1979 NBA Draft: The Exciting Class That Helped Grow The NBA’s Popularity

Feature image of 1979 NBA Draft Picks Magic Johnson and Bill Laimbeer positioned in front of nba draft banner

The 1979 NBA draft was the 33rd in league history after its beginning during the inaugural 1946-1947 season. The Los Angeles Lakers were awarded the 1st overall pick, allowing them to significantly improve their already talented roster. Although Larry Bird could have entered the draft again in 1979, he opted instead to sign with the Boston Celtics, who had originally drafted him in 1978 before his senior season at Indiana State.

1979 NBA Draft Class

The 79 NBA draft was a good draft, highlighted by the legendary career of Magic Johnson who would dominate the league for the next decade. It also contained many other successful players who would make significant contributions to the league during the 1980s. The NBA 1979 draft produced 8 players who were named to at least 1 all-star game, 3 players who were named to at least 1 All-NBA Team, and 3 members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Who won Rookie of the Year?

Despite being a member of the 1978 NBA draft class, Larry Bird won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award for the 1979-1980 season, as he opted to play his senior season at Indiana State after being drafted by the Boston Celtics. He put together an impressive statistical rookie season, averaging 21.3 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.5 APG, and 1.7 SPG, all while shooting 83.6% from the free-throw line. Bird’s efforts helped the Celtics to dramatically improve from a 29-53 record the previous year to a 61-21 record during the 1979-1980 season.

The NBA Draft 1979 Class


  1. Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers)
  2. Dave Greenwood (Chicago Bulls)
  3. Bill Cartwright (New York Knicks)
  4. Greg Kelser (Detroit Pistons)
  5. Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks)
  6. James Bailey (Seattle SuperSonics)
  7. Vinnie Johnson (Seattle SuperSonics)
  8. Calvin Natt (New Jersey Nets)
  9. Larry Demic (New York Knicks)
  10. Roy Hamilton (Detroit Pistons)
  11. Cliff Robinson (New Jersey Nets)
  12. Jim Paxson (Portland Trail Blazers)
  13. Dudley Bradley (Indiana Pacers)
  14. Brad Holland (Los Angeles Lakers)
  15. Phil Hubbard (Detroit Pistons)
  16. Jim Spanarkel (Philadelphia 76ers)
  17. Lee Johnson (Houston Rockets)
  18. Reggie King (Kansas City Kings)
  19. Wiley Peck (San Antonio Spurs)
  20. Larry Knight (Utah Jazz)
  21. Sly Williams (New York Knicks)
  22. Kyle Macy (Phoenix Suns)


  1. Tico Brown (Utah Jazz)
  2. Johnny High (Phoenix Suns)
  3. Ollie Mack (Los Angeles Lakers)
  4. Bruce Flowers (Cleveland Cavaliers)
  5. Reggie Carter (New York Knicks)
  6. Danny Salisbury (Golden State Warriors)
  7. Tony Price (Detroit Pistons)
  8. Gary Garland (Denver Nuggets)
  9. Edgar Jones (Milwaukee Bucks)
  10. Tony Zeno (Indiana Pacers)
  11. Lawrence Butler (Chicago Bulls)
  12. Kim Goetz (New York Knicks)
  13. James Bradley (Atlanta Hawks)
  14. Clint Richardson (Philadelphia 76ers)
  15. Bernard Toone (Philadelphia 76ers)
  16. Larry Wilson (Atlanta Hawks)
  17. Victor King (Los Angeles Lakers)
  18. Andrew Fields (Portland Trail Blazers)
  19. Mark Young (Los Angeles Lakers)
  20. Paul Mokeski (Houston Rockets)
  21. Johnny Moore (Seattle SuperSonics)
  22. Joe DeSantis (Washington Bullets)


  1. Arvid Kramer (UTA)
  2. Andrew Parker (WSB)
  3. Calvin Garrett (CHI)
  4. Terry Duerod (DET)
  5. Cedrick Hordges (CHI)
  6. Geoff Huston (NYK)
  7. John Gerdy (NJN)
  8. Larry Gibson (MIL)
  9. Wayne Kreklow (BOS)
  10. Cheese Johnson (GSW)
  11. Tom Channel (SDC)
  12. Mickey Fox (POR)
  13. Don Marsh (ATL)
  14. Earl Cureton (PHI)
  15. Ricardo Brown (HOU)
  16. Walter Daniels (LAL)
  17. Ernesto Malcolm (BOS)
  18. Terry Crosby (KCK)
  19. Sylvester Norris (SAS)
  20. Al Green (PHO)
  21. Bill Laimbeer (CLE)
  22. Charles Floyd (WSB)


