In '79 draft, Bulls miss Magic chance in call of coin toss


CHICAGO -- "And now playing point guard for the Chicago Bulls . . . Magic Johnson."

No, it's not as crazy as it sounds. But for a wrong call on a coin flip in the 1979 NBA draft, Johnson might be performing for the Bulls in the 1991 championships, and who knows where Michael Jordan would be walking on air?

Rod Thorn, now the NBA chief of operations, was Bulls general manager in 1979, when the teams with the two worst records engaged in a coin flip to determine who got the first draft choice.

The Lakers had obtained the No. 1 pick from the New Orleans Jazz as compensation for when the Jazz signed free agent Gail Goodrich three years earlier.

"All my life I've always been lucky with tails," Thorn recalled. "This time, I lost."

The Lakers grabbed Johnson, who has led them to five titles. The Bulls settled for David Greenwood, who became a journeyman forward.

But five years later, Thorn made amends, using the third selection in the 1984 draft to select Jordan after the Houston Rockets had chosen center Hakeem Olajuwon from the University of Houston and the Portland Trail Blazers had picked Sam Bowie of Kentucky.

"Even if Bowie had been there, I would have taken Michael," Thorn said. "The year before, we [the Bulls] chose a guard named Ron Lester, who had a history of leg problems. We couldn't take another gamble with Bowie."

* Quick count: Bulls fans are offering as much as $1,000 for a chance to watch Jordan and Johnson in the championship dance. Since Jordan arrived here in 1984, the Bulls have become one of the hottest tickets in Chicago.

It wasn't always that way, however. Ben Bentley, the team's original public relations man, remembers being reprimanded by then-NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy in the late 1960s for announcing a home crowd of 891.

"One of the reporters either got the figure from our box office or just stood up for a few minutes and counted the crowd," said Bentley, now a television sports show host. "Back then, I couldn't even give tickets away to charities."

* Bunch of Heels: Three former college teammates are in the NBA Finals -- James Worthy and Sam Perkins of the Lakers and Jordan of the Bulls.

All played for coach Dean Smith at North Carolina on the 1982 NCAA championship team -- Worthy was a junior, Perkins a sophomore and Jordan a freshman.

"I knew Michael had a lot of potential," said Worthy, the Lakers' No. 1 pick in 1982. "But I could have never predicted he would evolve the way he did as a pro."

Perkins discovered that Jordan had one weakness when they were together at the 1984 Olympic Trials.

"Michael was always real cocky, no matter what he was doing," Perkins said. "We were playing cards one day when someone asked if he knew how to shoot craps. He says, 'Sure,' even though he didn't have a clue. Everyone took advantage of him, making up rules, and took all his money. Boy, was Michael mad when he found out."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad