Remembering the 1986 NBA Draft: Coke Is It!

What do you get when you cross Rasheed Wallace with Eric Clapton? You get the 1986 NBA draft.

Because ball don’t lie, ball don’t lie, ball don’t lie…cocaine.

The ’86 draft represents a low point in what was otherwise a seemingly uninterrupted 19-year run of awesome for the league, from the 1979 draft (where Magic Johnson went first overall and, after Larry Bird finished his senior season at Indiana State, he finally took up the mantle of having been the sixth overall pick a year earlier and joined the Celtics as a rookie) through “The Last Shot” at the end of the 1998 NBA Finals.

The league entered the Dark Ages after that (and don’t worry, the companion pieces about the plug-awful 2000 and ’02 drafts are coming in this mini-series, so stay tuned), but what a run.

But on June 17, 1986, the course of NBA history hit a speed bump that served as possible proof that June 17 is just a cursed day on the calendar (Google “June 17, 1994”. ‘Nuff said.)

It’s not often you get a draft where the top guy by Win Shares is picked in the second round (Jeff Hornacek, 108.9 WS and the 46th overall pick.)

It’s even weirder when the three top guys by WS in the entire draft all went as second-round picks (Hornacek, Dennis Rodman, and Mark Price.)

And for utter lunacy, you can’t beat the second and third overall picks combining for negative Win Shares—Len Bias had zero because he died on draft night and Chris Washburn was the worst third-overall pick in NBA history before Adam Morrison came along 20 years later and had a crying shame of a career.

The draft produced one Hall of Famer (Rodman), just five All-Stars (it wasn’t until 1997 that any draft would go lower than that, but Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady are already in the Hall and Chauncey Billups probably should be, and ’97 as a whole produced a ton of decent talent that at least posted solid, respectable if unspectacular careers), and not one but TWO players (Bias and Drazen Petrovic) who tragically died well before their time.

The top guy by WS/48 was 122nd overall pick Curtis Kitchen, who posted .217 WS/48 in 31 minutes across six games with the Seattle SuperSonics.

The only guy to crack the superstar line of .200 WS/48 who didn’t do it in garbage time was Arvydas Sabonis (.200 WS/48 in seven seasons, and he wouldn’t make his NBA debut until 1995.)

Only 11 players in the entire draft cracked .100 WS/48, the “Starter’s Mendoza Line”, and of those, barely half played in double-digit career seasons.

And the second overall pick, who landed in the laps of one of the greatest rosters the NBA has ever fielded, a team so good they had a Hall of Famer as their sixth man (Bill Walton on the Celtics), died of a case of nose candy while celebrating his draft selection, placing a curse on the team that even the title in 2008 doesn’t seem to have fully lifted.

Chuck Person went fourth in the draft and managed just 38.9 Win Shares despite starting over 600 games and playing in over 900 across a 13-year career.

Kenny Walker went fifth and managed just 0.6 VORP total in seven seasons.

William Bedford went sixth and pulled .017 WS/48 and minus-1.8 VORP in a draft where all the talent was in the second round but the Suns picked him in the first round.

Roy Tarpley went seventh to Dallas and immediately caused a shortage of drugs in the DFW Metroplex, finally getting kicked out of the league over it after missing four full seasons and most of a fifth, spending more games suspended than the 280 games he actually played on an NBA floor.

Ron Harper went eighth. If you were re-drafting the ’86 draft by career WS and by how well-remembered their overall careers were, you’d probably end up taking Harper fourth and possibly even third considering the value he had to Phil Jackson; Harper won three titles in Chicago and two with the Lakers before finally hanging them up in 2001.

Brad Sellers (negative VORP!) went ninth.

And Johnny Dawkins, a guy whose NBA legacy is “don’t you mean Darryl?”, went tenth.

Come to think of it, Planet Lovetron had a much better career. Darryl Dawkins was tragically denied a title when the Sixers traded him to New Jersey the year before they finally won a title and Detroit sent him packing early in the 1988-89 season so he wasn’t on the playoff roster, but he finished his career with 46.4 Win Shares, 7.8 VORP, and a reputation at his peak as a world-class defensive presence.

Johnny…not so much.

And I don’t care how many great players went in the second round. When the entire first round is busts, disasters, a dead guy, and a draft-n-stash who wouldn’t be seen in the NBA for another nine years, the best player by Win Shares is Jeff Freakin’ Hornacek, and the only Hall of Famer is Mr. North Korea Himself, that is a historically awful speed bump on the NBA’s road to global dominance.

The ’97 draft was bad but produced solid role players and one of the best players ever to play the game.

The ’13 draft was dreadful but gave us the Greek Freak.

The ’00 and ’02 drafts…we’ll get to them because hoo boy.

But the 1986 draft is proof that if you want to avoid having insane things happen in the world, don’t schedule a major event on June 17.