by Chris Ballard
December 3, 2012
In the winter of 1995, long before Daryl Morey became the general manager of the Rockets and a cult hero to statheads everywhere, he was a tall, skinny, 22-year-old Northwestern undergrad working at an Illinois sports information company called Stats Inc. One of Morey’s coworkers, Michael Canter, ran a primitive, 20-team keeper fantasy basketball league. Morey, whose twin loves were sports and numbers, was determined to win it.
Unfortunately, his team, the Dallas Chaparrals, was not very good. During the draft Morey had fallen victim to the bias of overvaluing players from his beloved hometown team, the Cavaliers. By midseason it was clear that he needed to make a bold move if he were going to contend (and for Morey, as we will learn, there is no value in finishing second). So he dealt his first-round pick, Nets forward Derrick Coleman, for the 200th and final choice in the league’s draft. Making the deal appear even more foolhardy, the player Morey acquired wasn’t even on an NBA roster at the time. Still, the way Morey saw it, the risk—though great—was necessary.
A few weeks later, to the surprise of the sports world, if not Morey, Michael Jordan ended his retirement after an unsuccessful excursion into baseball, returning to the Bulls. And just like that, Morey had flipped the No. 17 pick in the draft—who went on to become the archetype for underachieving big men—for the greatest player ever in his prime.
Morey’s big bet had paid off. The Chaps were back in it.