Sam Bowie will forever be the guy the Portland Trail Blazers picked ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft. It seems hard to believe now, given his well-documented history of injuries, but Bowie really did spend 10 seasons as an actual NBA player, and in six of those seasons, he played in more games than he didn't. He also really did have a career PER of 14.6. His injuries coupled with when he was drafted have always defined him. But now that legacy has an added twist because Bowie is sending mixed signals about how damaged his left leg was before he was drafted.
In a forthcoming ESPN documentary called Going Big, Bowie admits he lied to the Blazers during a pre-draft medical examination:
"I can still remember them taking a little mallet, and when they would hit me on my left tibia, and ‘I don't feel anything' I would tell ‘em. But deep down inside, it was hurting," Bowie said in the documentary. "If what I did was lying and what I did was wrong, at the end of the day, when you have loved ones that have some needs, I did what any of us would have done."
We pause here to marvel at how primitive the medical science still was in 1984, and to wonder how things might have been different had Bowie had access to today's ubiquitous technology, such as an MRI. Let us now resume by presenting another quote in which Bowie seems to double down on his deception:
"I'm 51 years old now and my legs are broke down," he said in the documentary. "I'm very proud, don't feel like I owe an apology to anyone. The bottom line is: Sam Bowie was drafted before Michael Jordan and you're gonna have to accept that."
The Oregonian got Bowie on the phone last night. In his interview with the newspaper, Bowie tried to walk back what he says in the film:
"My discomfort wasn't to the point where I would say to the Portland Trail Blazers or anyone else, ‘My leg is extremely sore. I wouldn't draft me. I don't think I'm going to play a full career in the NBA,'" Bowie told The Oregonian. "That wasn't the situation at all. The thing that bothers me is that I'm looked upon in some way as a liar. That's never been my demeanor, my makeup, my character. By no means was I tricking or was it a premeditated position to lie and give somebody damaged goods. To say that I deliberately went into the Portland Trail Blazers' front office and completely lied to them about my physical being could not be further form the truth."
The Oregonian says Bowie has long been a mostly sympathetic figure in Portland because of what his many injuries did to his career. The Blazers, after all, did draft him even though he had missed two years at Kentucky because of a severe shin injury. He also was healthy enough to play 76 games and make the all-rookie team in 1985, which was before he fractured one leg and then the other in successive years. Bowie and the Blazers didn't part ways till after the 1988-89 season, but he never played more than 38 games for them after his rookie year. Could the Blazers avoided it all had Bowie spoken up? Who's to say? Squandering a high draft pick on a chronically injured big man is such a freak occurrence, how could the Blazers know who to blame? Bowie also told The Oregonian he would be "hurt" if the perception of him were to change because of anything he says in the film.