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Is there anything our man Ryan Pace could learn from The Last Dance as he heads into his sixth draft as general manager of the Bears? A fascinating subplot contained in the first two episodes of the 10-part story of the Bulls' 1997-98 season looked back at the drafting of Michael Jordan in 1984.
The primary lesson to be learned in 1984 was obvious, as it had been many times before. And yet it was ignored by the Trail Blazers that year and it is being ignored again this year by so many of the folks who weigh in publicly on who should be drafted when into the NFL. Portland took Kentucky center Sam Bowie second way back then, allowing the Bulls to take Jordan third. Further study makes it clear that the pick wasn't just terrible on its face, it was worse given several factors that have come to light since then. More on that later.
The overall lesson? Take the best player available! Or trade down for more picks. But yet again this year the vast majority of pre-draft yammering and scribbling focuses on teams' specific needs and how they should fill them with the picks they currently have.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the Bears should draft a defensive lineman with either of their first couple of picks (numbers 43 and 50). If the Bears end up needing rookie help on a defensive line that should feature veteran talent and depth in the coming campaign they will be lost no matter what else happens. But they can justify taking just about anyone else at any position other than kicker.
One good sign was that Pace tried to teach that "best player available" lesson again earlier this week in an interview with local sports media. He again pointed out that that philosophy that will drive the Bears' picks starting Friday evening. The draft begins with the first round on Thursday, of course, but the Bears' 2020 first-round pick was the final piece of the trade package that brought in Khalil Mack.
Unfortunately, Pace has virtually no credibility left because he already drafted his Sam Bowie. In fact he did it three years ago! And yet he is still employed as the Bears' ultimate decision-maker!
Trying to calm down now but it is difficult because you can make the argument that Pace's selection of Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 draft could very well end up being even worse than the Bowie pick. At least the Blazers could point to the fact that they already had a star shooting guard in Clyde Drexler. In 1984 they needed a center. And Drexler would eventually lead them to the NBA finals in 1992.
The Bears believed the best guy available at No. 2 (we're not going to talk today about the idiot trade with which the team moved up from No. 3) in 2017 was exactly what they needed - a quarterback. And it was! Unfortunately it wasn't who Ryan Pace thought it was. It is now clear after 40-plus starts that Trubisky not only isn't even an average NFL quarterback but also that the guy the Bears should have taken, Pat Mahomes, is slightly better. And another thing . . .
OK, I'm being advised that my blood pressure is reaching dangerous levels. Let's not talk about the Bears' 2017 draft anymore. Let's move on to further study of the Blazers' fateful decision 36 years ago.
I thought former Bulls general manager Rod Thorn was remarkably magnanimous when he said on The Last Dance that he was lucky the NBA draft happened before the Olympics that summer because after the Olympics he thought Jordan's incredible talent and determination could not be denied.
That was nice of Mr. Thorn to say, but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. When USA Basketball named Bobby Knight the coach of the 1984 team, it acknowledged that Knight was one of the great basketball coaches in America at that point. He was also, as longtime Illinois coach Lou Henson dubbed him, a classic bully. But people didn't care about that sort of thing back then as long as a guy was winning.
And Knight had seen enough of Jordan during the tryouts for the Olympic team earlier that spring/summer to form an opinion. And that opinion was that Jordan "is the greatest basketball player I have ever seen."
In case that wasn't enough, Knight's friend Stu Inman was the general manager of the Trail Blazers. And Knight apparently wasn't shy about telling Inman he would be crazy to take Bowie. In fact, he said, "Make Jordan your center and he'll be the best center in the league!" To their everlasting regret, the Blazers didn't listen.
One more thing: Bowie wasn't just in a different universe in terms of potential than Jordan; he was also a guy who missed two full seasons at Kentucky due to a lower leg injury that stubbornly refused to heal for what seemed like forever. Sure enough, after a decent rookie season, Bowie's pro career would be limited by leg injuries for the rest of his time in Portland (he was traded away in 1989). And we are talking about the Trail Blazers, who had recently wrapped up their Bill Walton era. Walton led them to a championship in 1977 but his career was cruelly limited by numerous lower leg injuries. In other words, if there was one team in the league that should have been leery of drafting an injury-prone big man, it would have been the Blazers.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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Posted on May 13, 2021