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A Look Back: 1985 NBA Draft

Posted on November 14 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 groundbreaking 1985 draft, the first “lottery” in draft history and one littered with conspiracy theories that then-Commissioner David Stern rigged the draft to deliver do-everything big man Patrick Ewing to the New York Knicks.

Pre-draft Buzz: Though Ewing was the clear top choice for the Knicks, things were much less certain with Indiana at #2. Despite the presence of the sharpshooting Chris Mullin of St. John’s, the Pacers were largely deciding between a pair of juniors – Wayman Tisdale of Oklahoma and Benoit Benjamin of Creighton. “A lot of people think it’s an easy decision because everyone’s heard of Tisdale and the average fan hasn’t heard of Benjamin. But if you talk to basketball people, things get more complicated,” Pacers coach George Irvine said days before the Draft. Ultimately, the Pacers went with Tisdale, who had a solid pro career but never hit the lofty heights many anticipated. The 6-9 forward never made an All-Star team, though he did average double figures in 11 of his 12 NBA seasons, including a 22.3 points per game mark in 1989-90 with Sacramento.

The Top Pick: After a standout four-year career at Georgetown, Ewing landed in the Big Apple as the Knicks appointed savior. As a rookie in 1985-86, Ewing averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds per game, earning Rookie of the Year honors despite the Knicks actually winning one less game than the previous season. Ewing, however, would eventually push the Knicks back into relevance as one of the NBA’s top teams in the 1990s. A seven-time All-NBA honoree, Ewing, now the head coach at Georgetown, entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.


The Top Pro: One of the greatest power forwards of all time, Karl Malone went from unheralded Louisiana Tech to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Selected by the Utah Jazz with the 13th pick – one year after the Jazz had selected his longtime pick-and-roll partner John Stockton – Malone earned All-Rookie team honors in 1986, the start of a decorated 19-year professional career that included 14 All-NBA honors and two MVP awards.

The Highest-Picked Who: With the 12th pick, the Washington Bullets selected Kenny Green, a high-scoring small forward from Wake Forest. After playing in only 20 games, the Bullets jettisoned the rookie to Philadelphia. Green played but 40 games for the 76ers before leaving the NBA for good in 1987.

Notable Names: The 1985 Draft produced five Hall of Famers in Ewing, Malone, Mullin, Joe Dumars, and Arvydas Sabonis as well as six additional All-Stars in Michael Adams, AC Green, Xavier McDaniel, Charles Oakley, Terry Porter, and Detlef Schrempf.

The Hidden Gem: While 17-year pro Terry Porter came from Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, he was nevertheless a first-round pick who garnered the attention of NBA franchises. So, how about Mario Elie, the 160th selection from American International College? After developing his game in Ireland, Portugal, and Argentina, Elie made his NBA debut in 1990. During an 11-year NBA career, Elie won titles as a key contributor for the Rockets (1994, 1995) and Spurs (1999).

Drop Knowledge on Your Boys: Two years after being selected with the 97th overall pick in the 1983 Draft by the Clippers (a selection later deemed void by the NBA), Manute Bol reentered the draft waters following a dominant season at Division II Bridgeport. The Washington Bullets selected the 7-6 Sudanese center with the 31st overall pick. The affable Bol would play 10 seasons in the NBA and twice lead the league in blocks.  

19nine Connection: Let’s go to the Big East. Mullin and fellow first-rounder Bill Wennington starred on St. John’s 1985 Final Four team while Ed Pickney, the #10 pick in the ’85 Draft, led Villanova to its upset victory over Georgetown in the 1985 title game.

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