To say Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of an era is an understatement. With his incredible on-court displays and marketable off-court personality, he turbo-boosted basketball from a growing sport into a worldwide phenomenon.
The gravity that radiated off of him pulled millions of fans to the team that drafted him - the Chicago Bulls – making them the most popular NBA team during his entire tenure. But what if he never became a Bull, or if his time spent with them was significantly shortened. How would that change how the NBA grew? Would he go to a worse team and not have the same all-NBA support around him, leading to a world where Michael Jordan is not synonymous with “The Greatest Ever”?
Believe it or not, the possibility of Jordan going to different teams occurred on multiple occasions, both in the draft and into his NBA career. With what we know now, these trades range from understandable to downright silly, but no trade would ever be worth what MJ was for the Bulls.
1. Michael Jordan For Dr. Julius Erving (1984)
Dr. J was past his prime and on the decline, but he could still produce big numbers for Philadelphia going into the 1984 season. Philadelphia liked what they saw in a young North Carolina shooting guard and opened talks with the Chicago Bulls to trade Dr. J for the #3 pick in the draft. Chicago, looking more towards the future than buying into the “win now” mentality, declined the trade, keeping the pick and drafting the best player in NBA history.
2. Pick 3 For Charles Barkley, Andrew Toney And Clemon Johnson (1984)
Philadelphia didn’t give up when their Dr. J trade attempt was shut down. Instead, they doubled-down and offered the #5 overall pick in the same draft, while sweetening the deal with Andrew Toney and Clemon Johnson, who were an all-star and a serviceable big man, respectively, going into the 1984 draft. The #5 pick ended up being Charles Barkley – himself an all-time great – but I am sure Chicago was happy with their decision to reject the trade.
3. Pick 3 For Jack Sikma (1984)
Yes, this trade would have gone down as one of the worst in NBA history. Yes, Jack Sikma is not in the same stratosphere of basketball talent as MJ. But no, this trade was not – at the time - as ludicrous as it now seems. Jack Sikma is one of the more underrated players in NBA history, making the all-star game in the 6 seasons leading up to the 1984 draft. He was much better than his nickname “Goldilocks” suggests. The trade almost went through, before SEATTLE decided against it because they wanted to receive a center in the trade as well.
4. Pick 3 For Terry Cummings (1984)
Chicago’s quest for a proven center did not end with their failed courting of Jack Sikma. Terry Cummings, a young Clipper who averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds in the season before the draft. Not only was he a stud on the court, but Cummings played all of his pre-NBA basketball around Chicago, growing up in the area and going to Chicago-based Depaul University. The deal fell through, but the Clippers gave another shot at getting that coveted third pick.
5. Michael Jordan For Anything You Want (1988)
Donald Sterling, the then-owner of the Clippers, would give up anything for Michael Jordan. Jordan had played 4 years in the NBA - winning MVP and DPOY in the previous season - but his playstyle was not yet one that lead to team success. Sterling offered the Bulls their pick of any combination of 5 players or draft picks in exchange for MJ.
I’ve never heard of an offer like that before or since this occasion. It’s pretty insane, he was basically ready to blow up his franchise in an attempt to get a player that it was unsure you could win a championship with.
Anyways, the most likely package that Chicago would have chosen was two top-6 picks in the 1988 draft (including the #1 pick), Benoit Benjamin, Mike Woodson, and Michael Cage. In the end, Donald Sterling’s desperation to obtain Air Jordan was understandable, and Chicago made the right decision in declining the ludicrous trade offer.