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Throwback – Which is the best NBA draft EVER: 1984 or 1996?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Jonathan Daniel / Streeter Lecka / Staff
*Updated 2023
Over the decades, the NBA draft has given rise to basketball legends. Now that it`s draft season again, it’s a good time to look back and see which NBA draft was the best ever. The natural contenders for “the best draft ever” trophy would be the 1984 and 1996 drafts. The former included the greatest player of all time, “His Airness” Michael Jordan, as well as three more Hall of Famers: Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton.  Meanwhile, the latter draft included Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen among others.


1984 is the best NBA draft ever:


No weak links

They say you`re as good as your weakest link. The 1984 draft had no weak links. Who could be considered the weakest link there exactly? John Stockton, the league leader in assists and steals to this day? Or Sir Charles (Barkley), who was one of the greatest rebounders of his time? The 1996 draft had far more weaker links, especially compared to Barkley or Stockton. Steve Nash was considered as a lesser version of Stockton, and a far worse defensive player. Allen Iverson is considered one of the most talented players ever, but he never fulfilled his potential. Kobe Bryant was a phenomenon, but if you consider players like Markus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, or Stephon Marbury of the 1996 draft, this one had weaker links.


1984 draft is the best even without Jordan

The 1984 draft included Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. Hakeem won two championships, was twice named the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and once the finals MVP. Barkley and Stockton won the Western Conference and made it to the finals three times (combined), only to lose to Michael Jordan. The 1984 draft players reached the NBA finals five times in the 90`s, which is considered as the league`s golden era. This era was dominated by Jordan, but if it wasn’t for him, it is fair to say that his 1984-draft buddies would have dominated and would have won more championship rings. Take out Jordan, and the 1984 draft is still the best draft ever.


An unprecedented star quality

Like it or not, NBA basketball is a game of super stars. Players have a substantial impact on the game, their team, and even on their team`s squads and managerial decisions. Their egos are huge, and rightfully so, because during the money time, it`s them out there; they take the shots, and they take the blame for missed shots. Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever. Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton are Hall of Famers who were THE superstars of the golden era. Until today, they are considered as one of the best in their positions. The 1984 draft had the biggest star quality ever and should be considered the best draft ever.


1996 is the best NBA draft:


Quantity over quality

Choosing the best NBA draft year shouldn`t be based on which draft had the best players but on which draft is better as a whole. The 1996 draft was the best draft as a whole since it introduced the largest number of quality players. Five of the first six picks were all-star players. Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players to have ever played the game, was chosen as the 13th spot. Steve Nash, another NBA legend, was chosen as the 15th spot. The 1996 draft produced some of the best players, therefore it was the best draft ever.


Drafts are about talent; not careers

The NBA draft is about predicting each player’s ability. Teams make selections according to a player`s potential and talent. The best draft should be the one with the most talented – not the most successful – players. The 1996 draft had the most talented players, including Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, two of the most talented NBA players ever, and other huge talents like Steve Nash and Stephon Marbury. The 1984 draft didn’t have the most talented players. Hakeem, Barkley and John Stockton were superstars with huge careers, but mostly due to their characters and determination, not necessarily due to their talent. If you look at drafts by the amount of talent, it`s the 1996 that claims the top spot.


Number of championship rings

In sports, greatness is usually measured by titles and championship rings. Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of our time because he won six rings; the NFL’s Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever because he surpassed Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw by winning his seventh Super Bowl ring, and John Federer is the best tennis player ever because he has won 20 Grand Slams. Accordingly, the 1984 draft is not the best ever. Jordan, Olajuwon, Barkley, Thorpe and Stockton have nine rings combined. In contrast, the 1996 draft players – Bryant, Allen, Walker, Stojakovic, Fisher (who was picked in the 24th spot and played a key role in few LA Lakers championships) and Ben Wallace (not drafted) – have a total of fifteen rings.


The Bottom Line: The 1984 draft can be considered as the best draft ever since its Jordan, Olajuwon, Barkley and Stockton were all huge superstars, with no “weak links.” Even if you take Jordan out, it would still be better than other drafts. On the other hand, the 1996 draft contained the most talented players, was more competitive, and featured players who won more championship rings in total. If given a chance, on which team would you want to play?

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