Curledup.com contributor Ram Subramanian interviewed Filip Bondy, author of the newly released Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever, who talked about the historic 1984 draft that featured at least four certain Hall of Famers (Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton) and the immense gamble that general managers take when they select players in the draft.
Interviewer Ram Subramanian: The draft took place twenty-three years ago. The players in the draft have all retired from the league. What drew you to the subject now?
Filip Bondy: I was a beat writer covering the New Jersey Nets at the time, and I understood even then that this was a special transition point in history Ė new commissioner, new salary cap, fresh superstars. The whole economics and image of the league changed dramatically then, and a lot of that was the sheer force of personality and marketability of players like Jordan and Barkley.
Isnít it strange that Sam Bowie, who probably today is best remembered as the answer to the trivia question of who was picked immediately before Michael Jordan in the NBA draft, comes out as one of the most normal and grounded professional athletes ever? What explains his ability to stay above all of this?
He was born with that wonderful perspective, Iím convinced. And to some degree, Iím afraid, that normalcy and humanity sabotaged his talent. Even if heíd remained healthy, I think Bowie would have only been a good center, not a great one.
A lot of the general managers, Stu Inman of the Portland Trail Blazers in particular, do not come out very well as decision makers. Yet, they chose to talk to you for the book. How did you draw them out?
Well, I like to think they wanted to set straight their place in history, and understood the context would be more complete in a book than in a simple newspaper article. Inman, for example, is cited in the book for his other wise draft selections, and gets the opportunity to explain this one, grand miss-step.
In your opinion, is the evaluation of players prior to the draft better now than in 1984? Are general managers unlikely to make the Bowie-before-Jordan type of decisions now?
The scouting systems, the tapes available, the auditions, the interviewsÖ, theyíre all remarkably better now. And though nobody slips under the radar as might once have been the case, thereís still a great chance of error. Thatís because the players are younger now. They havenít had three years of college ball. So the GMs are drafting potential, not talent, and that can lead to some serious mistakes. Also, how do you compare an All-Star in China with a freshman at Ohio State. Itís apples and oranges. Another potential disaster.
Charles Barkley comes across as a larger-than-life impresario who successfully elevated his draft position in the months prior to it. Given the current level of scouting, are we likely to see any more such sleepers?
I think we will. Look at Dwayne Wade, just for example. These guys are young and theyíve been competing at a different level. Anything can happen.
What are your future book writing plans?
Iím sticking with Da Capo Press. Theyíve been wonderful with me Ė which hasnít always been the case, believe me, in this fickle world of publishing. Iíve had two books orphaned at other publishing houses after my editors left.
I canít divulge the subject of the next book, though, because my editor fears it could inspire other books on the same subject and carve up the market too thin. In any case, it wonít be out until 2010.
Filip Bondy, a sports columnist for the New York Daily News, is the author of Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever and other books.
Contributing reviewer Ram Subramanian interviewed Filip
Bondy (see accompanying review), about
his book for curledup.com. Ram Subramanian/2007.