On September 12, 1984, Michael Jordan signed his first NBA contract with the Chicago Bulls. It was a 5 year guaranteed contract with two option years. The whopping total was for a little over $6 million and that included a $1 million signing bonus.
At the time, it was the third highest contract ever given to a rookie (behind Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon). In 1984 the salary cap for the entire team was only $3.8 million. But for Thorn and the Bulls, they thought Jordan and his $1 million a year salary was worth it.
A myriad set of circumstances took place that spring and summer for Jordan to fall to the Bulls, but also for the Bulls to use the pick to draft Jordan.
When the 1984 NBA season ended on April 15, 1984, the Indiana Pacers had the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they did not own their first round pick, Portland had traded Tom Owen for it in 1981.
The Houston Rockets, who had landed 7’4″ Ralph Sampson the year before, were also in the running for the first pick having the worst record in the Western Conference.
A coin flip would decide who would own the pick. The NBA was gaining popularity thanks to great players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Julius Erving. The draft in 1984 was seen as huge new part of the NBA’s marketing scheme and business model under new commissioner David Stern.
A lot of maneuvering took place before the coin flip took place. The consensus #1 pick that year was Hakeem (then spelled Akeem) Olajuwon. The 7’0″ center from the University of Houston was coveted by every General Manager (GM) of every NBA team.
He was smooth, sleek, quick, and a winner having won a NCAA Championship as part of Phi Slamma Jamma at the University of Houston. After Olajuwon, the second pick was anybody’s guess. If Patrick Ewing of the Georgetown would have come out a year early, he would have been the second pick. In fact, the Portland Trail Blazers tried to convince Ewing to leave school a year early.
Ewing did not. Ewing only wanted to play for the Lakers or the Knicks. But, the Trail Blazers got caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar. The result was a then staggering $250,000 fine placed by brand new commissioner David Stern.
Stern, asserting his authority, called both the Rockets and the Blazers executives to his office to discuss the matter. The Rockets, having documented their contacts with NCAA coaches came away with no damages, fines, or draft picks taken away. The Bulls meanwhile, sat on the sideline hoping that either team would be stripped of its pick allowing the Bulls to possibly move up and take Olajuwon. That did not happen either.
Before the coin flip, the Bulls were in active talks with several teams about the #3 pick. Some of the talks were not so pleasant. Former Bulls coach and then Dallas Mavericks head coach, Dick Motta, complained openly the Bulls had tanked several games in the 1983-1984 season in order to enhance their draft slot.
Despite Motta’s objections, Philadelphia GM Pat Williams adored Jordan and was willing to talk a deal. Everything depended on the coin flip. Either team was going to take Olajuwon with first pick. But Houston was not going to take Bowie second if it lost the first pick.
Had this scenario played out, that meant that 7’1 Kentucky big man Sam Bowie would fall to the Bulls. Then, in turn, the Bulls would have shipped Bowie off to Seattle for All-Star and Illinois native Jack Sikma, then a 28 year old center for the Super Sonics. The Rockets won the coin toss killing the Sikma deal.