NBA Draft: 13 times the LA Clippers left stars on the board

LA Clippers NBA Draft Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
LA Clippers NBA Draft Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /
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LA Clippers, Michael Olowokandi
LA Clippers Michael Olowokandi /

7. 1998 NBA Draft

Clippers Select: Michael Olowokandi (1)

Still on the Board: Vince Carter (5), Dirk Nowitzki (9), Paul Pierce (10)

This is one of the major draft misses of all time.

The Clippers selected seven-foot center Michael Olowokandi out of the University of the Pacific first overall in the 1998 draft, passing on various players who would become all-time greats, franchise cornerstones, and future Hall-of-Famers.

Olowokandi was seen as a project at the time of the draft, and most likely would have been a top-five pick based on his promise alone. The big man from Nigeria developed his raw athletic talent into recognizable basketball skills in his four years in college, but it wasn’t until his Senior season that he really began to stand out. His strength, athleticism, and raw talent is the stuff that makes scouts salivate and propelled him to the top of the draft, where the Clippers hoped he would be the centerpiece for the future of their franchise.

Of course, it never worked out like the Clippers thought it might. The Kandi Man was a somewhat productive, but unspectacular player in his five seasons in Los Angeles. He left in free agency to join the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2003 and was later traded to the Boston Celtics, where he would end up finishing out the rest of his nine-year NBA career.

The Clippers left three sure-fire future Hall-of-Famers on the board in Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce (as well as future All-Stars Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis) when they chose Olowokandi.

Carter went on to become the Rookie of the Year, an eight-time All-Star, the most exciting player in the league for years, and a reliable role-player and leader late in his career. In 2020 he became the first player in NBA history to play in four separate decades.

Nowitzki was a young and mostly unknown project out of Germany but went on to play his entire career for the Dallas Mavericks, bringing the franchise their first NBA title and helping to legitimize basketball in the city. He was a 14-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA team member, the 2006-07 MVP and 2010-11 NBA Finals MVP. He also inspired General Managers around the league to overdraft European prospects for years in fear of missing out on the next Dirk.

Paul Pierce (who wanted to be drafted by the Clippers) went on to become one of the greatest Celtics of all time. He was a ten-time All-Star, a four-time All-NBA member, and the 2007-08 Finals MVP. He eventually made his way to the Clippers where he played the final two seasons of his stellar 19-year career.

It’s probably best we just move on from this one as quickly as possible.