By Lorenzo Tanos
I am writing this article with some new-found ammunition – Tim Johnson's great, if a bit flawed book Who Da Man? The Quintessential Analysis of the NBA Draft. It's great because it's chock full of historical trivia on NBA draftees, especially the lesser-known ones, and because Johnson's one of the more entertaining sportswriters I've read this side of Bill Simmons. Unfortunately, the book is also riddled with misspellings (Allen Iverson's name misspelled at least twice as "Allan"), careless errors and misidentified names (e.g. 1951 first-overall pick Gene Melchiorre identified as "Gary"). He could've used a good proofreader. But dammit, that book is sure hard to put down…especially since it's an e-book.
Anyway, we're on to 1982, the year of Michael Jackson's Thriller album, among other culturally significant events. For all the names and all the stats, here's the complete listing of all draftees from 1982.
THE TOP PICK – James Worthy (LAL, SF, 6'9"-220, North Carolina) – The Lakers had the Cleveland Cavaliers' bonehead owner Ted Stepien to thank for the first-overall pick in the 1982 Draft. In February 1980, Stepien sent the Cavs' 1982 first-rounder and oft-injured point guard Butch Lee to the Lakers for L.A.'s own first-round pick in 1980 and journeyman power forward Don Ford. That 1982 first-rounder turned out to be James Worthy, whose 12-year career far exceeded the achievements of Ford and Chad Kinch, the eventual 1980 first-rounder acquired from the Lakers. All he did was start at small forward for three NBA Championship teams, get dubbed as "Big Game James" for his clutch play in the playoff rounds, and play in seven NBA All-Star games.
THE BEST – Dominique Wilkins (ATL, SF, 6'7"-200, Georgia, #3) – The Human Highlight Film may have won three less NBA titles than Worthy, but in terms of productivity, he was clearly the Class of 1982's finest. He won two Slam Dunk titles at All-Star Weekend, including the iconic 1985 event where he dueled with Michael Jordan in an iconic aerial battle for the ages. He averaged 24.8 ppg and 6.7 rpg for his career, despite a questionable final season with Orlando (in 1998-99) where he hardly got off the bench.
THE BUSTS – Bill Garnett (DAL, F/C, 6'9"-225, Wyoming, #4) and Keith Edmondson (ATL, SG, 6'5"-195, Purdue, #10) – This power forward named Garnett who was a Top 5 draft pick wasn't at all like the other Garnett who played the same position and was drafted 13 years later. KG is a future Hall of Famer. Bill Garnett, on the other hand, was beaten out by Pat Cummings as starting center, and spent four disappointing years in the NBA as a backup at the 4/5 slot. Edmondson was a great college scorer for Purdue who was a nice "instant offense" guy in his second of two NBA seasons (split with San Antonio and Denver), but almost a nonentity on the 1982-83 Hawks lineup. Hey, at least they got 'Nique with their first of two first-round selections in 1982.
THE STEAL – Mark Eaton (UTA, C, 7'4"-275, UCLA, #72) - This man-mountain was all of 25 years old when he was drafted a second time in 1982 (see below). He had attended college late, having worked as a car mechanic straight out of high school.
Yes, his offense was often terrible, but he did set an NBA record for most blocked shots in a season with 456 (5.6 a game) in 1985 and came quite close to averaging double figures that year. Eaton was first drafted by Phoenix in 1979 (5th round, 107th overall), right after his freshman year at Cypress JC – despite having three years college eligibility left, he was draft-eligible nonetheless as a member of the high school class of 1975.
Eaton's tremendous skill as a defensive stopper and one All-Star appearance gives him the edge as "The Steal" over the likes of Rod Higgins, Craig Hodges and the late Derek Smith (Nolan's dad).
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