The best word to describe the 1986 NBA Draft is tragic . This wasn't an all-time worst draft, but there were too many draft picks that didn't reach their full potential due to injuries or off-court issues -- most notably substance abuse. Cocaine was still prevalent in the league and, in this case, ended one of the most gifted player's career before it got started. Guards John Lucas and Michael Ray Richardson were suspended or banned during the previous season.
The league was entering its boom. The Boston Celtics were coming off a dominant championship run (67-15 during the regular season; 15-3 in playoffs). Michael Jordan was becoming a superstar after dumping 63 points on those Celtics in a playoff game. Detlef Schrempf became the first German player in the NBA while Georgi Glouchkov was the first Eastern Bloc player to play in the NBA ... developments that would begin to expand the league's talent pool. Larry Bird won his third straight MVP award.
This was the second draft to have a lottery system, and unlike the 1985 Draft, there wasn't a sure-fire franchise-changing player like Patrick Ewing that everyone coveted. But that night at the Felt Forum in New York City would produce one of the strangest and, yes, tragic drafts in memory. As we reach the 35th anniversary of the 1986 Draft, let's look at how the night unfolded.
North Carolina center Brad Daugherty would become the top overall selection in the 1986 NBA Draft. Given all the turmoil and tragedy that happened from this draft, Daugherty actually had a solid career. He reached five All-Star games in his career (his 19.0 ppg leads all players drafted in this draft) and he had his Cavaliers contending in the Central Division and Eastern Conference. Back issues would limit his career to just eight seasons.
Another interesting note is how Cleveland obtained this top draft pick. Way back in 1979, the San Diego Clippers traded their 1986 first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for Joe Bryant -- yes, Kobe Bean Bryant's father (Kobe was 13 months old at the time). Fast forward nearly seven years and the Sixers, who won the 1986 draft lottery, would deal the pick to Cleveland for Roy Hinson and cash.
Before we get to the notorious elements of the draft, let's stay with the Cavaliers for a moment. The Cavs crushed this draft. After drafting Daugherty No. 1 overall, they used the No. 8 pick on Ron Harper from Miami (OH). Harper was a very athletic player in Cleveland and averaged 22.9 ppg as a rookie (he would be traded to the Clippers for the draft rights to Danny Ferry in 1989). The pick used to draft Harper was sold to the Cavaliers by the NBA for $500,000 as compensation for the previous owner trading away all their picks.
Later in the draft, the Cavaliers would trade their 1989 second-round pick to the Dallas Mavericks for the draft rights to Mark Price, the 25th overall pick -- a second rounder at that time. Price would go on to be a four-time All-Star and first-team All-NBA selection in 1992-1993. The Mavericks would draft Jeff Hodge -- who never played a minute in the NBA -- with the pick they received from Cleveland. Those three players (along with fellow rookie John "Hot Rod" Williams) would form the core of a team that would be successful but found themselves not being able to get past Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Over a seven-year period, the Cavs were eliminated by the Bulls in the playoffs five times.
When people think about the 1986 NBA Draft, they typically think about the tragedy of Len Bias. Bias was an All-American from Maryland that had some fierce battles with North Carolina's Michael Jordan. The Boston Celtics lucked into the second pick of the 1986 draft by dealing Gerald Henderson to the Seattle SuperSonics back in 1984. Bias was to be an athletic force added to the Celtics, who were coming off a 67-15 season and a championship. Bird. Parish. McHale. DJ. Bias.
Except that never happened. Less than two days later, Bias was pronounced dead after suffering a seizure and cardiac arrhythmia due to a night of snorting cocaine at his dorm. Bias was 22 years old.
The Celtics would get back to the NBA Finals, losing to the Lakers. The 1980s dynasty Celtics wouldn't be the same as injuries to the core players began to pile up and the Bird-Parish-McHale Celtics would never return to the Finals. Bias' death, along with 1987 first-round draft pick Reggie Lewis in 1993, would set the franchise back during the next two decades.
The Golden State Warriors selected NC State's Chris Washburn with the third overall pick -- the third straight ACC player to go in the draft. Washburn would only play 72 games in his career and would check into a rehab center for his cocaine problem during his rookie year. When he returned to the Warriors, he was still underperforming.
In 1989, he received a lifetime ban by the NBA for repeatedly failing drug tests. He scored 222 total points, for a career scoring average of 3.1 points per game.
