Sam Bowie

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Sam Bowie
Sam Bowie - Lebanon High School 1978 - 02.jpg
Bowie playing for the Lebanon High School varsity basketball team in 1977–78
Personal information
Born (1961-03-17) March 17, 1961 (age 57)
Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Listed height7 ft 1 in (2.16 m)
Listed weight235 lb (107 kg)
Career information
High schoolLebanon (Lebanon, Pennsylvania)
CollegeKentucky (1979–1984)
NBA draft1984 / Round: 1 / Pick: 2nd overall
Selected by the Portland Trail Blazers
Playing career1984–1995
Number30, 31
Career history
19841989Portland Trail Blazers
19891993New Jersey Nets
19931995Los Angeles Lakers
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points5,564 (10.9 ppg)
Rebounds3,845 (7.5 rpg)
Blocks909 (1.8 bpg)
Stats at

Samuel Paul Bowie (born March 17, 1961) is a former American professional basketball player. A national sensation in high school and outstanding collegian, Bowie's professional promise was undermined by repeated injuries to his legs and feet. In spite of the setbacks, the 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) and 235 lb (107 kg) center played ten seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Projected as a solid first rounder in the 1984 NBA draft, Bowie was chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers as the second selection, ahead of Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, due to Portland already having drafted Clyde Drexler just a year before. He is considered to be one of the greatest draft busts in NBA history.[1][2]

High school[edit]

As a player at Lebanon High School, Bowie was heavily recruited. He averaged over 28 points and 18 rebounds per game, and was a McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American. As a junior, he led the Cedars to the state finals, where they lost by a point to Schenley High School of Pittsburgh. He was later named national player of the year over Harrisonburg, Virginia's Ralph Sampson, another highly recruited center. Sampson would later face Bowie in the annual Capital Classic all-star game, which was played at the Capital Centre and featured the best players in the Washington, D.C. area playing against an all-star squad composed of players from across the United States. Sampson outplayed Bowie in what was referred to as the "Battle of the Giants", but Bowie still was a highly regarded recruit and signed to play for Joe B. Hall at the University of Kentucky in 1979. However, his performance in the Capital, as well as his subsequent performance in the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, hurt his previous top status as a recruit.


Bowie's #31 jersey was retired by the University of Kentucky. This banner in Rupp Arena honors him.

As a freshman during the 1979–80 season at Kentucky, Bowie averaged twelve points and eight rebounds per game.[3] At the end of that season, Bowie was picked for the United States Olympic men's basketball team but was unable to compete due to the 1980 Summer Olympics boycott. Many years later, he did receive one of 461 Congressional Gold Medals created especially for the spurned athletes.[4] Bowie's sophomore season saw him average 17.5 points and nine rebounds per game. At the end of the season, he was named a third-team NCAA Basketball All-American by the Associated Press. Also in 1981, he set, and now shares, the Kentucky record for most blocked shots in a game, with nine.[5]

However, Bowie began seeing the first signs of the injury trouble that would plague the remainder of his basketball career.[6] In the third-to-last game of his sophomore season against Vanderbilt, Bowie went up for a dunk but came down off balance. He landed with most of his weight on his left leg, saying that he felt pain but initially tried to play through it. Kentucky performed well enough during the season and qualified for the NCAA tournament as the #2 seed in the Mideast Region, earning themselves a first round bye. In the Wildcats' first game of the tournament, against #7 seed Alabama-Birmingham, the injury finally caught up with Bowie and he played his worst game of the season, fouling out in the second half as Kentucky was eliminated by UAB 69-62. In the offseason, the extent of Bowie's injury was revealed, and he was told he had a stress fracture in his left tibia and would miss the 1981–82 season. Due to his recovery not going the way that Kentucky desired, Bowie sat out the 1982–83 season as well and was forced to use a medical redshirt.[7]

He returned in time for the 1983–84 season, where he averaged 10.5 points and nine rebounds per game while being named to the second-team All-American squad. During his senior season, his heroics in a game against rival Louisville earned him a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Bowie, along with fellow "Twin Tower" Melvin Turpin (as the Kentucky front court duo was called), led Kentucky to the SEC championship, a top three national ranking, and a 26-4 season record. The Wildcats advanced to the Final Four in Seattle that year, where they faced off against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. Although Kentucky led at the half, Georgetown took over in the second half and handily defeated the Wildcats, ending Bowie's college career without a NCAA championship.[8]

