When Was The Last TIme The NBA And NHL Draft Featured Two Generational Talents In The Same Year?

Connor Bedard and Victor Wembanyama

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There obviously aren’t many situations where sports fans want the teams they support to lose, although there are some fairly rare scenarios where there’s plenty of incentive to do exactly that.

The nature of fandom means the highest of highs are inevitably accompanied by the lowest of lows, and while you never want to see your team sitting in the basement of the standings at the end of the season, there can be a bit of a silver lining in the form of the high-ranking draft picks that are traditionally handed out to those underperforming franchises.

Securing the top pick in the draft can be a game-changer for the squads who end up winning the lottery—especially when a prospect who’s been bestowed with the “Generational Talent” label is up for grabs.

That was the case with a couple of guys in the lead-up to the NHL and NBA Draft in 2023.

Any basketball fans who were subjected to an abysmal season could take solace in knowing every loss increased the chance their team could scoop up 7’5″ French phenom Victor Wembanyama, while hockey diehards who shared a similar fate could hold out hope it could end with them cheering for the highly-touted Connor Bedard.

When everything was said and done, the Spurs earned the right to take Wembanyama with the first overall pick, while Bedard will be suiting up for the Blackhawks.

The hype both of those players have been able to generate made me wonder if there’s ever been a year where both the NBA and NHL held a draft featuring some similarly stellar talent—so I decided to take a look back at history to find out.

Have the NBA and NHL Drafts featured a combination of players that can top Victor Wembanyama and Connor Bedard?

This is a bit of a tricky question to answer when you consider “generational talent” is a bit hard to define (especially when you consider multiple players who theoretically hail from the same generation can receive that particular moniker).

However, it’s a bit easier to narrow down the list of possible candidates by taking a look at the people who’ve been selected with the No. 1 pick in the NBA and NHL Draft and lived up to expectations by embarking on careers that ended with them landing in the Hall of Fame.

That set of criteria gets a little murkier when it comes to active players who haven’t officially punched their ticket to Springfield or Toronto. Thankfully, it’s a non-issue here, as there haven’t been any scenarios in the past couple of decades where an undisputed superstar has been the crown jewel of the draft class in both leagues.

You could try to argue 1970 fits the bill, as Buffalo Sabres center Gilbert Perreault and Detroit Pistons big man Bob Lanier both ended up in the Hall of Fame after being selected with the top pick that year. However, neither of them are really household names, and calling them “generational talents” would be a huge stretch.

I don’t think it would be controversial to suggest you could use that term to describe both Mario Lemieux and Hakeem Olajuwon, who were respectively drafted by the Penguins and the Rockets with the top overall pick in 1984.

Yes, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan may have defined the generations those two players hailed from, but it would be foolish to minimize what they were able to achieve.

Lemieux was a 10-time All-Star who won two Stanley Cups (and a battle with cancer) over the course of a legendary career, and he’d be at the top of a number of lists in the NHL record book if it wasn’t for The Great One (interestingly enough, he almost refused to play for Pittsburgh because they initially failed to give him the contract he thought he deserved, although it certainly worked out for him in the end).

Olajuwon, on the other hand, earned two NBA titles (as well as a couple of NBA Finals MVPs), one regular season MVP award, and a dozen All-Star game selections. He was also voted to the All-NBA First Team six times and was a no-brainer selection for the 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams the league assembled.

The fact that that’s really the only time the NBA and NHL have featured that level of singular talent in the same draft is pretty impressive when you consider we’re looking at 60 years of shared history—so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if Wembanyama and Bedard can live up to the hype.