You shouldn’t need me to tell you how bad the New Jersey Nets were as an organization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but let me indulge you anyway. As a case in point, the cover photo from 1989-90 Nets Media Guide/Yearbook was actually taken two seasons earlier. In particular, Roy Hinson (#21) hadn’t worn that uniform and Buck Williams (in the bottom right) hadn’t played for the Nets since the 1987-88 season. I remember similar mistakes in my high school yearbook as pictures of previous graduates somehow slipped by the watchful eyes of the editors; however, that was an extracurricular activity done by unpaid students and not a work assignment done by paid employees. Regardless, all was not lost for Nets’ fans during the 1989-90 season because they got to see two of the worst all-time draft picks (i.e. Sam Bowie and Dennis Hopson) play for a team that finished the season with a 17-65 record. I was fortunate enough see them play in a game that year; however, the evening was memorable for an entirely different reason.
If you’re like I am, you probably have heard of the Ted Stepien Rule but know little about the man or the rationale for the rule. As an owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980s, Ted Stepien made numerous boneheaded trades. The one garnering the most attention involved giving up the draft pick which resulted in 1982 #1 overall selection James Worthy. In all, Stepien traded five early first-round picks from 1982-1986 without getting anyone of value in return. His seemingly irrational decisions decimated the team. In response, the NBA enacted a rule prohibiting any team from trading away first round picks in consecutive drafts. Ergo, the Ted Stepien Rule.
Since quarterbacks are the most important players on a football field, their successes and failures get magnified. In contrast, the performances of players at other positions can get muddled more easily. As the only running back in the countdown, Lawrence Phillips’ failures were too glaring to hide. Unlike most busts who excelled in college but lacked the talent to succeed for the NFL, Phillips had the talent. Unfortunately, his downfall was based completely on an inability to stay on the field because he had severe anger issues off the field. With Ray Rice as a comparison, Phillips was a more talented runner but a much worse person. Depending on what you already know, to the extent you believe that Phillips sabotaged his football career because of some legal problems, then you probably believe that O.J. Simpson sabotaged his broadcasting career because of a disagreement with his ex-wife. In other words, Phillips was one bad dude (and not in a good way). As a talented player who failed miserably in the NFL (and in life), he has been named the #6 NFL Draft Bust.
[Note: Since I first wrote this post in October 2014, Phillips has been charged with first-degree murder for strangling his cellmate while in state prison. So much for thinking he couldn’t sink any lower.]