1979–80 Kentucky 34 26.1 .531 .764 8.1 .8 .4 2.1 12.9
1980–81 Kentucky 28 32.0 .520 .720 9.1 1.4 .6 2.9 17.4
1983–84 Kentucky 34 28.8 .516 .722 9.2 1.9 .6 1.9 10.5
Career 96 28.8 .522 .735 8.8 1.4 .5 2.3 13.4

Professional career[edit]


Entering the 1984 NBA draft, although the Houston Rockets had tied with the Indiana Pacers for the NBA's worst record, the Pacers had traded the top pick to the Portland Trail Blazers in 1981 for center Tom Owens. In 1984, having beat the Blazers in a coin toss for first pick, the Rockets chose Houston center Akeem Olajuwon. Unable to choose him, yet still seeking a center, the Blazers chose Bowie.[9] Choosing third, the Chicago Bulls then drafted North Carolina shooting guard Michael Jordan.[10]

At the time, however, passing up Jordan for Bowie made sense from the Blazers' perspective. Center and Blazers' franchise player Bill Walton had suffered the first of several foot injuries, eventually ending his career. Soon before the draft, the NBA fined the Blazers $250,000 (equivalent of $600,000 in 2018) for improper contact with Olajuwon and center Patrick Ewing. A year earlier, Portland had drafted a shooting guard, Olajuwon's college teammate Clyde Drexler. Having both Drexler and Jim Paxson, the Blazers had little need on paper for another shooting guard.[11] Still, in 2005, highlighting Bowie's injury-laden college career, ESPN named the Blazers' choice the worst draft pick in the history of North American professional sports.[1] Also that year, arguing that teams should draft for talent and not need, Sports Illustrated named Bowie the biggest draft bust in NBA history.[2]

Portland Trail Blazers[edit]

During his rookie season, Bowie played in 76 games and averaged 10 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Team.[12] However, in his second season, Bowie's injuries began catching up with him again. During a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at The MECCA, Bowie and teammate Jerome Kersey got tangled up going for a rebound and as they landed, Bowie's injury-prone left tibia broke again and he was carried off the floor on a stretcher.

The next season, Bowie returned after having rehabilitated his injury and believed he was stronger than he had been. Five games into the season, the Trail Blazers played host to the Dallas Mavericks and Bowie went up for what he intended to be a jump hook shot. As he went up, his legs buckled underneath him and Bowie fell to the floor, pounding the hardwood out of frustration. This time, it was his other leg causing the issue; he suffered a season-ending fracture of his right tibia. Once again, Bowie tried to come back and entered the 1987–88 season hoping to stay healthy. On October 17, during pregame warmups for a preseason matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bowie began feeling intense pain in his right leg again just while walking around. Determined not to be seen on a stretcher again, Bowie was carried off the court by his teammates. He was later diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his right tibia[7]–an injury usually seen in ballet dancers. The injury effectively sidelined him for the next two seasons; he missed all of the 1987-88 season, as well as the first 62 games of the 1988–89 season. All told, Bowie only played 63 games (out of a possible 328) during his last four seasons in Portland because of his leg troubles.

New Jersey Nets[edit]

On June 24, 1989, Bowie, who had averaged 10.5 points per game with the Trail Blazers, was traded, along with a draft pick, to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Buck Williams. Bowie's four seasons in New Jersey were his healthiest and most successful; he averaged 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and never missed more than 20 games in a season. His best season was his first with the Nets where he averaged a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Bowie also hit a career high in points per game in 1991–92 with 15.0, and played a career high 79 games in 1992–93 averaging 9.1 points per game and seven rebounds.