Chuck Person was Charles Barkley's teammate at Auburn and actually went higher in the draft when the Pacers selected him with the No. 4 pick (Barkley went 5th in the 1984 draft). "The Rifleman" was best known for his years with the Indiana Pacers, where his physical play mixed with an ability to shoot from long range earned him the 1987 Rookie of the Year award. His postseason tussles with Larry Bird's Boston Celtics were some of the best basketball in the early 1990s. He would bounce around with the Timberwolves, Spurs, Hornets, and SuperSonics before retiring. He would become a long-time NBA assistant coach before joining the bench at his alma mater. In 2017, he would be arrested as part of a bribery scandal at Auburn and was fired by the university.
Kenny "Sky" Walker's career started off very promising. After being selected fifth by the Knicks, Walker would average over 10 points a game in each of his first two seasons and would win the 1989 Slam Dunk contest. That 1988-1989 season, however, saw Walker's role diminish drastically as his minutes and production dropped sharply while knee injuries mounted. After five seasons in New York, he would play in Europe for a couple of years before returning to the NBA for a two-year stint with the Washington Bullets.
The Suns selected center William Bedford from Memphis with the No. 6 pick, with the Dallas Mavericks taking Michigan center Roy Tarpley with the 7th selection. Both would have substance abuse issues impact their careers, which each lasted six seasons. Tarpley was the much better player, averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds during his short career before a series of drunk driving incidents and cocaine abuse caused the league to place a lifetime ban on him in 1995. Tarpley passed away in 2015.
Bedford didn't find much success on or off the floor. He played for the Suns for one season before being dealt to the Detroit Pistons. After one season in Detroit, he missed the 1988-1989 season while in rehab. He would return the following season and win an NBA championship as a minor role player. After a few more seasons with the Pistons and one with the Spurs, his NBA career was over. In the years after his career, he was arrested numerous times and served an eight-year prison sentence.
After bust Brad Sellers went to the Bulls with the 9th pick, three Johns were selected with the 10th, 11th, and 12th picks. Duke's Johnny Dawkins went to the Spurs with the 10th selection, beginning a solid nine-year career with San Antonio and Philadelphia. He is currently the head coach at UCF.
Georgia Tech's John Salley would be taken by the Pistons with the 11th pick. Salley was a key member of the Bad Boys Pistons back-to-back championship squads as a defensive presence and rebounder. He would move on to the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors before arriving mid-season to the 1996 Chicago Bulls ... where he would win another championship. He would be out of the league for three years before linking up with Phil Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers during their 2000 championship run. Salley won four titles during his 11-year career.
The Bullets drafted John Williams out of LSU. Williams would earn the nickname "Hot Plate" as an attempt to differentiate him from fellow rookie John "Hot Rod" Williams. His weight was a problem for him during his career and ended up washing him out of the league after eight seasons.
Brooklyn's Dwayne "Pearl" Washington was a New York City phenom who went to college at Syracuse and would be drafted by the New Jersey Nets with the 13th pick of the 1986 Draft. He started 61 games as a rookie, averaging 8.6 points and 4.2 assists, but came off the bench in his second season (though his average rose to 9.3 ppg). Those Nets teams were bad -- really bad -- and Washington lost his love for the game. While his "shake and bake" dribbling stirred up crowds in college, it didn't work as well in the NBA. After two seasons in New Jersey, he was taken by the Miami Heat in the 1988 expansion draft. He played in just 54 games with Miami in 1988-1989, but his contract wasn't renewed when the Heat took Sherman Douglas (another exciting Syracuse guard) in the 1989 draft.
Washington wouldn't get another chance in the NBA and ended up playing a couple of seasons in the CBA but eventually washed out. He would pass away from a brain tumor in 2016 at the age of 52.
The 14th pick was Walter "The Truth" Berry, another New York City phenom, from Harlem, who stayed home and went to college at St. John's. He wanted out of Portland and was subsequently dealt to the Spurs for Kevin Duckworth after just seven games. Unlike Pearl, Berry did find on-court success with the Spurs (averaging 17 ppg in two seasons) but his attitude and lack of work ethic wore out his welcome in San Antonio ... then New Jersey... then Houston ... then the entire NBA. After just three years in the league, he would forge a 13-year international career, mainly in Greece and Italy.
With the 15th pick, the Utah Jazz took Virginia Tech guard Dell Curry. Curry played just one season with the Jazz before being dealt to the Cavaliers (in Cleveland, he and his wife had a son who would become a pretty good player himself). The Charlotte Hornets had no idea that when they would select Curry with their first pick in the 1988 expansion draft that he would retire as the franchise's all-time leading scorer. Curry would average 14 ppg for ten seasons with the Hornets, winning the 1994 Sixth Man of the Year award and becoming one of the league's best shooters. He played out his career with the Bucks and Raptors before retiring after a 16 season career -- only Johnny Newman (the 29th pick) played more games from this draft.
