA, NFL and ABA drafts. Winfield was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the fifth round of the 1973 NBA draft and he was actually a pretty good basketballer. In college, he was a starter on the University of Minnesota team that won the 1972 Big Ten championship and in 2004, he was named as the third best all-round athlete of all-time by ESPN (behind Jim Thorpe and Jim Brown).
Lucy Harris became the first and only woman ever to be ‘officially’ selected in an NBA draft when she was selected in the seventh round of the 1977 draft by the New Orleans Jazz. (In 1969, Denise Long was drafted by the San Francisco Warriors. However, the NBA believed that this was nothing more than a publicity stunt and thus voided the pick and erased it from their record books.) Harris, a star of the women’s college game who averaged 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game during her three seasons at Delta State, was selected ahead 33 male players, including three who went on the play in the NBA. She was invited to New Orleans’ training camp to see if she could make the team, although she declined this offer as she was pregnant.
And then there is the time that Celtic legend Red Auerbach showed his compassionate side by selecting Landon Turner in the 1982 NBA draft. Turner, a 6’10’’ athletic forward/center, was a key member of the 1981 Indiana national championship team. He made the all-tournament team and appeared to be heading for a promising professional basketball career. However, four months after winning the NCAA title, he was involved in a serious car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Despite the fact that Turner was going to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Auerbach decided to draft him with Boston’s tenth round pick, thus making him an honorary Celtic for life. Upon hearing about his selection, Turner asked, “When do I report for my tryout?”
Read more of Mick Minas' writing about the NBA in his new book "THE CURSE: The Colorful & Chaotic History of the LA Clippers". To purchase a copy, click here.
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