Los Angeles Lakers[edit]

After the 1992–93 season, Bowie was involved in a trade that resulted in Benoit Benjamin being sent to New Jersey in exchange for Bowie, who joined the Los Angeles Lakers.[13] However, Bowie's injury problems resurfaced and his action in two seasons with Los Angeles was limited; he only played in 92 games in the two seasons combined, starting in 17 of them. Although Jerry West, the team's general manager, wanted him to stick around for a few more years, Bowie decided to retire from professional basketball after the 1994–95 season to become involved in harness racing.[14]

Career accomplishments[edit]

Over his career, Bowie averaged 10.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.78 blocks per game.[13] He hit 45.2% of his attempted field goals (2,127 made of 4,702 attempted), and 30.2% of his three-point shots (32 made of 106 attempted).[15]

NBA career statistics[edit]

  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage  3P%  3-point field goal percentage  FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high

Regular season[edit]

1984–85 Portland 76 62 29.2 .537 .000 .711 8.6 2.8 .7 2.7 10.0
1985–86 Portland 38 34 29.8 .484 .000 .708 8.6 2.6 .6 2.5 11.8
1986–87 Portland 5 5 32.6 .455 .000 .667 6.6 1.8 .2 2.0 16.0
1988–89 Portland 20 0 20.6 .451 .714 .571 5.3 1.8 .4 1.7 8.6
1989–90 New Jersey 68 54 32.5 .416 .323 .776 10.1 1.3 .6 1.8 14.7
1990–91 New Jersey 62 51 30.9 .434 .182 .732 7.7 2.4 .7 1.5 12.9
1991–92 New Jersey 71 61 30.7 .445 .320 .757 8.1 2.6 .6 1.7 15.0
1992–93 New Jersey 79 65 26.5 .450 .333 .779 7.0 1.6 .4 1.6 9.1
1993–94 L.A. Lakers 25 7 22.2 .436 .250 .867 5.2 1.9 .2 1.1 8.9
1994–95 L.A. Lakers 67 10 18.3 .442 .182 .764 4.3 1.8 .3 1.2 4.6
Career 511 349 27.6 .452 .302 .748 7.5 2.1 .5 1.8 10.9


1985 Portland 9 9 28.8 .441 .000 .560 8.4 2.3 .4 2.3 7.3
1989 Portland 3 1 22.3 .429 .500 .750 6.7 1.0 .2 2.3 10.3
1992 New Jersey 4 4 28.0 .424 .500 .667 4.8 2.3 .8 .8 9.3
1993 New Jersey 3 3 23.7 .444 .000 1.000 4.0 .7 2.0 .3 3.3
1995 L.A. Lakers 10 0 13.5 .267 .000 1.000 3.3 .3 .1 .9 2.1
Career 29 17 22.2 .403 .500 .673 5.5 1.3 .5 1.4 5.7


After his retirement from basketball, Bowie returned to Lexington, where he has said most local residents remember him fondly for his success in college, rather than focusing on his unrealized potential in the NBA. As noted above, Bowie is involved in harness racing, both owning and training horses that run at The Red Mile in Lexington.

In 2012, Bowie was featured in an ESPN SEC Storied documentary, "Going Big."[14] In it, he admitted hiding the extent of his leg troubles from the Blazers. For instance, he said that when a doctor tapped his left tibia with a mallet, he claimed not to feel anything when he was actually in noticeable pain. He'd actually developed leg trouble as early as high school; film from the late 1970s shows him struggling to avoid undue strain on his legs and feet.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Page 2: The 100 worst draft picks ever". ESPN.
  2. ^ a b " – Photo Gallery – NBA Draft Busts". CNN.
  3. ^ "Sam Bowie Statistics". Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  4. ^ Caroccioli, Tom; Caroccioli, Jerry. Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Highland Park, IL: New Chapter Press. pp. 243–253. ISBN 978-0942257403.
  5. ^ St. John's Red Storm vs. Kentucky Wildcats - Recap - December 01, 2011 - ESPN
  6. ^ Kirkpatrick, Curry (December 5, 1983). "The Big Cat Came To Play". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Dwyer, Kelly. Sam Bowie reveals that he lied to Portland about feeling leg pain before the infamous 1984 NBA draft. Yahoo! Sports, December 12, 2012.
  8. ^ Millan, Manny (December 5, 1983). "Sam Bam!". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  9. ^ DuPree, David (November 26, 1984). "Trail Blazers don't regret bypassing Jordan". USA Today. p. 6C.
  10. ^ "Michael Jordan". National Basketball Association. Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  11. ^ Sakamoto, Bob (November 25, 1984). "Portland GM is happy with Bowie". Chicago Tribune. p. B2.
  12. ^ " All-Rookie Teams". Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  13. ^ a b Oden's recovery from surgery likely in range of 6-12 months, published September 13, 2007
  14. ^ a b Sam Bowie talks on ESPN film 'Going Big'
  15. ^ "". Retrieved July 29, 2009.

External links[edit]