Rod Thorn's Career Defined By The Icon He Drafted
As Americans across the country try to find ways to pass the time in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, ESPN is helping out with the early release of “The Last Dance”, a ten-part documentary series focusing on the career and final championship season of NBA Hall of Famer, Michael Jordan.
In a brief feature during the series’ opening episode, one of the talking heads discussing Jordan’s early career was the man who drafted him, former Chicago Bulls general manager and West Virginia All-American basketball player, Rod Thorn.
During the documentary interview, Thorn talked extensively about the process of the famous 1984 draft in which he selected Jordan third overall for Chicago, after Houston took Hakeem Olajuwon in the first spot followed by Portland’s infamous choice of Kentucky’s Sam Bowie with the second pick.
He elaborated on this a bit when he returned to Morgantown to have his jersey retired in February. With a coin toss settling the rights to the top picks, a stroke of luck allowed the draft order to work perfectly for his plans.
“Had Portland won the flip, they would have taken Olajuwon, Houston would have taken Michael,” Thorn said.
He admitted that had the Bulls had the top choice that year, the dominant Olajuwon would have been his pick, but that was not meant to be. Instead, he took Jordan, widely considered to be the clear number two talent in the draft.
He does not have a problem seeing his legacy defined by that one draft pick.
“I think that’s probably what I’m known more for than anything else and if you’re going to be known for something, that’s not a bad thing to be known by,” he explained.
Why did he fall into Thorn’s lap at number three? Clyde Drexler.
Not realizing the generational talent available to him, Trail Blazers general manager Stu Inman decided to fill a need on his roster, grabbing the seven-foot Bowie to fill his center position rather than forcing a battle for minutes between Jordan and the team’s 1983 first round pick Drexler.
As a result, Jordan slid to the third spot and the Bulls snagged their franchise centerpiece. Boy, did they need him.
Coming off of a 27-55 season, Chicago was in need of a punch. Led by former Notre Dame star Orlando Woolridge, the Bulls had been mired in mediocrity since Thorn took over in 1978.
Making picks like the high-scoring Woolridge and All-Star Reggie Theus, he was able to bring talent into Chicago but the teams struggled to put success on the court. With his seat getting warmer and public interest in the franchise cratering, change was imminent with the flailing Bulls struggling to keep up with the rest of the league.
With just one playoff appearance as an executive to his name, Thorn hit the jackpot with Jordan but it turned out to be one of his last moves in charge of the team. A year later, in 1985, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf purchased the franchise and moved to bring in his own executives, firing Thorn in favor White Sox scout and former NBA talent judge Jerry Krause.
However, that was not the end of Thorn’s career in professional basketball. He would go on to a long and successful career with multiple teams and in the NBA league office, culminating in a Hall of Fame induction.
Better yet, one of his most important positions would see him cross paths with Jordan again, something we will talk about very soon.
Across an iconic career as a player, coach, and executive, Rod Thorn will always be best known nationally as the man who drafted Michael Jordan. However, West Virginia Mountaineer fans know him as much more than that and one of the greatest players the old gold and blue has ever seen.