Today the 2009 class of Basketball Hall of Fame will be announced, with Michael Jordan a first-time finalist.
"The only question is whether someone doesn't vote for Michael and he's not a unanimous selection," Phil Jackson said. "That will be interesting to see."
It would be preposterous, of course.
Jackson has called Jordan "the most significant person in professional basketball history," and it's not an outlandish view.
Red Auerbach, who saw them all, from George Mikan to LeBron James, once said of Jordan, "Nobody ever sold tickets like this guy." Wherever he ranks among the game's immortals, you knew the day was coming when he would be an automatic selection to the Hall.
But he wasn't always viewed as a mortal lock.
"When I drafted him, I said, 'OK, we're gonna get a good player here,'" said Rod Thorn, the Nets president who was Chicago's GM when the Bulls had the No. 3 pick in 1984. "I thought, he'll come in and play and help us. But to think that he would be what he turned out to be? No way. No way."
As great as his trade was for Jason Kidd, turning the Nets into a championship contender for the first time, Thorn's drafting of Jordan will always be his legacy as an NBA executive. Before the Nets took on Detroit in the Meadowlands this past week, he sat at courtside and talked about the draft that changed the course of pro basketball history.
"Back then, the knock on Michael was that he couldn't shoot the ball," Thorn recalled. "For a long time, that first season, he just drove the ball to the basket and he didn't need a shot. But Michael was so smart, he learned from taking some mighty licks. So he said, 'I gotta get a jump shot,' and he got one. But when we looked at him for the draft, he was 195 pounds and 6-6, so he was kind of thin. So the biggest thing about him was, can he make a shot? We wondered what kind of shooter he'd be."
Thorn could only go off of the tapes of Jordan he'd watched in Dean Smith's office in Chapel Hill several months before the draft.
"Back then, you didn't work guys out," he said. "We never worked Michael out. But I was very good friends with Dean, and every year, I'd go down to North Carolina for two or three days and he would let me watch tapes of all the ACC players. That's how I scouted the entire league. Dean thought Michael would be a really good pro - a better pro player than a college player."
After the tape sessions, Thorn went back to Chicago thinking he would draft Jordan. But if Jordan was gone, his plan was to take another Tar Heel player, forward Sam Perkins. Before making it final, Thorn decided to attend the SEC Tournament to get a first-hand look at Auburn's Charles Barkley.
"Alabama threw a zone at Charles and he had six points, fouled out and played an awful game. He couldn't make an outside shot," Thorn said. "So I left there thinking, 'How is this guy ever going to be a big-time player in pro ball? He's just too small to do what he was doing in college in the NBA.'"
Twenty-five years later, Thorn laughed at his projection.
"So, going into the draft, we determined that we were going to take Michael, unless somebody went brain dead and let (Hakeem) Olajuwon come down to us," he said. "And if Michael didn't get to us, then we would have taken Perkins over Barkley, which would have been a mistake."
But it worked out just the way Thorn wanted. Olajuwon went first to Houston, Portland took Sam Bowie second and Jordan went to the Bulls.
"When training camp started, I was not there for our first practice," Thorn said. "After they finished, I got a call from Bill Blair, who was an assistant coach, and he said, 'Rod, you didn't screw this draft up. This guy is pretty good.' Well, you know how coaches are. They just don't say that kind of stuff about a rookie. So I felt pretty good. Then the next day, I got a call from Kevin Loughery, our head coach, and he said, 'This guy is pretty good.' So I said, 'Wait a minute, he must be pretty dad-gone good if Kevin is calling me, too.'"
"Pretty dad-gone good" turned into much, much more, not so long after Thorn left Chicago in 1985. As Jordan grew into an iconic figure, known the world over, he took the league to unparalleled heights as the Bulls won six titles in eight seasons.
"We had the Bird and Magic era and they were wonderful to watch, with that great rivalry of theirs," Jackson said. "But Michael Jordan ..."
The former Bulls coach paused, looking for the right words to sum it all up. Finally, he smiled and said, "When Michael Jordan played the game, you couldn't take your eyes off him."
Thank Mitch Lawerence of NYDAILYNEWS.com for the story.
Posted by Like Mike at 8:05 AM