The post-Jordan era saw a number of NBA contenders taking additional steps in making their rosters even more competitive, with the ultimate aim of winning the Larry O’Brien trophy!
But during the first half of the 1990s, especially after the Chicago Bulls won three consecutive NBA championships led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the overall accomplishments of the Dream Team superstars like Ewing, Barkley, Malone, Robinson, Drexler, and others, were questioned through the specific prism of How many NBA titles they had won for their respective teams so far.
With MJ playing baseball for the upcoming 1993-94 NBA season, many contenders quickly figured out that this could be their legit shot at the NBA championship title!
The 1993-94 NBA regular season proved unexpectedly dynamic and attractive, with a significant number of great teams contending for a legitimate shot at the title! That year as many as 17 NBA teams finished the regular season with the .500 or better W-L ratio.
However, already the first two postseason rounds proved to be fatal for the top-ranked teams such as Seattle Supersonics (63-19 – the best record in the league) and the Atlanta Hawks (57-25 – best-seeded team in the Eastern Conference)!
As the 1994 postseason progressed the perennial contenders like the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks wisely used their overall experience and depth to gain a critical, decisive advantage over a number of ‘hungry’ teams – New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers (in the case of the Knicks) and Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz (in the case of the Rockets).
Both the Knicks and Rockets started their rebuilding process in the early 1990s.
The Knicks changed the course before 1991-92 season by acquiring head coaching mastermind Pat Riley. Riles quickly implemented an aggressive defensive style and surrounded the perennial frontcourt of Ewing and Charles Oakley with the ‘fighters’ such as CBA importees John Starks and Anthony Mason.
Likewise, the Rockets surrounded the frontcourt of Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe with a dynamic backcourt of Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell, added a brilliant rookie forward Robert Horry in 1992, and promoted the energetic assistant coach Rudy Tomjanovich to the role of a head coach before 1992-93.
A decade ago, in 1984, Olajuwon and Ewing squared off in the NCAA Championship game, and the latter took the Georgetown Hoyas to an 84-75 win. But just a couple of years later, it was Olajuwon alongside Ralph Sampson who led the Rockets to the 1986 NBA finals, before losing it to the Celtics.
The defensively oriented series began in Houston on June 8th, 1994, with teams splitting the wins in the first two games. Then the series shifted to New York.
In game 3 of the series, on June 12th, 1994, the Rockets led by phenomenal Hakeem Olajuwon (21 points, 11 boards, 7 dimes, 7 blocked shots) prevailed by 93-89 thus gained the critical series advantage.
Although Olajuwon continued to shine in Games 4 & 5 in the Big Apple, by scoring combined 59 points on 26-41 shooting, the Knicks were able to regain the composure and post two victories, retaking the series lead by 2-3.
In the extra exciting game 6, it was Olajuwon who shined again and scored 30 points. Even more importantly, The Dream came up with a critical game-winning rejection of the last second three-point try by the Knicks John Starks! Rockets edged the Knicks by 84-86 and thus secured the game 7 of the series.
That made the Knicks head coach Pat Riley the only NBA head coach ever who had coached in the three-game 7s – he did it with the L.A. Lakers back in 1984 and 1988, as well as the Knicks in 1994.
The decisive game 7 of the 1994 NBA finals, on June 22nd, 1994, will always be remembered for the Knicks shooting guard John Starks miserable shooting night – All-Star guard shot only 2-18 from the field, missed all 11 of his three-point attempts while finishing the crucial game with only 8 points!
The Houston Rockets led by Olajuwon (25 points, 10 boards, 7 assists) and Maxwell (21 points) cruised to an 84-90 win and had won their first NBA championship title ever! By winning this final series, Houston had denied New York the chance of pairing two major professional sports titles in the same season – it was the New York Rangers who had won the 1994 NHL title just a week earlier!
Olajuwon, who had previously won the 1994 NBA MVP award, again proved to be unstoppable in a confrontation with Ewing – he led both teams in scoring in all seven final series games! The Dream posted averages of 26.9 points and 9.1 boards and was thus named the 1994 NBA Finals MVP.
Ewing set the new finals record with a total of 30 blocked shots and had also set the final series single-game record with 8 blocked shots in the game 7. Both of those records had later been surpassed.
Already next season, the Rockets did it all over again – they won the 1995 NBA championship title!