If the 1993-94 and 94-95 Houston Rockets team that won the NBA Finals in Michael Jordan’s absence had played the Chicago Bulls‘ championship teams, who would have won?
According to former Rocket Vernon Maxwell, Houston wouldn’t have had a problem.
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Maxwell: ‘I Swear Before God’
Never one to bite his tongue, Maxwell appeared on the No Layups podcast recently and he gave a very detailed take on the subject. Maxwell broke it all down from his perspective. He said, “if we could get past Seattle to get to Chicago in the Finals, we would have beat Chicago. I swear before God, on everything I love. They know that and we know that too.”
Here is a look at the clip:
Those are strong words, and if you’re familiar with Maxwell’s career and character, it won’t surprise you to hear this take from him.
Who is Vernon Maxwell?
Maxwell played 13 years in the NBA. He began his career with the San Antonio Spurs in 1988. He was a second-round pick out of Florida. During his NBA career, Maxwell was known primarily for his hard-nosed playing style, defensive intensity, and streaky three-point shooting.
With the three-point shot still a relatively new weapon in the NBA, Maxwell was one of the league’s first gunners. His playstyle and sometimes volatile personality earned him the nickname Mad Max.
In fact, there is an entire video on YouTube dedicated to Maxwell’s fights while in the NBA. The video below starts off with footage of Maxwell leaving the Rockets’ bench to punch a fan in the face.
This fan was allegedly mocking Maxwell’s wife’s recent miscarriages, per the video.
In watching Maxwell’s take on the Bulls, it’s unclear which Chicago team he was referring to, but his mentality seems like it would have created a tailor-made situation for Dennis Rodman. I can imagine The Worm having a field day drawing technical fouls on Maxwell.
The second video shows Maxwell being ejected after fouling out trying to guard Jordan. An incensed Maxwell threw his gum at referee Jack Nies. In the video, Maxwell gets into it with everyone from Jordan to Charles Barkley.
Make no mistake about it, aside from the antics, Maxwell was very talented. He started at shooting guard for back-to-back Rockets championship teams and averaged 12.8 points per game over the course of his career. In the 1991-92 season, Maxwell averaged 17.2 points per game and was one of the top scoring options behind Hakeem Olajuwon.
Maxwell mentioned a few different Bulls teams seemingly confused about which groups mixed across Chicago’s two three-peats. He makes reference to Bill Cartwright, who was the starting center for the first three championships, and Luc Longley who was the man in the middle for the last three.
The years Maxwell and the Rockets won the championship were the 1993-94 campaign, which is the year Jordan was retired, and the 94-95 season, the year MJ came back for the final 17 games of the regular season and playoffs. A rusty Jordan and the Bulls were eliminated from the postseason by Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic 4 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
That Magic team went on to lose to Maxwell, Olajuwon, and the Rockets in the Finals. Maxwell wasn’t even with the Rockets anymore in 95-96 which is when the Bulls set the single-season record for wins and won their fourth NBA championship by defeating the Seattle Supersonics 4 games to 2 in the NBA Finals. Based on facts, that part of Maxwell’s argument falls flat.
However, he does have a point when it comes to head-to-head matchups. The Bulls won their first title in the 1990-91 season and completed their first three-peat in the 1992-93 campaign, which led to Jordan’s retirement.
During those three seasons, Maxwell and the Rockets were 5-1 against the Bulls in the regular season, and most of the games weren’t particularly close. Four of the Rockets’ 5 wins were by double digits. The Bulls’ lone win in the series, over those three years, was a 14-point win in Chicago on January 25. Jordan led all scorers with 35. Maxwell fouled out, which is the clip in the video above, and Chicago held Olajuwon to just 17 points in 36 minutes.
While Maxwell and the Rockets may have had a regular-season advantage over the Bulls, that’s hardly enough evidence to suggest they would have beaten Chicago in an NBA Finals series.
League history is littered with situations where teams have won, or even dominated regular-season meetings only to lose to the same team in the postseason.
Bulls fans know this story all too well. Back in 2010-11, Derrick Rose and the Bulls swept the Miami Heat in the regular season (3-0), but lost in 5 games to LeBron James and Co. in the playoffs.
Also, part of claiming you’re the best is going through all competition. By Maxwell’s own admission, the Rockets couldn’t beat the Sonics. The Bulls beat everyone in their path.