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A Look Back: 1980 NBA Draft

Posted on November 13 2020

In preparation for the 2020 NBA Draft on Nov. 18, The Chucker, 19nine’s resident historian, takes us back to milestone drafts of the past. Today, the 1980 draft, which included an era-defining trade of the top pick, the unheralded arrival of a “Bad Boy,” and a notable NBA Draft first.

Pre-draft Buzz: What would Boston do? Fresh off Larry Bird’s exciting rookie season in Beantown, the Celtics held the top choice thanks to an earlier trade of Bob McAdoo. The day before the draft, the Celtics sent the first and 13th picks to Golden State in exchange for Robert Parish and the third pick, which Boston then used to select Kevin McHale. In one June swoop, the Celtics assembled the frontcourt that would lead them to three NBA titles in the 1980s.

The Top Pick: With first choice in hand, the Golden State Warriors selected Purdue standout Joe Barry Carroll. The Denver native played 10 seasons in the NBA, interrupted by a surprising mid-career departure to Italy. A member of the 1981 All-Rookie Team, Carroll earned an All-Star nod in 1987 and averaged 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds over 705 career games.  

The Top Pro: The pride and joy of Minnesota, McHale would don Celtic green for the entirety of his 13-year NBA career. One of the game’s most skilled post players, McHale averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds for his career, earning seven All-Star spots, six All-Defensive team nods, two Sixth Man of the Year awards, and one All-NBA slot. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

The Highest-Picked Who: The #5 pick by the Denver Nuggets, James Ray was a force at Jacksonville University, averaging 17 points per game during his senior year en route to earning Sun Belt Player of the Year honors in 1980. Ray, however, never found a groove in the NBA. Over three seasons with the Nuggets, Ray played in a total of 103 games, never averaging more than 10 minutes a contest. He concluded his career in Italy, Spain, and Turkey.

Notable Names: The 1980 draft featured numerous draftees who gained more prominence on the sidelines than the court. Future coaches selected over the 10-round draft include NBA coaches Mike Woodson of Indiana and Terry Stotts of Oklahoma. Louis Orr, who starred at Syracuse, would later head the program at Seton Hall while Lorenzo Romar would guide his alma mater, Washington, to prominence as the Huskies head coach from 2002-2017.

The Hidden Gem: Though never a high-scoring star, Rick Mahorn enjoyed a solid and long NBA career. The 35th pick to the Washington Bullets, Mahorn starred at Hampton University before an 18-year NBA career best remembered for his feisty run with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons that included a 1989 NBA title. As a member of the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1989-90 season, Mahorn earned a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive second team.

Drop Knowledge on Your Boys: The 1980 NBA Draft was the first to be televised as the USA Network brought the draft into American homes.

19nine Connection: The final pick in the first round in 1980, Carl Nicks starred alongside Larry Bird during Indiana State’s epic run to the 1979 NCAA Championship game against Michigan State. Nicks and Bird remain the only two Sycamores ever selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.

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