LeBron James and Michael Jordan

2003 vs 1984: Which NBA Draft was Better?

The 1984 NBA Draft has been the standard bearer of my generation. I was 14 years old at the time and I saw the likes of Michael Jordan come into the league that year. It completely reshaped the league in many ways. The style of play certainly changed with the athletic Jordan being able to make moves very few had seen prior. It also was the infant stage of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. Little did we know at the time that the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics were on the clock.

For a different generation, the 2003 draft had the same type of impact on the league. Some guy straight out of high school named LeBron James came into the league as it’s latest savior. Unlike those prior to him, James more than live up to the hype as the league had it’s next generational superstar.

Just warning you, this isn’t a Jordan vs James debate. That debate has been beaten more than the New York Knicks over the last 20 years.

What we will look at is both drafts in its totality to determine which was the best one.

Top 3 Players in the top 10 selections

If you look at the 1984 Draft, it’s easy to pick out the top 3 selections in the top 10. Hakeem Olajuwon (1), Michael Jordan (3) and Charles Barkley (5) all made their impact in the league. Jordan’s six rings despite leaving his team in the dust on his baseball excursion, is pretty incredible. It made him the Bill Russell of this day.

Olajuwon would win back to back rings against two centers who made significant impacts in the league. Patrick Ewing would never get that elusive ring as the Rockets beat the Knicks in 7. Shaq O’Neal would later get a ring but the Orlando Magic were outclassed by Olajuwon and the Rockets in series sweep defined by Nick Anderson’s two missed free throws.

Barkley is your big numbers guy who never won a ring. His contribution to the league was huge but it is a little bit of a ding that he only appeared in one NBA Finals. Barkley and the Suns would lose to Jordan’s Bulls in six games. Other than that, Barkley’s playoff teams found more ways to lose a series late in games than win them.

2003’s top 3 is a little more challenging but we’ll go with James (1), Carmelo Anthony (3), and Dwayne Wade (5). James’ eight straight NBA Finals appearances is nothing short of amazing. The number of games, minutes, and pounding shouldn’t be ignored. Especially when you consider that in between all the NBA play, he also represented Team USA. That didn’t stop him from winning four NBA MVP and three NBA Finals MVP awards.

Wade also has his share of success including winning a ring without James. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP did something most superstars of his ilk wouldn’t have done. He took a backseat to James even though, he was in his prime. His sacrifice, along with Chris Bosh, is the prime reason the Heat went to four straight finals where they went 2-2.

Anthony is the Barkley of this draft. Because so many people choose to remember the late stages of Anthony’s career, they choose to ignore his time in Denver. Though he doesn’t have an NBA Finals appearance, the Nuggets run to the Western Conference Finals after trading Allen Iverson, still sticks out as an incredible achievement. What people can do is punish Anthony for his time with the Knicks. Anthony was stellar despite the incompetence of the front office. It’s not all that different than what Barkley went through his last few years in Philadelphia

This was a close that came down to Olajuwon and Wade. Hakeem ended up being the difference.

Category Winner: 1984

Picks 11-20

This one isn’t all that close. In 1984, the Utah Jazz selected John Stockton at number 16 and the rest is history. “Stockton to Malone” became a staple throughout the NBA. Stockton would help lead the Jazz to back to back Finals where they lost to the Bulls each time.

In 2003, David West was selected 18th. Outside of that you have names like Reece Gaines and Zarko Cabarkapa.

At least 1984 also has Kevin Willis (11th pick) to go along with Stockton.

Category Winner: 1984

Remaining First Round

This gets tricky. The number of teams in the league had increased by 2004 (29 compared to 24) but we’re going to roll with it.

In 2004, there were late picks like Boris Diaw (21) and Kendrick Perkins (27). Both won titles and were instrumental in doing so. The Celtics still think they would’ve won in 2009-2010 had Perkins played in Game 7.

Diaw was instrumental in the San Antonio Spurs championship win over the Miami Heat. The Frenchman would lead the Spurs in assists twice during the series and was credited with the ball movement that game the Heat so many problems.

Picks 20-24 in 1984 are nothing to write home about. Kenny Fields, Tom Sewell, Earl Jones and Michael Young made no impact in the NBA.

Category Winner: 2003

Second Round of the Draft

By far, the second rounder with the most accomplished career out of the 1984 draft was Jerome Kersey. the Longwood alum was selected 46th which made him the one before last pick of the round. Kersey would star for the Portland Trail Blazers teams that lost to the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

Outside of that you have Ron Anderson who had a rather pedestrian 10 year career.

2003 had a few off the bench contributors that made it to the NBA Finals themselves. Kyle Korver and Mo Williams were both taken in the second round that year and found themselves in the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The second round also produced Zaza Puchulia, Steve Blake, and James Jones.

Category Winner: 2003

Rest of the Draft/Free Agency

By 2003, the NBA Draft was down to two rounds as opposed to the 1o rounds it was in 1984. So I will include the rookie free agents from 2003 to even the playing field a bit.

Anyway, there won’t be a winner in this category. If you put a gun to my head it would be 2003 solely based on Udonis Haslem.

Category Winner: None

So we end with a 2-2 tie. An appropriate outcome for two drafts that gave so much to the NBA.


Catch more of Mook's Writing