Most sports fans only know one thing about Sam Bowie: He was the NBA draft bust taken one spot ahead of Michael Jordan.
They don’t realize that Bowie is proud of the career he had. They don’t realize that he’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars racing horses after retirement. And they don’t realize that there was once a time when the Blazers were more than content with Bowie as a consolation prize after losing a coin toss with Houston for the rights to the 1984 draft’s No. 1 pick, Hakeem Olajuwon.
Since Portland already had a backcourt nucleus of Clyde Drexler and Jim Paxson, the team believed Bowie, not Jordan, would be the final piece to winning a championship. The team doctor assured Portland coach Dr. Jack Ramsay that Bowie was sound medically despite missing the entire 1982 and ’83 seasons at Kentucky due to a broken left tibia he suffered while — get this — jumping for a photo shoot.
Bowie actually had a solid first season in the NBA, making the All-Rookie Team. But injuries limited the 7-foot-1 center to 38 games the next season. Then it all came crashing down just five games into his third season on Nov. 7, 1986, when Bowie broke his right tibia. The bone broke skin and Bowie himself compared it to someone chopping his leg with an axe.
He missed the rest of the season, and just when he was ready to return the following year, he broke his right leg in the same place during warm-ups of an exhibition game. He missed the entire 1988 season and barely played the following year, after which the Blazers cut their losses and traded him to New Jersey.
A decent player on some dreadful Nets teams, Bowie continued to be plagued by injuries. Barely anyone noticed when he played his last game in 1995 for the Lakers. But as Jordan continued to collect rings and earn the title of “Greatest Player Ever,” Bowie’s infamy has grown over the years, and his name is always near the top of lists of the greatest draft busts of all time.
So just where is Bowie now? He’s back in Lexington, Ky., where he’s still treated as basketball royalty. And he spends his days following athletes with equally fragile legs as a racehorse owner. He even struck it big by purchasing a harness racehorse named “Before He Cheats” (yes, after the Carrie Underwood song). The horse has won Bowie hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Bowie’s reaction to being called the greatest NBA draft bust ever?
“There’s a small part of you — and I think it’s human nature — that you want to man up, roll your sleeves up, dig your heels in and represent yourself,” Bowie said. But, he added, “I personally feel elated that my game was to the point where someone thought of me worthy of the second pick, and I don’t feel I need to apologize by any means.”
The good news for Kentucky fans is that another Bowie might soon don a Wildcat uniform. His daughter Gabby is already over 6-feet tall and played varsity basketball last season despite being in just the seventh grade. Now, if she can only stay healthy.