He is currently part of the Hornets broadcast team while watching his sons Stephen and Seth keep the family tradition of great shooting alive and well.
After guys like Maurice Martin, Harold Pressley, Mark Alarie, Billy Thompson, Buck Johnson, and Anthony Jones were selected (Johnson was the only one with moderate success), the Milwaukee Bucks selected Michigan State's Scott Skiles with the 22nd pick. Skiles barely played in Milwaukee before being dealt to Indiana after his rookie season. He still failed to make his mark with the Pacers and was left unprotected in the 1989 expansion draft, where the Orlando Magic took a flyer on him. He exploded in his second season with the Magic, averaging 17 points and 8.4 assists ... and would set the NBA's single-game assist record with 30 dimes against the Denver Nuggets. He had a fantastic five-season run with the Magic, but would eventually lose his starting job to Penny Hardaway. He had a rebound season with the Washington Bullets before ending his career a year later with the 76ers.
Skiles would go on to become the head coach for the Suns, Bulls, Bucks, and Magic for a total of 14 seasons, with a career record of 478-480.
Sabonis was originally selected 77th in the 1985 draft by the Hawks, but he was deemed draft-ineligible due to his age (he was under 21) and was re-drafted in 1986 by the Portland Trail Blazers with the final pick in the first round.
Sabonis was one of the greatest international players ever, but by the time he actually played in the NBA, injuries ravaged his body. He wouldn't make his NBA debut until the 1995-1996 season but would finish as the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year awards. For the next five years, he would claim the starting center job (whenever he suited up) as the Blazers became contenders in the Western Conference. He would briefly retire in 2001 before playing one final season in 2002-2003.
Prior to him coming to the Blazers, Sabonis won the Eurocar Player of the Year award six times, three USSR League titles, two Spanish League titles, an Olympic gold medal (with USSR), and two bronze (with Lithuania). He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2011 ... making him the highest drafted player in 1986 to make the Hall.
With the third pick in the 2nd round, the Detroit Pistons selected Dennis Rodman from Southeastern Oklahoma State. Rodman was a 25-year old rookie from an NAIA school, but Pistons head coach Chuck Daly loved his hustle and ability to work defensively with an edge. In his first five seasons, Rodman was a better scorer than most people considered him to be, and he helped the Pistons win championships in 1989 and 1990. In his sixth season, he began his rebounding dominance, winning seven straight rebounding titles, but several incidents forced him out of Detroit and San Antonio. He would be traded to Chicago in 1995 and become a major part of the Bulls' second three-peat in eight years. In 14 seasons, he averaged 7.3 points and 13.1 rebounds, won five championships, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Mark Price and Dennis Rodman weren't the only second-rounders to make an impact in the league. Nate McMillan, Larry Krystowiak, Jeff Hornacek, Johnny Newman, Kevin Duckworth, and David Wingate all had long careers with Hornacek and Duckworth earning All-Star berths. McMillian, Krystowiak, and Hornacek (along with first-rounder Scott Skiles) would become NBA head coaches.
The 60th pick in the draft (then a 3rd round pick), the Portland Trail Blazers selected Yugoslavian guard Drazen Petrovic. Petrovic won an Olympic silver and bronze medal prior to coming into the NBA in 1989 (he would win another silver medal with Croatia in the 1992 Games) as well as two EuroLeague championships. He didn't see many minutes while with the Blazers during his rookie season, due to a logjam at guard and the team's insistence on making him a spot-up shooter. His career came alive once Portland traded him to the New Jersey Nets during his second season and, Petrovic was given free rein to become a playmaker. In his third season, he exploded for 20.6 points and shot 44% from three. In his fourth season ... and after the Barcelona Games ... he became a 22 ppg scorer and helped the Nets reach the playoffs.
Not long after the season, Petrovic was killed in an automobile accident where a car his girlfriend was driving slammed into a semi on the German Autobahn. He was asleep in the passenger seat at the time of the crash. He was 28 years old when he died and was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002.
Back in 1986, the NBA Draft was seven rounds long (no one drafted in the 7th rounds of this draft played a game in the NBA) and there were a few guys selected that had a nice career. The third round gave us Drazen Petrovic, Kenny Gattison, Jim Les, and Anthony Bowie. The fourth and fifth rounds were duds, but the sixth round gave us Pete Myers and Tim Kempton.
The most notable name picked in the final four rounds is probably Duke's Jay Bilas. Bilas never made it to the NBA but was picked by the Mavericks with the 108th pick. After a brief stint as an assistant coach at Duke, he has been an ESPN broadcaster and analyst since 1995.