It Almost Happened: Michael Jordan To The Clippers

By: 06.23.11

Money was king in 1988 as well as reputation, yet both paled in comparison to The Donald’s extreme desire to compete with another highly successful professional basketball franchise in the same city. Jerry Reinsdorf, at the time, was not the most popular man in Chicago stemming from back-fence talk about the White Sox, which he also owned, moving to Florida. Heading into the offseason, the 17-65 Clippers were light on intriguing tradeable pieces. Some things never change. Sterling’s offer of whatever five players Chicago wanted stood on the table, but the x-factor revolved around their two first round draft picks.

Those two picks just so happened to be first and sixth overall selections. Talks swirled about a potential swap that would send the NBA’s most popular player out west and here are two potential, nearly very real scenarios had both sides come to an agreement.

— Chicago takes Rik Smits with the first overall selection, whom Jerry Krause had one serious bromance with that year. Had Mitch Richmond been available at six, he goes here. (Richmond eventually goes fifth to Golden State leaving a player like Rex Chapman available.) Then, there’s Chicago’s earned pick at 11, which could have easily been Rod Strickland.

Potential 1988-89 line up: Strickland – Richmond – Pippen – Oakley – Smits

— The Bulls still take Smits at number one, but now have flexibility to trade around – draft picks and/or Oakley or Grant – for an established point guard. Krause also loved Kevin Johnson who, with some convincing, could have landed in Chicago via a trade had the compensation worked well for Cleveland.

Potential 1988-89 starting line up: Johnson – Richmond – Pippen – Grant/Oakley – Smits

It’s useless to play the “what-if” with Jordan’s Clippers because there’s a strong possibility his running mates would have been Benoit Benjamin and River Phoenix. Feel free to laugh at the plausible trade master plan and how asinine it sounds in 2011, but know 23 years ago it almost happened.

The ramifications of such a move changes the entire scope of pop culture in the ’90s. Perhaps, Jordan, even with his supreme physical condition, becomes Ron Harper before we all know the story of Ron Harper because of the unwritten curse of Sterling’s Clippers (the NBA equivalent to the Madden cover). Whether Chicago could have ever captured a title with that second line up is water under the bridge now, but the Bulls front office pondered the possibility and damn near convinced themselves life without Jordan was a better life. This was almost like the NBA’s version of the Bay of Pigs with Donald Sterling as Kennedy, the Clippers as America and Jerry Reinsdorf as Fidel Castro.

Why didn’t the Bulls pull the trigger? Mike simply made the franchise too much money, he was too talented and his narcissistic demeanor would eventually be better off putting smiles on the faces of residents of the Windy City. It was going to have to remain that way until either Jordan trusted his teammates and/or a coach came in headstrong enough to balance the two. And really, what were the chances of that happening?

This is all based on actual stories. Read Sam Smith’s The Jordan Rules for proof.

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