With the incoming 2014 NBA Draft class grabbing headlines at both the professional and collegiate level throughout the season, fans of rebuilding NBA franchises will be tuning into the NCAA tournament to see a group of players with the potential to alter the next era of the basketball landscape. The ramifications of their play and actions, however, won’t be fully understood for another decade or two.
Considering that, it is intriguing to look back at the 1994 Draft 20 years later to see how that specific set of amateurs ultimately left their influence on the league. While the draft classes from 1984, 1996 and 2003 seem to garner the most hype and reminiscent writings, dismissing the significant influence of other drafts like that of 1994 would be ignoring league history.
[RELATED: The 10 Best NBA Draft Classes Of All Time]
*** *** ***
No. 1 pick: Glenn Robinson
Before he even played a minute as an NBA pro, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson got his NBA career off to a controversial start, as his unprecedented rookie contract started the league on a path to lower rookie salaries that they are still fighting today.
Robinson had originally demanded a 13-year, $100 million contract from the Milwaukee Bucks, but eventually had to settle, if one could call it that, for a 10-year, $68 million deal. Not coincidentally, the NBA enacted a set salary scale for players on their rookie contracts the following season that would be dependent upon how high a player was selected in the draft. The implementation of the rookie deal would not be the end of the salary craze that the Purdue product stimulated, as the league and the players association’s clashes over contracts led to a work stoppage in 1998, shortening the 1998-99 season to just 50 games.
Robinson’s initial contract woes and the similarly unprecedented six-year, $126 million contract the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Garnett signed in 1998 played no small role in the labor stoppage, as billionaire owners began to cry fowl over the large salaries they were forced to pay to retain star players (despite these contracts being fully-guaranteed even if a player had a significant dropout in production or a career-threatening injury). After the lockout to begin the 2011-12 season to fix issues that remain unsolved to this day, it seems that the drama over rookie contracts will not be leaving the league anytime soon.
No. 2 pick: Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd was a paradoxical player over the course of his 19-year career. He racked up gaudy assists numbers, leading the league in assists per game five different times from 1999 to 2004, leading Kidd to be categorized as a team-first player, which very likely could’ve been true, and as a “good guy” of the NBA, which very likely could’ve been false, given the numerous allegations of domestic abuse thrown at him by his former wife, Joumana.
The disagreements between the couple reached an entirely new dimension when Kidd pled guilty in 2001 to assaulting his wife. Not wasting anymore time with having a problem like this on their hands, the Phoenix Suns quickly dealt Kidd to the New Jersey Nets that summer, revitalizing his career in the process, as Kidd would lead the Nets to the franchise’s lone two NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, both losses to superior Western Conference talent.
While he was undoubtedly a great player, how does this all factor into Kidd being influential, for better or worse, on the NBA landscape? At the turn of the century, David Stern‘s NBA seemingly faced an image crisis. Allen Iverson’s press conference antics and penchant for throwback jerseys served as the impetus for a mandatory dress code for the league’s players under Stern. Former Nets All-Star Jayson Williams became intertwined with and served a prison sentence in a shooting death in 2002. The Portland Trail Blazers, given the unfortunate nickname of Jail Blazers, grabbed headlines due to the legal and substance abuse issues of players Ruben Patterson, Zach Randolph, Damon Stoudamire, Qyntel Woods and Shawn Kemp. To top it all off, the league’s best young point guard was frequently being accused of domestic abuse. Rehabilitating the league’s public relations drove Stern’s agenda through the remainder of his time as commissioner.
No. 3 pick: Grant Hill
Two years removed from making arguably the greatest pass in the history of college basketball during the final seconds of the 1992 East Regional Final between Duke and Kentucky, Hill fell to the Detroit Pistons with the third pick in the draft. After sharing Rookie of the Year honors with the man picked directly in front of him in Kidd, Hill was actually the player who most seemed destined for superstardom from this draft class after making the All-NBA team every year from 1996-2000 in Detroit.
His 2000 season saw him put up one of the greatest all-around seasons in NBA history. Here are the players that have ever matched his stat line of a 24.5 Player Efficiency Rating, 25.8 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game, and a field goal percentage of 48.9 percent:
Oscar Robertson. Wilt Chamberlain. Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. LeBron James. Kevin Durant.
That’s it. While on his way to becoming an all-world star, Hill signed a seven-year, $93 million deal with the Orlando Magic during the 2000 offseason. One the same day, the Magic swung a deal with the Toronto Raptors for Tracy McGrady in a moved that seemingly set up Orlando for a decade of dominance in the Eastern Conference. Those dreams were ultimately premature, as frequent injuries plagued Hill during his tenure as a member of the Magic, limiting him to just 200 games in six seasons.
Hill had a mild amount of success as a defensive-minded role player at the end of his career, but he never came close to returning to that evolutionary Scottie Pippen form he showcased as a Piston. Hill serves as a reminder to fans to be patient when waiting for rehabilitating stars to make their return to the court from injury, as has been the case with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Nerlens Noel, Danilo Gallinari, and other players who have missed significant time.
The NBA community at-large needs to simply appreciate these stars more when they are on the court and not simply dissect every move they make both as a player and as a person. While they seem immortal when at their athletic peaks in their early-20s, it doesn’t take much time for the careers to get unceremoniously derailed as Hill’s did. Fans should enjoy their sensational efforts as players and respect their right to take as much time as possible to rehabilitate, lest their injuries turn chronic.
As the hype continues to pump through headlines and the blogosphere regarding the potential of the 2014 Draft class, it is best to remember that not every year brings about generation-defining talent, but each class in its own way can leave an indelible mark on the league.
What do you think?
Follow Shamus on Twitter at @ShamusNBA.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.