  1. Greg Deane (UTA)
  2. Nick Galis (BOS)
  3. Eugene Robinson (MIL)
  4. Rick Swing (CLE)
  5. Larry Rogers (NYK)
  6. George Maynor (CHI)
  7. James Donaldson (SEA)
  8. Don Newman (IND)
  9. Ron Ripley (GSW)
  10. Sammy Drummer (HOU)
  11. Lionel Garrett (SDC)
  12. Darryl Robinson (POR)
  13. Ray White (LAL)
  14. Lionel Green (HOU)
  15. Ricky Reed (LAL)
  16. Jerry Sichting (GSW)
  17. Mike Niles (PHI)
  18. Al Daniel (SAS)
  19. John McCullough (KCK)
  20. Malcolm Cesare (PHO)
  21. Richie Allen (SEA)
  22. Lamont Reid (WSB)


  1. Perry Wolfe (UTA)
  2. Jimmy Allen (BOS)
  3. Matt Simpkins (CLE)
  4. Flintie Ray Williams (DET)
  5. Larry Washington (CHI)
  6. Johnny Green (NYK)
  7. Jim Abromaitis (NJN)
  8. George Lett (GSW)
  9. Jim Tillman (MIL)
  10. Billy Reid (IND)
  11. Greg Joyner (SDC)
  12. Matt White (POR)
  13. Tiny Pinder (ATL)
  14. Larry Williams (DEN)
  15. Carl McPipe (PHI)
  16. Allen Leavell (HOU)
  17. Curtis Watkins (KCK)
  18. Steve Schall (SAS)
  19. Mark Eaton (PHO)
  20. Marshall Ashford (WSB)


  1. Ernie Cobb (UTA)
  2. Marvin Delph (BOS)
  3. Truman Claytor (DET)
  4. Joe Manning (CLE)
  5. Phil Abney (NYK)
  6. Steve Smith (CHI)
  7. Tony Smith (NJN)
  8. Derrick Mayes (MIL)
  9. Greg Guye (IND)
  10. Jim Mitchem (GSW)
  11. Bob Bender (SDC)
  12. Ray Ellis (POR)
  13. Dwight Williams (ATL)
  14. Odell Ball (DEN)
  15. Dan Hartshorne (PHI)
  16. Collie Davis (HOU)
  17. Terry Knight (SAS)
  18. Bob Roma (KCK)
  19. Dale Shackleford (PHO)
  20. Garcia Hopkins (WSB)


  1. Paul Poe (UTA)
  2. Steve Castellan (BOS)
  3. Steve Skaggs (CLE)
  4. Ken Jones (DET)
  5. Mike Eversley (CHI)
  6. Marc Coleman (NYK)
  7. Jim Strickland (NJN)
  8. Dirk Ewing (IND)
  9. Ren Watson (GSW)
  10. Stan Ray (MIL)
  11. Jene Grey (SDC)
  12. Jeff Tropf (POR)
  13. Tim Waterman (ATL)
  14. Bobby Willis (PHO)
  15. Rich Valavicius (HOU)
  16. John Johnson (DEN)
  17. Nick Daniels (KCK)
  18. Tyrone Branyan (SAS)
  19. Ollie Matson Jr. (PHO)


  1. Keith McDonald (UTA)
  2. Glenn Sudhop (BOS)
  3. Rodney Lee (DET)
  4. Mark Haymore (CLE)
  5. Billy Tucker (NYK)
  6. Tony Warren (CHI)
  7. Henry Hollingsworth (NJN)
  8. Mario Butler (GSW)
  9. Larry Spicer (MIL)
  10. Brian Magid (IND)
  11. Renaldo Lawrence (SDC)
  12. Willie Pounds (POR)
  13. John Goedeke (ATL)
  14. Delbert Watson (HOU)
  15. Matt Teahan (DEN)
  16. Rick Raivio (PHI)
  17. Tony Vann (KCK)
  18. Charles Jones (PHO)
  19. Jo Jo Walters (WSB)


  1. Milt Huggins (UTA)
  2. Kevin Sinnett (BOS)
  3. Tim Joyce (CLE)
  4. Val Bracey (DET)
  5. James Jackson (CHI)
  6. Brett Wyatt (NYK)
  7. Ricky Free (NJN)
  8. Roger Lapham (MIL)
  9. Gene Ransom (GSW)
  10. Mike Dodd (SDC)
  11. Stan Eckwood (POR)
  12. Cedric Oliver (ATL)
  13. Emmett Lewis (DEN)
  14. Coby Leavitt (PHI)
  15. Gary Wilson (KCK)
  16. Eddie McLeod (SAS)
  17. Hosea Champine (PHO)
  18. Gary Ray Hooker (WSB)


  1. Paul Dawkins (UTA)
  2. Alton Byrd (BOS)
  3. Willie Polk (DET)
  4. Terry Peavy (CLE)
  5. Gordon Thomas (NYK)
  6. Marvin Thomas (CHI)
  7. Eric Fleisher (NJN)
  8. Kevin Heenan (GSW)
  9. Chris Fahrbach (MIL)
  10. Greg Hunter (SDC)
  11. Kelvin Small (POR)
  12. Chad Nelson (ATL)
  13. Cortez Collins (CHI)
  14. Keith McCord (PHI)
  15. Glenn Fine (SAS)
  16. Russell Saunders (KCK)
  17. Korky Nelson (PHO)
  18. Steve Martin (WSB)

How did the Lakers get the 1st Overall Pick in 1979?

