Ex-76ers GM Pat Williams: 'Nobody' Thought Michael Jordan Would Be GOAT

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2020

CHICAGO - 1984: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls dribbles upcourt during his rookie season in 1984 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1984 NBAE (Photo by Peter Read Miller/NBAE via Getty Images)
Peter Read Miller/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers attempted to move up in the 1984 NBA draft to select Michael Jordan, but even then-general manager Pat Williams didn't envision Jordan's all-time ascendance.

Williams told The Athletic's Fred Katz and Darnell Mayberry the Sixers valued Jordan highly at the time, partially because MJ and the team's head coach, Billy Cunningham, played at North Carolina:

"People are shocked. 'We didn't know (Jordan) was gonna be that good and so forth.' Well, we certainly knew he was gonna be good. Greatest player of all time? Nobody saw that coming. But everybody knew. And if you were in that Carolina pipeline, which we were because of Billy, you had all the inside skinny on what was going on in Chapel Hill."

The Sixers had the No. 5 selection in the 1984 draft, and Bulls general manager Rod Thorn told Katz and Mayberry that Chicago was content to hold on to the third pick.

Landing Jordan was never a serious possibility for Philadelphia, but the team wound up getting a future Hall of Famer in Charles Barkley anyway.

Jordan was a national champion in 1982, hitting the pivotal shot for the Tar Heels against Georgetown. He was also the consensus Player of the Year in 1983-84.

Even with that resume, it was impossible at the time to imagine he would become such a transcendent star. UNC head coach Dean Smith's more egalitarian offense prevented MJ from showing off his true potential as a scorer. He averaged 17.7 points per game in three years at Chapel Hill.

The Last Dance referenced how the broad opinion on Jordan started shifting after the 1984 Summer Olympics, which took place after the NBA draft. In helping the United States win gold, he averaged 17.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in eight games.

The documentary included a clip of Team USA head coach Bobby Knight calling Jordan "the best basketball player I've ever seen play."

And it didn't take long for Chicago to become aware of the player it had. Keith Brown, who worked for the Bulls, told Katz and Mayberry that head coach Kevin Loughery cut the team's first practice short because Jordan "was just dominating so much he was embarrassing the rest of the team."

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