TNT Inside The NBA analyst and former NBA player Kenny Smith once told Scoop B Radio that his 1994 Houston Rockets would have beaten the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals even if Michael Jordan hadn’t retired.
“Oh we would’ve beat them,” Smith told me via Scoop B Radio.
“And actually everyone forgets he was playing the second year, he was wearing No. 45 and the team they lost to, the Orlando Magic, we swept them,” Smith said. “We were that much better than them that year, [and] they lost to them.”
Well, Smith isn’t the only person that feels that way.
Insert Smith’s former Rockets teammate Clyde Drexler.
After a successful career that included one NBA Finals appearance with the Portland Trail Blazers, Drexler went on to team with Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Horry, Sam Cassell and Rudy Tomjanovich and won a championship with the Houston Rockets in 1995.
“We would’ve beat them like they stole something,” Clyde Drexler told me on Scoop B Radio.
“The thing is, think about it, the team that beat them with Michael, was the Orlando Magic, and we swept the Magic. But I love Michael, tell him I love him, tell him I said hello.”
After Houston’s two-peat in the 90s, Chicago would win three straight titles from 1996 to 1998.
Retired Chicago Bulls forward, Scottie Pippen, Jordan’s Chicago Bulls sidekick disagreed with Smith’s Scoop B Radio claim:
“He forgot what my role was,” Pippen said.
“I cut the head off of snakes and I’m calling him the snake of that team.”
Pippen’s larger point was that the Rockets’ success hinged on getting the ball to Hakeem Olajuwon – who was in his prime at this time and may have been the best player in the league with Jordan on his baseball sabbatical.
Statistically, Pippen benefitted from Jordan’s sabbatical.
He averaged 22 points during the 1993-94 season and the Jordan-less Bulls went 55-27 that season.
“We had 30 shots going back in the bucket losing Michael,” Pippen said back in the fall at a panel at the Player’s Tribune.
“Our team bonded so well without Michael, as far as how players responded. We felt like our offense was made for the Knicks.”
Added Pippen: “We knew we could beat the Knicks without Michael.”
The Bulls did lose to the Patrick Ewing, Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks-led New York Knicks 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Semis in 1994.
As for Hakeem Olajuwon:
The Dream was one of the 50 Greatest NBA players, Olajuwon was the star on the Houston Rockets’ back-to-back NBA championship titles in 1994 and 1995. and is a U.S. Olympic gold medalist.
In 17 seasons, Olajuwon averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game. The way he formulated it was poetry in motion.
Hakeem Olajuwon has accomplished a ton during his career, his place amongst greats at the center position can’t be questioned. Since February 1985, no Rockets big man has come close to Dream’s record making numbers until Clint Capela did it last season when the Swiss big man became the youngest Rocket since Olajuwon to have at least 23 points and 25 rebounds in a game.