‘I always say 1996 was the best draft ever’; Looking back at the NBA draft with West De Pere’s Jeff Nordgaard

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The 1996 NBA draft ended up having 4 Hall of Famers and 11 All-Stars, and former UW-Green Bay star Jeff Nordgaard remembers that night like it was yesterday.

(WFRV) – It’s been 25 years since Jeff Nordgaard heard his name called in the NBA draft, and he was part of what’s being called the greatest draft class in league history.

“I always say 1996 was the best draft ever, partially because I was in the draft, but people argue 1984 (draft) because of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and Hakeem Olajuwon,” said Nordgaard. “Some argue 2003 because of LeBron, and Dwyane Wade and a couple of others. But the reason I think 1996 is the best is, not only does it have four Hall of Famer’s with Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant, but it’s got 11 all stars. And none of the other drafts come close.”

NBA TV premiered their documentary ‘Ready or Not’ surrounding the class of 1996 last week and that group of players was as deep and talented as any in the history of the association. It was also enigmatic, which led to one of the most complicated selection order of players taken, that at all entered the league at different age levels.

“The thing that happened, and they talk about it plenty in the documentary, is how some of the stud seniors kept falling, because of all these underclassmen that came in, and also some high schoolers. And then you throw in some international guys, and so you’ve got guys dropping,” said Nordgaard. “Allen Iverson was going to go number one, there was no doubt about that. But then it was strange after that, and then the whole Ray Allen & Stephon Marbury trade. That was a unique thing that obviously hit us locally with the Bucks. But yeah, it was an intriguing draft altogether.”

After being selected with the #53 pick in the second round of that draft, Nordgaard played one year in Milwaukee with two separate stints and ended up with 18 points in his lone season with the Bucks. But some of his fondest memories were hanging out with the player who became a future Hall of Famer.

“I had two summer leagues with Ray (Allen) and then certainly that season that I was with him in 97-98. Ray and I probably hung out the most on the team. And he was a great guy. We went golfing together in Vancouver on a road trip one time. Really a great guy but also, obviously an amazing player with the way he could shoot and attack the rim.”

Only a handful of players drafted in the 2nd round go on to have significant careers in the NBA, but Nordgaard knows that just making it to the league, puts you with some elite company.

“Here’s an interesting stat that could really open people’s eyes. 4,500 people have ever played in the NBA. 4,500. So that percentage, when you think of the opportunity that came about that I was drafted and had a little stint in the NBA, puts me on a shortlist with people,” said Nordgaard. I say this all the time, I was in a position in the draft, where I went to a team that wasn’t ready to play rookies. They kept only 12 guys on the roster, unless they were legitimately injured. If I had gone to another spot, I could’ve had a nice little career, longer than what I did. However, I realize that after going overseas, that there are hundreds and hundreds of people that were as good, or better than me, that never got to the NBA. They weren’t drafted, and weren’t NBA players. So I can at least hold that and say “Hey I was drafted in the NBA, and I’m an NBA player.“

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