From 1966 to 1984, the top 2 picks of the NBA draft were determined by a coin flip between the 2 worst teams of each conference, with the loser of the coin flip being awarded the 2nd overall pick. All successive picks occurred in reverse order of a team’s win-loss record from the previous season.

The Los Angeles Lakers obtained the 1979 NBA Draft 1st round pick of the Utah Jazz (New Orleans Jazz), a team located in the Eastern Conference, 3 years earlier in a trade that sent Lakers guard Gail Goodrich to the Jazz. Because the Jazz posted the worst record in the Eastern Conference during the 1978-1979 season, the Lakers were awarded the #1 overall pick after winning a coin flip with the Chicago Bulls, the team with the worst record in the Western Conference.

Who was the Best Player from the 1979 Draft Class?

After being selected with the 1st overall pick, point guard Magic Johnson established himself as the best player of the 1979 NBA draft. With a 6-foot, 9-inch height, Johnson revolutionized the point guard position, excelling in a fast-break offense with the Lakers throughout his career. Johnson helped to revive the Lakers-Celtics rivalry along with Larry Bird, as both players would help establish their respective teams as the best in the NBA during the 1980s.

His most memorable moment in the NBA came during the 1980 NBA finals his rookie season when the Lakers were playing the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers had a 3-2 series lead, but Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was injured in game 5 of the series and would not play in game 6 in Philadelphia. Magic Johnson proceeded to put together one of the most legendary performances in NBA history with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists, leading the Lakers to a 123-107 victory and series win over the 76ers, winning MVP of the NBA Finals in the process.

He averaged 19.5 PPG, 11.2 APG, 7.2 RPG, and 1.9 SPG, and also shot 52% from the field and 84.8% from the free-throw line for his career. In addition to winning 5 championships with the Lakers and being named Finals MVP in 3 of them, Johnson won 3 NBA regular season MVP awards. He was also named to the All-NBA 1st Team 9 times, was named to 12 all-star games, was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, and was named a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. Magic Johnson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Notable Players from the 1979 Draft

Sidney Moncrief

Sidney Moncrief was taken with the #5 pick of the draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and became the best defensive guard in the NBA during the 1980s. Moncrief primarily starred at the 2-guard position, averaging 15.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, and shot 50.2% from the field and 83.1% from the free-throw line. He was named to the All-NBA 1st Team once, was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team 4 times, was named to the All-Defensive 1st Team 4 times, and was named to 5 all-star games. Moncrief was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Bill Cartwright

Bill Cartwright was selected with the #3 overall pick by the New York Knicks and became one of the best offensive centers in the NBA during his first 2 seasons. However, he was unable to replicate this same success throughout the rest of his career, transitioning into a role player. He is probably best known for being the starting center on the Chicago Bulls during their first 3-peat championship run. He averaged 13.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and shot 52.5% from the field during his playing days, while also being named to 1 all-star team.

Calvin Natt

After being selected with the 8th overall pick by the New Jersey Nets, Calvin Natt established himself as a good offensive player, excelling at both the small forward and power forward positions. Unfortunately, he struggled with injuries for much of his career and was unable to reach his full potential. He was still able to average 17.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and shoot 52.8% from the field during his career while being named to 1 all-star game.

Jim Paxon

Jim Paxon was taken with the 12th pick of the draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and had a successful career at the shooting guard position. He was a good offensive player, averaging 14.3 PPG during his playing days. Paxon was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team once and was named to the all-star team twice.

Bill Laimbeer

Bill Laimbeer was the biggest surprise of the 1979 NBA draft order, having a tremendous NBA career despite being drafted in the 3rd round with the 65th overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He obtained a fearsome reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the NBA at the center position and excelled on the famous Detroit Pistons Bad Boys teams of the late 80s and early 90s. He won 2 championships with the Pistons and was named to 4 all-star games.

Nikos Galis

After being selected in the 4th round with the 69th pick in the draft by the Boston Celtics, Nikos Galis suffered an ankle injury during training camp which prevented him from receiving a contract from the Celtics. He then decided to play professionally in Greece, where he became one of the best international basketball players of all time at the shooting guard position. Galis was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017 for his international basketball achievements.

The Magic Johnson Draft Class

So, what draft class was Magic Johnson in? The 1979 NBA draft results produced a good selection of successful NBA players, led by the legendary career of Magic Johnson. While it didn’t reach the heights of the 1981, 1984, or 1985 NBA drafts, it was still one of the better drafts during its era. Along with Magic Johnson, other players like Sidney Moncrief and Bill Laimbeer would both have a significant impact on the league as well, helping to exponentially grow the NBA’s popularity during the 1980s.