Michael Jordan was the big brother that Kobe Bryant never had. We knew how close the two were when Jordan gave his speech at the funeral for Bryant last year. Both players are the clear headliners of their respective drafts, but if Kobe was still around, he would tell you that his class was better.
Jordan, the ultimate competitor, would have something to say about that. With a variety of Hall of Famers coming from the 1984 class, it gives a clear competitive push against the 1996 class. In the end, who gets the last laugh: Jordan or Kobe?
1984 Draft Class
At the end of the day, Jordan will go down as the greatest player of all time even after the retirement of LeBron James. Jordan is a perfect 6-0 in the NBA Finals with six Finals MVP trophies. The Trail Blazers are still kicking themselves for taking Sam Bowie with the No. 2 overall pick, watching Jordan go at No. 3 to the Chicago Bulls.
Olajuwon was the consensus No. 1 overall pick taken by the Houston Rockets. Sure, the Rockets could have gone with Jordan, but Olajuwon carved out a nice career for himself in Houston with two NBA championships and an MVP. Thanks to Jordan retiring from the game twice, Olajuwon finished with more All-NBA appearances, which surely eats at MJ.
Barkley is one of the greatest players of all time without an NBA ring. Barkley was the face of the 76ers and Suns, including winning an MVP in Phoenix. Barkley made 11 All-Star and All-NBA appearances in his career. Taken at No. 5 overall, the combination of Olajuwon, Jordan, and Barkley make this one of the best top-5 draft classes in history.
Stockton was the maestro with the ball in his hands. Stockton led the league in assists nine times and steals two times in his career. During Jordan’s championship runs in 1997 and 1998, the Bulls had to get past the Utah Jazz two times. Those teams were headlined by Karl Malone and Stockton.
Robertson was a four-time All-Star, as well as the 1986 Defensive Player of the Year. In that season, he set an NBA record for 3.7 blocks per game. Robertson averaged over 3.0 blocks per game three times in his career, as well as making one All-NBA appearance.
In Thorpe’s lone All-Star appearance, he averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Thorpe should have likely made more All-Star appearances, but had some stiff competition from the field. He averaged a double-double five times, including a 20.8 point, 10.2 rebound season in 1988. Thorpe won a championship in 1994 with the Rockets and Olajuwon.
To put Willis into modern terms, he was to the Hawks in the 80s and 90s to what Al Horford produced during his time. Willis averaged a double-double six times in his career, including an 18.3 point, 15.5 All-Star season. Willis later won an NBA championship in 2003 as a role player for the Spurs.
Perkins was the No. 4 overall pick in the draft. Despite never making an All-Star team, he was a solid starter in the league for Mavericks, Lakers, SuperSonics, and Pacers. He averaged 11.9 points and 6.0 rebounds in his career, including a career-best 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in 1992.
Talk about a Cinderella story. Kersey was the second to last player taken in the second round, taken at No. 46 overall. In Kersey’s fourth season, he averaged 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Trail Blazers. For six seasons, Kersey was in the starting lineup for Portland. In his later years, he appeared in 14 games for the Spurs on route to winning an NBA championship.
Cage led the league in rebounding in 1988 while a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a wild finish as Cage needed 28 rebounds to take down Charles Oakley for the title. He grabbed 30 rebounds in his final game. His nickname “Windexman” was given to him for always being able to “clean up the glass.” Cage enjoyed a long NBA career that spanned from 1984 to 2000.
1984 Draft Class Accolades
NBA Championships: 12 (Michael Jordan x6, Hakeem Olajuwon x2, Otis Thorpe x1, Kevin Willis x1, Earl Jones x1, Jerome Kersey x1)
MVP Awards: 7 (Michael Jordan x5, Hakeem Olajuwon x1, Charles Barkley x1)
All-NBA Teams: 46 (Hakeem Olajuwon x12, Michael Jordan x11, Charles Barkley x11, John Stockton x11, Alvin Robertson x1)
All-Stars: 53 (Michael Jordan x14, Hakeem Olajuwon x12, Charles Barkley x11, John Stockton x10, Alvin Robertson x4, Otis Thorpe x1, Kevin Willis x1)
1996 Draft Class
Jordan will always have the upper hand on Bryant in championships by beating him out 6-5. Bryant pulled off one three-peat with Shaq from 2000-2002 and then won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. However, Bryant did finish with more All-Star appearances with 15.
