In the eternal (and mostly pointless) Jordan vs. LeBron debate, the Jordanistas will often claim Jordan’s superiority by talking about his playoff record. Something similar to: “The only time people won titles in the 90s was when Jordan was playing baseball.” That’s not true, and Hakeem Olajuwon set the record straight.
After the first three titles, MJ was burned out (or suspended, for the conspiracy theorists) and took some time off. How much time? Your average fan would say two years. Your average fan would be wrong. MJ was out for the ’93/’94 season, but he came back in the ’94/’95 season. Jordan played the last 17 games of the regular season and averaged 26.9/6.9/5.3. The Bulls went 13-4 in those games and made it to the playoffs. They won against the Hornets in the first round – a 50 win Hornets team with Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. MJ and the Bulls were back.
The Orlando Magic were waiting in the second round. Sounds weird, I know. The Hornets and the Magic in the playoffs? It gets weirder. The Magic were first in the East with 57 wins. Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott, and Horace Grant were the top names on a deep Orlando team. Six games later, the Magic went on to play Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Bulls went home.
Somehow this playoff loss magically disappeared from the collective memory of basketball fans. You could argue MJ didn’t have a full season. But with everything we know about rest, taking most of the season off and working back into game shape at the end of the regular season sounds like a perfect plan. Hakeem summed it up back in 2014:
“I won’t guard MJ. It’s a different matchup. But the year after, they didn’t give Orlando credit. MJ was there; they beat them. We didn’t play them in Finals, but they lost. They make it seem like he retired for two years & those years we won. He was there the 2nd year; they lost.”
You may still feel that MJ’s playoff track record is better than LeBron’s, and that’s fine. The main point we can all take from this is that nuance is needed in these pointless discussions, at least to make them a little less pointless.