Just say that name to a Sixers fan of a certain age and you’ll be met with vitriol. Thinking about “The Stormin’ Mormon” in those horrendous early-90s jerseys is the stuff of nightmares to some.
In 1993, the Sixers made the 7-foot-6 center out of BYU the second overall pick. It didn’t work out and Bradley was traded to the Nets in November of the 1995-96 season.
“They were promoting Bradley as he was going to be the star of the team,” former Sixer Scott Williams said on the Sixers Talk podcast. “Seven-foot-6, had the ability to score the ball inside if he got close to the basket. But the problem with Shawn was he had no desire to want to put in any work other than what was required of him by the team.”
In defense of Jim Lynam, who was the GM at the time, the Sixers weren’t the only team that was high on Bradley. Though he only played one season at BYU, it was a sensational one. He averaged 14.8 points and over five blocks a game.
Bradley then spent two years in England on a Mormon mission, something Lynam attributes to the big man’s slow start with the Sixers.
“With that hiatus that he had, he really was not ready to play NBA basketball,” Lynam told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “And I think it really was almost a culture shock to him when he found himself in this setting because the fact is — and I know this for a fact and we knew it before we drafted him — that when he was on that mission for two years he was in England, he literally did nothing of an athletic thing. Played zero basketball and did nothing in the way of staying in shape. He didn’t go to the gym, he didn’t run on the track — he was committed to his mission.”
But what if the Sixers never drafted Bradley?
Just as a refresher, Chris Webber was selected first overall by the Magic. The Warriors then traded a king’s ransom to Orlando — including third overall pick Anfernee Hardaway — for the rights to Webber. The Mavericks then took Jamal Mashburn fourth.
Trading a ton of picks to get Webber wouldn’t have been a terrible option. Webber bounced around the league a bit but had a likely Hall of Fame career. Even selecting Mashburn, who made an All-Star team and averaged 19.1 points a game for his career, would’ve been better than Bradley.
But what if the Sixers just simply took Hardaway?
Lynam admitted that the Sixers were all in on Bradley but also would’ve been comfortable selecting Webber if the Magic selected Bradley. What he didn’t quite realize was how special Hardaway was.
“Hindsight being 20/20, I would say that we probably could’ve done a better job in terms of due diligence on Penny Hardaway,” Lynam said. “Obviously, we were aware of him. We knew he was a top player, but I’ll speak for myself and say I didn’t realize the caliber player he was.”
Throwing Hardaway into the mix with Dana Barros and Clarence Weatherspoon would’ve made the team better than its 25-47 record … but likely not much. In reality, the Sixers had the sixth overall pick the next season. With Hardaway, maybe they’re closer to the 10th pick.
If you’ll recall, the Sixers took another draft bust in Sharone Wright in 1994. The 10th player selected? Temple’s Eddie Jones. The idea of a Hardaway and Jones backcourt to build around would’ve been tantalizing.
Hardaway was a four-time All-Star in Orlando and a rising superstar before he was plagued by knee injuries. Jones was a three-time All-Star and one of the better two-way wings in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Instead, the team took Bradley and Wright. Both played less than 150 games as Sixers before being traded. From the 1993-94 season to the 1995-96 campaign (the year Wright was traded), the Sixers were 67-179. Not quite The Process years — when the team was literally trying to lose — but not much better.
“He played ball because he was tall. That was it,” Williams said. “And it’s not to say that he wasn’t a nice guy and he didn’t work hard when he was there, and he was a good teammate. He wasn’t interested in doing anything more to make himself better, so you saw him kind of go the opposite direction.”
Lynam had nothing but great things to say about Shawn Bradley the person as well but acknowledged that Bradley was never able to develop an offensive game that would’ve put him on another level.
While Bradley’s tenure in a Sixers uniform may have ruined a few childhoods, all things happen for a reason.
If the Sixers take Hardaway, perhaps they become too good and never get the No. 1 overall pick in 1996, thus never having the chance to get Allen Iverson. That is a world most Sixers fans would understandably never want to live in.
“Somebody had said, ‘Well, if we’d gotten more of an impact player there, then (three years) later you’re not in a position to get Allen Iverson,’” Lynam said. “I do go back and look at drafts just to see who else could we have had in that draft, and Penny Hardaway is an obvious name that should’ve been under strong consideration.”
While drafting Hardaway instead of Bradley might’ve changed the fortunes of the franchise sooner, it was the precursor to the organization finding its Answer.
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