5. Draft Larry Bird over Mychal Thompson in 1978?
The Portland Trail Blazers traded Johnny Davis and the third overall pick in 1978 for the top selection. They wanted Larry Bird, but the 6’9 forward planned to return to Indiana State. With no guarantee he would sign, the Trail Blazers had a tough call to make. Remember, back in the 1970s, teams lost a player’s rights if he did not sign before the following draft. Could Portland risk it?
In a league dominated by big men, Mychal Thompson was the safer choice. Portland had Bill Walton, but the big man suffered an injury in the 1978 playoffs. He demanded a trade because of how the team handled his foot pain, and the Trail Blazers needed a replacement. Thompson was a dominant big man at the University of Minnesota, and Portland thought he could become a star.
The Blazers also had the seventh overall pick and hoped Bird would fall, but the Celtics snatched him at six. Thompson played well in Portland but he was never a superstar. Bird did not play the following year, but made 12 All-Star appearances in 13 years after coming to the NBA and was an all-time great.
The Portland Trail Blazers draft record is filled with misses and taking Mychal Thompson over Larry Bird was certainly a massive blunder.