The Detroit Pistons picked Cade Cuningham first overall in the 2021 NBA draft. He is a consistent scorer, an accomplished playmaker, a tenacious one-on-one defender and is considered the next big star in the league. But he isn’t alone in this discussion as fellow draftees like Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Evan Mobley make compelling cases for themselves.
Unlike countless other draft classes, the 2021 draft has many talented players and promises to be game-changing. Similarly, we have seen some draft classes that have completely transformed basketball. These draft classes have brought in generational talents who revolutionised the sport with their skill and versatility.
Throughout history, the 1984 draft class, the 1996 draft class and the 2003 draft class have been pivotal in the growth and development of basketball. Players from these draft classes became icons of the sport and popularised basketball globally.
Let us take a deeper dive into the impact of these three draft classes on modern basketball.
1984 Draft Class
The 1984 draft introduced the world to stars like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and possibly the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan. This draft had three Most Valuable Player (MVP) award winners, four Hall of Famers, five All- NBA players and seven All-stars.
One can also credit this draft as the catalyst for the initial innovation in player roles and style of play in the NBA. With the dynamic talents of Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, the world first saw the remodelling of the traditional centre and power forward position.
But the biggest draw of this draft was Michael Jordan. He is one of the most decorated players with five MVPs and six championships. Jordan was the number one scoring option of his team and pioneered the role of the score first guard. MJ has also played a very crucial role in the globalisation of basketball. Be it his flashy playstyle, his signature shoes or even the commercials, without Michael Jordan, basketball wouldn’t be a global sport we see today.
1996 Draft Class
The 1996 NBA season promised to be eventful. It was Michael Jordan’s first season after an 18-month hiatus from basketball. There were several big-money moves all around the league as players like Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O'Neil signed contracts worth over $100 Million. Amidst the chaotic offseason, the 1996 draft transpired.
With players like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, this is one of the most talented draft classes in history. It had three MVPs, four Hall of Famers, seven All-NBA players and 10 All-Stars. Alongside these all-time greats, the draft also brought players like Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Derek Fisher, who had long and successful careers.
The 1996 draft class capitalised on the path paved by Michael Jordan and ushered in the guard-dominant era. Players like Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson were the prime proponents of this style. The draft also opened up new avenues for scoring with three-point specialists like Ray Allen and Peja Stojakovic.
The three-point shot wasn’t considered a viable scoring option. But with precision and consistency from Allen and Stojakovic, the three-pointer found new life in the league. Today, these interventions are the foundation of modern basketball.
2003 Draft Class
The 2003-04 season was crucial in the history of the NBA. Michael Jordan had announced his third and final retirement. The league was now waiting for the next big star, who will take the league forward and the 2003 draft class did just that.
The first pick of the 2003 draft was an 18-year-old, LeBron James, who was dubbed as the "chosen one". His uncanny physical attributes combined with a very high basketball IQ made him at par with several top players in the league. He went to win the Rookie of the Year and hasn’t stopped since. But LeBron wasn’t the only hall of fame worthy talent from this draft.
The third pick was Carmelo Anthony, entering the NBA after a championship season at Syracuse and went on to become one of the most prolific scorers in basketball history. The fourth pick was Chris Bosh from Georgia Tech, a versatile big who could shoot jump shots, move like a guard and was a lockdown defender. The fifth pick was Dwyane Wade, a very versatile and athletic player who pioneered the combo guard role in the NBA.
The players from the 2003 draft have impacted basketball both on and off the court. They were the early innovators of positionless basketball because of their skill and versatility, which opened up new possibilities for the sport. Now, players weren’t restricted by the confines of a specific position and could diversify their abilities.
The 2003 draft class also ushered in an era of athlete empowerment, where players could voice their opinions and push for change. This was unprecedented as sports and social issues never came together. Today, athletes around the world are at the forefront of social change, with players like LeBron James leading the charge.
The early glimpses of the 2021 class guarantee that the upcoming NBA season will be very entertaining and highly competitive. As modern basketball is moving into a high skill sport, where raw athleticism doesn’t guarantee success.
These rookies look ready for this transition and ensure the future of basketball is in safe hands.