New episodes of the ‘The Last Dance’ took us back to the time when NBA’s leading player Michael Jordan decided to retire from basketball and pursue a baseball career, after winning three consecutive NBA championship titles with the early 1990s Chicago Bulls.
From this point in time, it’s pretty certain to claim that Jordan’s retirement on October 6th 1993, as well as tragic deaths of his Eastern Conference rivals at the shooting guard position, Dražen Petrović (New Jersey Nets; June 7th 1993) and Reggie Lewis (Boston Celtics; July 27th 1993), irreversibly changed the Atlantic Division, Central Division and subsequently the East vs. West balance of power.
And, just to remind you, it was two Central Division teams, the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls, which managed to win as many as five consecutive NBA championship titles from 1989 until 1993.
Sure, even without their leading stars all three teams were able to fill in the gaps, and while staying highly competitive, reached the 1994 NBA postseason. But the traditional balance of power in the Eastern Conference and the NBA overall had significantly changed in a just matter of few months.
It’s not that the Bulls struggled – thanks to the unselfish team play and great use of the triangle-offense they finished the regular season with a 55-27 record, winning the Central Division crown. But make no mistake, that team was not as nearly majestic and invincible as the one which had Jordan on it.
This new balance of power was maybe the most evident in the 1994 NBA All-Star Game in Minneapolis.
The East starting five featured as many as three first-time All-Stars in B.J. Armstrong (Chicago Bulls), Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman (New Jersey Nets), alongside four-time All-Star SF Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls) and two-time All-Star C Shaquille O’Neal (Orlando Magic).
The East won the 1994 game by 127-118 and the MVP was Jordan’s Bulls teammate – Scottie Pippen.
Interestingly enough, for as many as seven Eastern Conference players the 1994 All-Star appearance will be the only one during their entire respective NBA careers – starters Armstrong, Anderson and Coleman, and reserves Blaylock, Starks, Oakley and Grant. Even more interestingly is that Anderson, Coleman and Blaylock (then playing for Atlanta Hawks) were teammates of the Nets legend – Dražen Petrović.
A year before, back in the early February of 1993, Petrović, Lewis and Jeff Hornacek (Philadelphia) were all left in awe when they didn’t hear their names called to the 1993 NBA All-Star game in Salt Lake City.
Furthermore, in the First Round of 1994 NBA play-off the New York Knicks easily dealt with the New Jersey Nets finishing off the ‘team of the 1990s’ with 3-1. Then, it was a payback time for four of the last five regular-season irreversibly lost in a postseason trench battles with the longtime EC nemesis – the Bulls.
The physical series provided great basketball and went to Game 7 in which the Knicks prevailed. After managing to win the exciting EC final series over Indiana Pacers led by Reggie Miller the Knicks reached the NBA finals for the first time since 1973, when the team had won NBA Championship title.
Then the Atlantic Division champions represented the East in a duel with the Midwest Division champions – the Houston Rockets. This NBA final series was characterized by a memorable match-up of two great big man of that basketball era – Patrick Ewing (Knicks) and Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets). Interestingly, both of this teams were interested in signing Dražen Petrović as a shooting specialist.
But the series was not decided by a big man – in the decisive game 7 in Houston it was the Knicks All-Star shooting guard John Starks who was completely of the mark – he shot only 2-18 from the field and missed all 11 of his three-point field goal attempts, scoring only 8 points in the decisive game.
The Houston Rockets thus won their first NBA championship ever, repeated the honor in 1995, a year before the NBA championship stage was again retaken by the mighty Chicago Bulls.