What If Michael Jordan Didn’t Exist? Part I

(This May or May Not Be Inaccurate within the Scenario)

Every Hakeem Olajuwon or Karl Malone fan — locked in a heated debate — has proudly said that if Michael Jordan didn’t exist, their legacies would be astronomically “better” at least one time or another. The fact of the matter though is that Michael Jordan climbed to the peak of professional basketball, and acclimated himself at that peak, never allowing his contemporaries to better him. And, for many stars of the 1990’s, that eliminated their opportunity to etch their name’s into the NBA’s history book.

So, in this series, I’ll be projecting what the NBA would look like had Michael Jordan never existed. From the initial impact that his absence would have on the 1984 draft, to how that power vacuum extended into the far future.

The 1984 Draft:

The Chicago Bulls were left with a no-brainer when the Portland Trail Blazers drunkenly made the mistake of choosing Sam Bowie over UNC’s phenomenon Michael Jordan, fearing the potential overlap with the budding Clyde Drexler. However, in an alternate universe where his Airness never existed, the draft shakes out a little differently. The Houston Rockets still take (H)akeem Olajuwon with the first overall pick, who eventually becomes the main attraction of arguably one of the best drafts ever. Portland, however, still follows suit with the atrocious selection of Sam Bowie, proving that Bill Walton’s curse is still all but unavoidable. Then there’s Chicago, who in a Michael Jordan-less world would still look to Chapel Hill for their future, drafting Sam Perkins with the third overall pick. Then, Dallas looks nearby for their next selection, and draft Auburn’s “Round Mound of Rebound”, Charles Barkley, stealing the future Dream Teamer from Philadelphia. And, then capping off the initial round of notable picks, Philadelphia takes future Defensive Player of the Year Award winner, Alvin Robertson to pair with the veteran presence of Julius Erving and Moses Malone.

1984–85 Season:

Subsequently, the following NBA season see’s drastic changes beyond the league’s elite teams like Boston, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee. Philadelphia is the exception to the rule though, because Alvin Robertson’s tenacity and athleticism gives the team a utility-knife off the bench, relieving Andrew Toney of minutes that would eventually result in the stress fractures that ruined his brittle feet. Salvaging what would have otherwise been a Hall of Fame career, terrorizing the Celtics when it mattered the most. Meanwhile, Dallas see’s marginal improvement with their new power forward, Charles Barkley, but still lose to Portland in the first round. The biggest change lies in the Chicago Bulls, who win 31 games with their new big man, instead of the 37 that they did with Michael Jordan, meaning the Bulls climb in the draft to the fifth overall pick, and steal the illustrious John Koncak away from Atlanta. Of course, Jordan isn’t there to win the 1985 Rookie of the Year, so (H)akeem Olajuwon gladly lays claim to the award, taking the league by storm as its premier young talent.

Champion: The Los Angeles Lakers
MVP: Larry Bird
FMVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
DPOY: Mark Eaton
Sixth Man: Kevin McHale
Rookie: (H)akeem Olajuwon

1985–86 Season:

The 1986 season is a harbinger, proving that the future isn’t as far away as Magic-Bird stalwarts would like to imagine. Houston, powered by the Twin-Towers of Olajuwon and Sampson are still the prevailing power in the Western Conference beneath the Showtime Lakers, but the Dallas Mavericks officially usurp the Denver Nuggets as the shoot first-ask questions later team in the Western Conference, finishing with 48 wins behind their trio of Blackman, Aguirre, and Barkley — who made significant improvements from his rookie year. However, Alvin Robertson doesn’t win the Defensive Player of the Year award because of his reduced role in Philadelphia, as opposed to San Antonio. However, the Sixers are an improved team as opposed to their Charles Barkley counterpart, because of the presence of a still-healthy Andrew Toney. And, with another 20+ scorer added to their team and a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, the Sixers prove to the league that they are in fact here to stay, and not a dying superpower despite Dr. J’s looming retirement. Still, with all of that said, the Celtics still dominate the league handedly, and beat a Houston Rockets team that shockingly upset the reigning champion Lakers.

