bookmark_borderTip Off by Filip Bondy

Today’s blog article is once again about the history of the NBA. More specifically, one of the most famous and most discussed events in NBA history, the 1984 draft. This is often referred to as the best draft of all time and Filip Bondy took a look behind the scenes with “Tip Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever”. The subtitle is very fitting, as some of the players in the 1984 draft class did indeed change the future of their franchises and the NBA forever.

Tip Off by Filip Bondy

Tip off focuses on sex players from the Draft

The book focuses on six sub-narratives, or six different players: the four future (from a 1984 perspective) superstars Hakeem Olajuwon (#1 pick), Michael Jordan (#3), Charles Barkley (#5) and John Stockton (#16). Also the fourth pick, Sam Perkins, who never became an All-Star, but can look back on a very good NBA career with well over 1000 games. And last but not least, the somewhat tragic figure of the draft, Sam Bowie, who will forever be known as the player the Portland Trail Blazers selected at #2 instead of Michael Jordan.

A big part of the book is the development of the six players before the draft, especially their time in college. For me personally, these stories were very interesting because as a non-American I don’t know much about college sports and mainly follow the NBA. In this book, however, I was able to learn a lot about the individual colleges in the 80s and coaches like Dean Smith or Bob Knight.

You then learn more about the players’ rookie seasons and how they settled in with their teams. In particular, Barkley’s problems with the 76ers’ renowned but ageing team are described. Stockton also came off the bench at first and the Rockets had the problem of getting Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson on the court together.

Bowie over Jordan

The author did a good job of describing the Blazers’ reasoning for selecting Bowie over Jordan. While this is a disastrous decision from today’s perspective, no one could have known at the time that Jordan would become the best player of all time. One exception is Charles Barkley, who claims to have been the only one who knew it back then. Bowie himself also has his say in the book. He makes a very satisfied impression and seems to be at peace with himself and the world. It should not be forgotten that Bowie also showed very good promise in the NBA, but was repeatedly set back by serious injuries. The author also rightly points out that the Blazers drafted Jerome Kersey with the 46th pick in the same draft, Clyde Drexler with pick 14 the year before and Terry Porter at 24 the year after. All of these are very good steals, but they are forgotten because of the Bowie/Jordan decision.

One criticism is that there are minor errors in the book in some places. For example, at the beginning of the book Charles Thomas is correctly referred to as the owner of the Houston Rockets, but just a few sentences later Ray Patterson (who was the general manager) is the owner. At another point, the book refers to the Virginia Cavaliers college team, who are shortly afterwards referred to as Cleveland (who are also called the Cavaliers). However, I am happy to forgive such minor errors if the content of the book is otherwise good, and that is the case here.

Overall, Filip Bondy’s Tip Off is a very good historical account of arguably the most famous draft of all time. You learn more about the six players and also some surprising things (Michael Jordan in tears after being criticized by coach Bob Knight at the 1984 Olympics). You also learn that several teams tried to trade for Michael Jordan. The Mavericks apparently offered their own pick plus Mark Aguirre, a very good offer at the time. Bulls fans will be glad that general manager Rod Thorn didn’t bite.

Get Tip Off at Amazon

bookmark_borderDream Team

After 7 Seconds or Less, Dream Team is the second book by journalist Jack McCallum that I’m featuring on this blog.

Dream Team by Jack McCallum

It’s probably not particularly hard to guess what a basketball book called Dream Team is about. The term Dream Team is used in the world of sports at times – and sometimes outside of it – but it is inextricably linked to the team that the United States sent to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Many today still consider this collection of great individual players to be the best sports team ever.

But Jack McCallum describes the actual basketball tournament of the Barcelona Olympics in only a few chapters here. And why should he? The story is quickly told. The U.S. team dominated the tournament at will, the closest game being the final for gold against Croatia – which the United States won by 32 points. Much more exciting was the story of how the Dream Team came to be, which McCallum describes in detail in the first chapters. As recently as the 1988 Olympics, no professionals were allowed to compete. While some European teams got around this by giving players fake jobs so that they were considered amateurs (sometimes despite six- or seven-figure salaries from their clubs). For NBA professionals, however, this door was closed. Until 1992, the US had competed with college players. Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, for example, won the gold medal in 1984 before going to the NBA.

Even the selection of the athletes was controversial. To this day (for example in the Netflix documentary “The Last Dance”), there is debate about why Isiah Thomas was not part of the team. The book gives a clear answer to this: Michael Jordan made a non-invitation of Isiah early on a condition for his own participation. But Thomas had no advocates among the other players either. When John Stockton was injured in preparation for Barcelona and threatened to be sidelined, there was brief consideration of choosing another player in his place. According to McCallum however, Dream Team coach Chuck Daly (who won two titles with Isiah as coach of the Detroit Pistons) would have opted for Joe Dumars – also a Pistons player – in this case.

The author also goes into detail about Magic Johnson’s participation. Magic had announced only a year earlier at a press conference that he had tested positive for HIV and would have to end his active career. The expectation in the sports world at the time was that he didn’t have long to live. Still, there was never really any question whether Magic would participate in the Barcelona Olympics. While a possible return to the NBA before the 1992-93 season was discussed much more controversially (by Karl Malone, among others) and ultimately had to be cancelled, the Lakers star had the backing of his teammates here. Magic’s former archrival and later friend, Larry Bird, also went to Barcelona despite severe back problems and pain that subsequently ended his career.

A highlight of the book is a detailed description of a practice game that took place before the start of the Olympic tournament. This game is a true myth in NBA circles and was described by participants as the best game they had ever attended. Since no press was allowed, there is only one video of this game (The caption of the chapter is “The Greatest Game That Nobody Ever Saw”), which was provided to Jack McCallum by Chuck Daly’s video coordinator. In this game, Team Jordan (Jordan, Malone, Ewing, Pippen, Bird) won against Team Magic (Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin, Laettner). The author describes the game and especially the trash talk between Jordan and Magic very accurately and even provides a box score at the end.

As I said, there was little to report from the games during the tournament itself, but there are some nice anecdotes. Jordan spent the night before the final game playing cards, shot a video for the NBA in the morning without sleep, played 18 rounds of golf before the gold medal game and then scored 22 points against Croatia. There are also some very funny anecdotes about Barkley, when he repeatedly drove the security service up the wall by escaping from them and wandering alone through Barcelona’s nightlife. McCallum knows these stories not just from hearsay. He was there himself in Barcelona and during the preparations in Monte Carlo, even staying in the same hotel as the players and playing golf with some of them in his spare time.

Get Dream Team at Amazon