Iverson led the 76ers to their last NBA Finals appearance in 2001 before falling to Bryant in the NBA Finals. Iverson averaged over 30 points five times in his career despite standing at 6-foot-1. He defied all odds, ultimately being selected with the No. 1 overall pick by Philadelphia.
Nash and Stockton could go toe-to-toe with each other, but Nash owns two MVP trophies while Stockton owns none. Nash helped lead one of the league’s best offenses during his time with the Suns. Nash is a four-time member of the 50-40-90 club. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Before Steph Curry started playing the league, Allen was known as the greatest three-point shooter of all time. He once led the league in postseason three-point field goals until Curry recently broke that mark. Allen helped the Celtics and Heat win championships during his tenure.
Another great three-point shooter, Stojakovich won back-to-back Three-Point Shootout crowns. In 2002, Stojakovic was a critical piece of the Kings’ run to the Western Conference Finals. To some, the Kings should have played in the NBA Finals and not the Lakers. If that happened, it would be another player to a long list of NBA championships from this draft class.
While maybe not a Hall of Famer, O’Neal fits the class of “Hall of Really Good.” O’Neal made the All-Star team six times and helped the Pacers make the postseason each year from 2000 to 2006. O’Neal was a tough player that will always be a fan favorite in Indy.
Wallace never needed to score that much because he was too busy playing defense. Perhaps the greatest defensive player of all time, Wallace won the Defensive Player of the Year four times. From 2002-2006, he made All-Defensive First Team and won a championship in 2004 with the Pistons. Wallace was also undrafted, which makes his success even sweeter.
Camby won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2007, which means that two players from this draft won half of theseasonsPhiladelphiae 2000s. Camby never made an All-Star team but was one of the better players to play for the Clippers during their horrid years.
Marbury is a China Basketball Association icon. In the NBA, he was a two-time All-Star that averaged as much as 23.9 points per game for the Nets. In the CBA, he won a Finals MVP in 2015.
Walker will best be remembered as a three-time All-Star that won a championship as a role player for the 2006 Miami Heat. As a member of the Celtics, he averaged at least 20 points per game in six of his eight seasons.
1996 Draft Class Accolades
NBA Championships: 19 (Kobe Bryant x5, Derek Fisher 5x, Ray Allen x2, Malik Rose 2x, Ben Wallace, 1x, Peja Stojakovic, Antoine Walker 1x, Samaki Walker 1x, Travis Knight 1x, Shandon Anderson 1x)
MVP Awards: 4 (Steve Nash x2, Kobe Bryant x1, Allen Iverson x1)
All-NBA Teams: 37 (Kobe Bryant x15, Allen Iverson x7, Steve Nash 7x, Jermaine O'Neal x3, Stephon Marbury x2, Ray Allen x2 Peja Stojakovic 1x)
All-Stars: 64 (Kobe Bryant x18, Allen Iverson x11, Ray Allen x10, Steve Nash x8, Jermaine O'Neal x6, Antoine Walker x3, Peja Stojakovic x3, Stephon Marbury x2, Zydrunas Ilgauskas x2, Shareef Abdur-Rahim x1)
Which NBA Draft Class Is Better: 1984 or 1996?
These are easily the top two draft classes ever in the NBA. In terms of a talent standpoint, both classes possess some of the best overall basketball players the league has ever seen. From 1984, the class features the best player ever (Jordan), the most skilled big man ever (Olajuwon), and one of the toughest forces of nature to ever play the game (Barkley.)
In the end, the 1984 draft class reigns supreme. The draft class produced three of the best players from any draft. Jordan and Olajuwon won eight championships combined. Despite Barkley never winning a title, these three players are in the top-50 players of all time in any player rankings.
The 1996 class may feature more overall championships, but that number is inflated with Derek Fisher playing with Kobe for five of the titles. Malik Rose, Wallace, Walker, Travis Knight, nor Shandon Anderson truly led their team to titles like Jordan and Olajuwon. In the end, Jordan gets the last laugh over Kobe once again.
Allen Iverson Says The 1996 Draft Class Is Better Than The Classes Of 2003 With LeBron And 1984 With Jordan