Champion: The Boston Celtics
MVP: Larry Bird
FMVP: Larry Bird
DPOY: Manute Bol
Sixth Man: Bill Walton
Rookie: Patrick Ewing

The 1986 Draft:

The 1986 Draft is still one marked with tragedy, not only because of Brad Daugherty’s eventual battle with chronic injury, but of course Len Bias’ passing. However, with Chicago’s previous two selections of Sam Perkins and Jon Koncak, and, more importantly, no Michael Jordan, the team has fallen even further in the draft. Specifically, to the number four spot, where they’re stuck exploring options in a shallow draft to say the least. And, as a man of opportunity, Pat Williams looks to improve on his young core by trading his veteran point guard, Maurice Cheeks, to Chicago in exchange for their fourth overall pick. Chicago gladly accepts their offer, and with their pick, Philadelphia finds their replacement for Julius Erving in Chuck Person, a marksmen out of Auburn of all places. And, in exchange, the Bulls gained a championship winning point guard to guide their young core of Sam Perkins, Orlando Woolridge and Jon Koncak.

1986–87 Season:

With Ralph Sampson’s failing health, and Charles Barkley’s ascension to superstar status, averaging nearly 20/15/5, the Dallas Mavericks become a near 60-win team. Meanwhile, the Sixers elapse into a high 40-win team with the loss of Moses Malone, but the fans are too lost in Dr. J’s retirement tour to really notice. The main thing to note here though is that because of Erving’s lingering presence, Person doesn’t play enough to earn the Rookie of the Year. However, Erving’s tutelage is enough to propel him even further than the heights he actually reached in Indiana. Like the previous two years though, despite all of the drastic changes going on, the league is still blinded by purple and gold. Magic Johnson’s charisma and talent are indelible, and so are his Showtime Lakers, storming all the way to a championship celebration in downtown Los Angeles.

Champion: The Los Angeles Lakers
MVP: Magic Johnson
FMVP: Magic Johnson
DPOY: Michael Cooper
Sixth Man: Ricky Pierce
Rookie: Ron Harper

The 1987 Draft:

The Bulls only won 34 games in the 1987 season, compared to the 40 they won with Michael Jordan, so their draft pick is considerably more favorable than 10th pick they initially received. Instead, they have the fourth pick, who they use to draft the small forward out of Arkansas that they wanted all along — Scottie Pippen. Then using the draft pick they received via a trade from Denver, that they would originally use to trade for Pippen, they still take Olden Polynice to add some much needed size(to no avail). Meanwhile, Indiana still picks Reggie Miller, and Boston still drafts Reggie Lewis.

1987–88 Season:

The 1988 season is where the lack of Jordan’s presence gives way to significant opportunity that wasn’t previously available, namely in the regular season MVP and DPOY award winners. Throughout the season, the Sixers make a start improvement from their original 1988 season, now being powered by the trio of Alvin Robertson, Andrew Toney, and Chuck Person — a deadly tandem of shooting, defense and tenacity that can’t be matched by any of the Eastern powers aside from Detroit and Boston. Across the coast, Dallas finally hits their stride behind Charles Barkley, who is now a bonafide MVP candidate. In fact, Charles Barkley, Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper finally usurp the Lakers in a closely contested regular season race, finishing with 59 wins as opposed to the Lakers 57. The end result is a Pistons v. Mavericks, which goes the distance in a seven game thriller.

Champion: The Detroit Pistons
MVP: Larry Bird
FMVP: Isiah Thomas
DPOY: Alvin Robertson
Sixth Man: Thurl Bailey
Rookie: Mark Jackson

1988–89 Season:

The Lakers and Celtics have seemingly been dethroned by the reigning champion Pistons and the surging Mavericks, but the difference between winning and losing greatly effect the two conference champions. The well-documented issues that Isiah Thomas and Adrian Dantley shared began to dissolve, because they, like everyone else, know that winning makes everything a whole lot more enjoyable. Adversely, losing the NBA Finals began to widen the chasm forming between Mark Aguirre and his teammates. So, management made the bold move to trade the superstar in hopes of salvaging their championship aspirations. Ultimately they traded Aguirre and Schrempf to Philadelphia, who in return reunited Charles Barkley with his former Auburn teammate, Chuck Person. Now, with the added bonus of arguably the league’s best shooter, the Nuggets stormed through the regular season vying with the Lakers and Suns for the West’s top spot, which was ultimately claimed by the Lakers, hoping to send Kareem out with one last hoorah before his career’s end. The end result though was, once again, a Pistons v. Mavericks Finals. However, this time, Charles Barkley came prepared. Stronger, faster, and more determined than ever to blast through the ‘Bad Boy’ defense like a runaway freight train — leading his Mavericks to the first championship in the franchise’s history.

Champion: The Dallas Mavericks
MVP: Charles Barkley
FMVP: Charles Barkely
DPOY: (H)akeem Olajuwon
Sixth Man: Dennis Rodman
Rookie: Mitch Richmond