Sam Bowie

This article is about the basketball player. For the rugby league player, see Sam Bowie (rugby league).
Sam Bowie

Bowie playing for the Lebanon High School varsity basketball team in 1977–78
Personal information
Born (1961-03-17) March 17, 1961
Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Listed height 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m)
Listed weight 235 lb (107 kg)
Career information
High school Lebanon (Lebanon, Pennsylvania)
College Kentucky (1979–1984)
NBA draft 1984 / Round: 1 / Pick: 2nd overall
Selected by the Portland Trail Blazers
Playing career 1984–1995
Position Center
Number 30, 31
Career history
19841989 Portland Trail Blazers
19891993 New Jersey Nets
19931995 Los Angeles Lakers
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points 5,564 (10.9 ppg)
Rebounds 3,845 (7.5 rpg)
Blocks 909 (1.8 bpg)
Stats at

Samuel Paul Bowie (born March 17, 1961) is an American former 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 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 future Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, due to Portland already having drafted Clyde Drexler just a year before.

High school

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.


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.[1] At the end of that season, Bowie was picked for the United States Olympic men's basketball team, which eventually boycotted the Moscow Olympics. 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.[2]

However, Bowie began seeing the first signs of the injury trouble that would plague the remainder of his basketball career.[3] 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.[4]

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 with no NCAA championship.[5]

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


The Houston Rockets selected Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon with the first pick in the 1984 NBA draft, having won a coin toss with the Portland Trail Blazers for the pick. The Indiana Pacers actually finished with one of the two worst records in the league that year along with the Rockets, but had traded the pick in 1981 to the Blazers for center Tom Owens. Olajuwon had been the Blazers' first choice, but with him now off the board and the team still desiring a center, Portland made Bowie the second choice in the draft.[6] Drafting third, the Chicago Bulls chose North Carolina shooting guard Michael Jordan.[7]

At the time, picking Bowie appeared to make sense from the Blazers' perspective; they'd been looking for help in the post since franchise player Bill Walton suffered the first of several foot injuries that would eventually end his career. In fact, shortly before the draft, the NBA fined the Blazers $250,000 (equivalent of $570,000 in 2015) for improper contact with Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Additionally, Portland had drafted a shooting guard, Olajuwon's college teammate Clyde Drexler, a year earlier. The Blazers felt that with both Drexler and Jim Paxson on the roster at the time, they had no room for another shooting guard.[8] Nonetheless, in 2005, ESPN, citing Bowie's injury-laden college career, named the Blazers' choice of Bowie as the worst draft pick in North American professional sports history.[9] In 2005, Sports Illustrated listed Bowie as the biggest draft bust in NBA history, arguing that teams should draft for talent and not need.[10]

Portland Trail Blazers

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.[11] However, in his second season, things started to go south as 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--[4] an injury usually seen in ballet dancers. All told, due to his leg troubles he only played 63 games (out of a possible 328) during his last four seasons in Portland.

New Jersey Nets

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

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.[12] However, Bowie's injury problems resurfaced and his action in two seasons with Los Angeles was limited; he only played in 92 games and started 17. Bowie retired from professional basketball in 1995 to become involved in harness racing, although Jerry West, the team's general manager, wanted him to stick around for a few years after that.[13]

Career accomplishments

Over his career, Bowie averaged 10.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.78 blocks per game.[12] 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).[14]

NBA career statistics

  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

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."[13] 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.[4]


  1. "Sam Bowie Statistics". Sports Reference, LLC. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  2. St. John's Red Storm vs. Kentucky Wildcats - Recap - December 01, 2011 - ESPN
  3. Kirkpatrick, Curry (December 5, 1983). "The Big Cat Came To Play". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  4. 1 2 3 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.
  5. Millan, Manny (December 5, 1983). "Sam Bam!". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  6. DuPree, David (November 26, 1984). "Trail Blazers don't regret bypassing Jordan". USA Today. p. 6C.
  7. "Michael Jordan". National Basketball Association. Retrieved January 15, 2007.
  8. Sakamoto, Bob (November 25, 1984). "Portland GM is happy with Bowie". Chicago Tribune. p. B2.
  9. "Page 2 : The 100 worst draft picks ever". ESPN.
  10. " – Photo Gallery – NBA Draft Busts". CNN.
  11. " All-Rookie Teams". Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  12. 1 2 Oden's recovery from surgery likely in range of 6-12 months, published September 13, 2007
  13. 1 2 Sam Bowie talks on ESPN film 'Going Big'
  14. "". Retrieved July 29, 2009.
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