Portland Trail Blazers: Remembering the time Portland drafted an Olympic volleyball star

Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers’ memories of the 1984 NBA Draft aren’t positive ones. But one forgotten subplot of that Draft is found in the time they selected a future Olympic beach volleyball player.

Those of the belief that time heals all wounds haven’t felt the ones that last 36 years; the unmendable ones that leave you with Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan. The ones that produce 50-year title droughts.

The Band-Aid rips every time the 1984 NBA Draft is mentioned. It’s so infinitely disturbing that Portland Trail Blazers fans have blocked out every other storyline from that Draft (some by choice, some by necessity). Here, we’ll examine one forgotten subplot from the fifth round.

For history’s sake, it’s important to knock this out. If we’d been born at this time, you and I would have had a chance to throw our tuxedo on and potentially hear our names called at the NBA Draft. By this juncture, new teams were entering the league at breakneck speed, so the idea was to make the NBA Draft a ten-round spectacle, 228-player spectacle.

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Just like too much of any theoretically-good deed, it would soon carve a way to ruin and eventually, comedy acts. Here are some of the “players” we’d eventually see drafted: nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis (also drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Draft. Imagine a fast break with he and Jordan), 1976 Olympian Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn), House of Representatives minority representative Gerald Ford, and… even then-Hawks GM Pat Williams’ newborn baby was drafted? This is, after all, where amazing happens.

Those inflated rounds also paved the way for some unheralded ballers seeking their shot, such as what happened with the  Portland Trail Blazers in 1984. With the No. 111 selection, they brought on the late Mike Whitmarsh, with intentions of allowing him to battle for a spot on the team.

At 6-foot-7, Whitmarsh found little trouble calibrating his athletic specs into production. Basketball highlights are scarce, at least publicly, with Whitmarsh, but the now-defunct Prime Network did run a tribute profile on him, where you can see the athleticism and size on display for a few attacks of the rim.

At the University of San Diego, Whitmarsh led the Toreros in points (18.8), rebounds (7.3), and assists (6.0), while also pushing them to their first West Coast Conference championship.

If not for this stellar young Gonzaga point guard by the name of John Stockton, he’d have been the conference Player of the Year. Courtesy of the Bismarck Tribune, here’s a quote that sort of encapsulates how those around Whitmarsh felt about him at the time.

"“He was one of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever been around. There wasn’t a player on that team who didn’t look up to him as a competitor. He just had that confident demeanor when he walked onto the court.”— Eric Mussleman, Whitmarsh’s college teammate and future head coach of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors."

The only problem? It came down to him and Jerome Kersey, who would become one of the greatest Trail Blazers in franchise history.

Determined, Whitmarsh played three years in Germany before trying out for the Minnesota Timberwolves, again surviving until the last cut. It was there where, arguably, he found his true calling. A sport he once called “a sissy’s sport.”

Whitmarsh’s legacy as a two-man beach volleyball star is that of an anachronism. He thrived in the sport much later than the norm, historically. He and teammate Mike Dodd won a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Los Angeles Times paints this picture well, describing him as both a “fan favorite,” and someone who “displayed a flourish” in blocking an opponent’s shot over the net. Though he was found dead in a garage from a carbon monoxide incident in 2009, those who knew him best spoke only fondly of his impact in many lives.

This example through Whitmarsh feels especially important, in knowing he didn’t give up on his athletic gifts, just because basketball wasn’t his best sport in the end. The statistics didn’t work in his favor.

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Of the 134 players drafted in the fifth round and beyond in that 1984 Draft, only five went on to play in an NBA game. Whitmarsh found his way in the sports world, earning over a million dollars for his work. Along the way, he became an important chapter in the history of many lives, as well as the United States men’s volleyball team and to some degree, the Portland Trail Blazers as well.