Friday, May 01, 2009

Eerie Thoughts: How a Coin Flip Altered the Career of Kareem and Hakeem

My job, when aimlessly wondering the internet through sports statistic site after sports statistic site, is to find that story that history overlooked. That story we as modern basketball fans never considered. And, every now and then, I find something.

The coin flip: the simplest way to make a decision on the most equal of matters. And more importantly, up until 1985, or before the NBA lottery, it was the one factor that separated two teams with identical records at season's end.

The more I looked into coin flips being used prior to the draft, the more I realized how much of an impact it had on the history of the NBA. In particular two coin flips stand out the most.

More importantly, two careers stand out as impacted by the coin-flip: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olujawon's.

Can you imagine for a moment Jabbar never having been a Buck with Oscar Roberstson, or Olujawon never having been a Rocket?

In 1969 the biggest player coming out of college was Lew Alcindor (later to be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Whoever had the number one pick the choice was obvious: Alcindor. The race for the top spot consisted of a coin flip between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. Obviously, Milwaukee had won, but I began to think to myself what if Phoenix had won?

During the 1969-70 season the Suns roster consisted of legends Connie Hawkins (24.6 points per game) and Gail Goodrich (20.0), as well as Dick Van Arsdale (21.3), Paul Silas (12.8), and Jim Fox (12.9). Now, can you imagine how the Suns would of been with Jabbar? The lineup would of consisted of Gail Goodrich, Dick Van Arsdale, Connie Hawkins, Jabbar, and Fox and Silas rotating. Pretty interesting to consider. More importantly, maybe Jabbar (unlike Milwaukee) would of liked Phoenix. Also, what's to say if that coin flip does not side with Milwaukee that Jabbar never ends up going to the Los Angeles Lakers and Showtime never happens? Better yet would Oscar Robertson ever have gotten that 1971 NBA title?

Eerie things to think about...

And this is not even considering the fact the fact that both the Harlem Globetrotters and ABA tried persuading Jabbar to join them and not the NBA. Granted, I still think the coin flip had more of an impact.

Only 15 years later a similar incident took place. Going into the 1984 draft Hakeem Olajuwon remained the biggest commodity every team desired. And as history shows us a coin flip was thrown between Portland and Houston, where the Rockets prevailed the winners. The Dream went on to have an amazing career with two titles in the 1994, 1995 seasons.

But let's imagine for the sake of me talking what happens if Portland wins that top pick and The Dream goes to play alongside Drexler and Company? How's that turn out? How dominate do they remain over the next decade? And what about Michael Jordan? Would Houston have Jordan at No. 2 or Sam Bowie?

Who knows.

It's just an incredible thing to think about. Despite the blatantly amazing talents of many athletes a lot times, a least in the case of something like Jabbar and Olujawon, great teams first start building up by non other than pure, simple luck.

But for the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers I'm sure the term "bad luck" also applies.