The 1995 NBA play-offs were loaded with an incredible dose of basketball adrenaline. What made things much more impressive was the fact that just 17 games before the regular season’s end Michael Jordan returned to action for the struggling 1991-1993 NBA champions Chicago Bulls.
“The greatest player ever is Michael Jordan, let’s not even debate that. But the one thing that everyone forgets – first of all, he was wearing #45 the year they had lost, and he was actually in the league, people forget that.”Kenny Smith, First Take
However it was quite a different story in the 1995 finals – it was the Houston Rockets who displayed true basketball magic. Led by the 1994 MVP Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets swept away the Orlando Magic 4-0.
With The Last Dance reviving all the stories and story angles about the 1990s Chicago Bulls championship dynasty the most recent edition of the First Take featured an interesting discussion between Kenny Smith and Stephen A. Smith on the very interesting hypothetical subject – Could the 1994 NBA champions Houston Rockets have beaten the Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 1995 finals?
“They were just too small. No Horace Grant, he was in Orlando, Dennis Rodman was still in San Antonio. That’s why they’ve lost it to Orlando Magic. And we would have done the same thing. The team they have lost 4-2 we swept. I just don’t think that that team, it wasn’t Jordan wasn’t the best player – that wasn’t the best team. So they didn’t keep Horace Grant, or they didn’t get Dennis Rodman with Michael, they would have been too small on the inside and perimeter wise, I don’t think they would have won eight straight because of that.”Kenny Smith, First Take
Indeed, with explosive Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell in the backcourt, Robert Horry (Buck Johnson before him for 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons) and Otis Thorpe at forward positions, and virtually unstoppable Hakeem Olajuwon as their man in the middle, the Rockets posted a remarkable 5-1 record in the games with the 1991-1993 NBA champions – the Chicago Bulls.
„Those teams were great. The first three championships, most people don’t notice, but, it’s regular season, but we were 5-1 against them in three years! We only lost one game to them in three years because they really had to double team every time. One of the things Phil Jackson did not want to do – he doesn’t like them double-teaming. And Hakeem would go crazy, and everybody, and the third quartet they would be like: ‘Aight, let’s go double them.’ And then: ‘Splash! Splash! Splash!’”Kenny Smith, First Take
Moreover, including two almost full seasons with Jordan out of the basketball (1993-94, 1994-95) the Rockets extended their 1990s regular season record with the Bulls on 7-3, on their path of succeeding the Bulls as NBA champions and winning the 1994 and 1995 NBA championship titles!
“We just matched up. Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever but I don’t think he would have won eight straight. That’s it! I think he would have won if they had Dennis Rodman, or they kept Horace Grant, maybe a different story. Without those two guys? No way, no way.”Kenny Smith, First Take
Interestingly, after compiling the impressive record vs. the Bulls throughout the first half of the 1990s the Rockets posted poor 1-5 record against 1996-1998 NBA champions – the Chicago Bulls.