The Indiana Pacers will take on the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 2010-2011 NBA Playoffs starting this weekend. It's interesting to look back at some other years when the Pacers were really bad like in the 1983-1984 season. Our Midwest cousins in Indianapolis were so bad that year, they qualified to be in a coin flip with the Houston Rockets for the rights to the first pick of the 1984 Draft... except for the fact that at the end of the 1980-1981 NBA season, the Indiana Pacers decided to trade their 1984 first round draft pick to the Portland Trail Blazers so they could acquire Tom Owens. The Pacers saw Owens play 74 games and average a decent 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. After the 1981-1982 season, Owens was off to Detroit where he played 49 games and promptly retired. So for one year of Tom Owens, it was the Trail Blazers who had a chance at the first pick in the 1984 NBA Draft and not the Pacers. Portland was going to have a prime spot at selecting a player like Akeem Olajuwon (he changed to Hakeem later on), Charles Barkley, Alvin Robertson, Otis Thrope, Kevin Willis, John Stockton, Sam Bowie or this guy named Michael Jordan.
Portland was given the chance to call heads or tails in this coin flip for the ages. They called tails. The coin went heads. The Houston Rockets grabbed University of Houston alum Akeem Olajuwon with the first pick. Now the Trail Blazers were on the clock. Barkley? Bowie? What about this guy named Michael Jordan? Let's take a look at YouTube and see just what happened. You probably already know but trust me, it's worth watching.
Chicago Fire win this game for the 1984 NBA Draft coin flip.
I'm not sure what the Pacers saw in Tom Owens but I'm glad they dealt for him. The Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie. The Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan. Sam Bowie had a career. Michael Jordan had a career!
While it seems like a slam dunk decision now, it actually took some time before it really bit the Trail Blazers hard. In the 1983 Draft, Portland selected future Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler with the 14th pick overall. Drexler would lead the Trail Blazers to some good success in the 80's. They always made the playoffs, put up some good battles and they made it to the NBA Finals before the Chicago Bulls did. As Michael Jordan's Bulls fell to the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs in the 1987-1988, 1988-1989, and 1989-1990 seasons, ultimately Drexler's Blazers lost to the Pistons in 5 games.
In the 1990-1991 season, Michael Jordan finally got past the Detroit Pistons and made it to the NBA Finals. On the other side of the bracket, Clyde Drexler lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Any good Chicago sports fans can tell you that Michael Jordan and the Bulls went on to win over the Lakers 4 games to 1 for the team's first championship. The real Portland-Chicago battle would come next year.
Again it is easy to look back and think Michael Jordan > Clyde Drexler but in 1991-1992 it wasn't that easy. Both Jordan and Drexler were decorated with awards and league leader accolades. Both were named to the United States Olympic Basketball 'Dream Team' that was going to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Sports Illustrated ran a cover that put Jordan and Drexler on equal billing almost a full month before the two teams even made it into the final round. The leading sports journalists at the time saw Jordan and Drexler leading similar paths. Jordan and the Bulls put that debate to rest when they won their second NBA Championship in a row defeating the Trail Blazers in 6 games. The Bulls went on to win 4 more championships. Portland never got back and things were going downhill in the middle of the 1994-1995 season. Drexler became disgruntled with the new coach and the direction of the organization.
They shipped him off to Houston. That's right, the same Houston Rockets they lost the coin flip to ten years before in 1984. Akeem Olajuwon had changed his name to Hakeem but he was talented as ever. He never became like Portland's 1984 pick of Sam Bowie. Drexler and Olajuwon went on to win the 1994-1995 NBA Finals. Drexler had to leave Portland to accomplish success. The Trail Blazers have not been back to the NBA's biggest stage since that 1991-1992 season. There was no 'Oh but by not taking Michael Jordan, we ended up being stronger as a team'. No, no, Portland has been weaker for making that terrible decision. Some people even wonder if the team is cursed after having the No. 1 pick in 2007 and selecting perennially injured Greg Oden over future NBA All-Star Kevin Durant. At least Durant is not over the state line playing for Seattle right? The Seattle SuperSonics drafted Kevin Durant but left town to become the Oklahoma City Thunder the year after that. That is some consolation for Portland right?
At first I was a little angry at the MLS schedule makers for putting this Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers game on the calendar. I've already mentioned it being a little unfair with Portland coming in with almost two weeks worth of rest, the Fire being on 5 days of rest, and Portland having the extra advantage of the home opener atmosphere. Now I'm wondering if the MLS schedule makers don't have a sick sense of humor. Portland has only had one professional sports team. By trading Tom Owens, that one team unwittingly set Portland down a path of sports heartbreak for the past 30 years. They also helped give Chicago the opportunity to take Michael Jordan and that ultimately gave Chicago a whole lot of sports swagger. The Trail Blazers continue to play in the City of Roses as they move along in a state of good but not great. The Chicago Bulls just finished the season as the best team in the NBA on the backs of a hometown player named Rose. Talk about having a thorn in your side.
As Portland opens their stadium and receives their second professional home team, the Chicago Fire will be wearing red like the Bulls. USSF rules do not mandate which team calls the coin toss (scroll to page 20) but the common custom is the visiting team selects heads or tails. Tonight, what if Chicago Fire captain Logan Pause defers to Portland's captain, Jack Jewsbury to have 'the honor'. If you call 'tails' Mr. Jewsbury, will you curse the team for a generation like the Trail Blazers management did back in 1984? Or will you call tails just to prove this is a dumb superstition and the 180 degree turn of a small piece of scrap metal doesn't mean anything? Is that even true? A turn of a small piece of metal meant the difference between 6 large pieces of metal for Chicago and 0 of those for Portland. How can we open this stadium right? I don't know the answer here so maybe our Fire captain who is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and will be representing Chicago while wearing red tonight can stand in the middle of downtown Portland and answer the question of head or tails by just giving a little shrug.