How to Make One of the Greatest Draft Picks of All Time

June, 25, 2009
6/25/09
3:38
PM ET
John Stockton
Frank Layden had a feeling, in a Chicago elevator, that John Stockton was special.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

The 16th pick. Right now it's projected to be James Johnson, or maybe Omri Casspi.

Just imagine if either one went on to be one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, a two-time Olympic champion, a multiple record-setter, an All-Star game MVP and a Hall of Famer.

The GM who picks such a player 16th would have to be considered, essentially, a genius.

Frank Layden did it.

Layden picked John Stockton 16th overall 25 years ago, in what was probably the greatest draft in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley ... and a little guard from the Pacific Northwest no one knew all that much about.

Layden, of the Jazz, made the pick. For many years the pick made the Jazz, and Layden.

Wouldn't you just love to know what Layden's great insight was? What was his system? What did he see in John Stockton that teams drafting higher did not?

The answer is kind of hilarious. Lots of people told him he should check out that Stockton kid, but he paid little mind to the recommendations, as basketball executives get those by the gross.

The moment that Stockton made an impression on Layden wasn't even on the court. It was in an elevator. Filip Bondy tells the tale, in his really good book "Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever:"

"We met in an elevator inside a Chicago hotel," Frank Layden said. "John introduces himself to me, and I shake his hand and grab his arm to see how thick he was. He doesn't look very big. He looks small and pale. But you grab his bicep, it's like gripping iron." That stuck with Layden, who didn't really hang around long enough to watch the college kids play in Chicago. He left that up to his son and the scouts. Scott eventually returned to Utah and told Frank what the father already knew was coming but really didn't want to hear: Scott told Frank he should draft Stockton with the number 16 pick. 

We live in an era of very sophisticated analysis. But isn't some part of you just dying to go around grasping people's arms to see if they'll make history or not? I have half a mind to try this on some draft prospects tonight.

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