After a regular-season game between the Bulls and the Rockets back in 1992, a journalist named Fran Blinebury covering the Rockets claimed he was talking to Michael Jordan in the locker room. The Bulls lost (110-96) yet again to Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets.
He says Michael Jordan told him, “you know it’s a good thing these guys can’t get out of the west.” and the reporter asked, “WHY?”
Jordan’s response was (regarding Hakeem)… “WE’VE GOT NO ANSWER FOR THAT BIG MONSTER.”
All of this got me thinking about the 1995 NBA Playoffs, where Jordan’s Bulls lost to Shaq’s Magic in 6 games in the second round.
The popular theory holds that Michael only played 17 games that season after returning from his short-lived baseball stint – and was “clearly rusty” — so that year is often disregarded as if the postseason didn’t count.
However, when you look at the numbers, I’m not sure if the mentioned theory holds water. Here’s why.
Jordan dropped 55 points in the Garden his first week back in the league. In the playoff series against the Hornets in the first round, Jordan averaged 32/6/6. Then, against the Magic, Jordan put up 31/7/4, averaging almost three steals per game.
His numbers in the postseason were as good or better than they were during his three-peat runs. While looking at the videos and numbers, it’s tough to indulge in the notion that Michael was all that rusty because he was playing pretty much just like you’d expect him to play on both sides of the court. But young Shaq just ate up Chicago’s bigs and created so much space for Orlando’s guards that the Bulls did all they could to get it to 6 games. People often forget that Pippen put up 20 and 10 with Jordan averaging over 30, and they still lost.
And we all know what happened next. Houston just humiliated that Magic team. Here’s what Kenny Smith had to say about the scenario in which Michael Jordan doesn’t retire.
“Even if a good, healthy Michael takes them to seven and maybe wins (vs. the Magic) we would’ve beat the Bulls without question, they didn’t match up well with us and during those years that they were actually winning championships, which wasn’t the playoffs. We were 8-2 against them during those years. We matched up well with them. We wouldn’t have been scared. I tell you that much.”
Those two years, but in particular that 94-95 season – Olajuwon was essentially an unstoppable monster. He made David Robinson look pedestrian; he made a young prime Shaq feel humiliated (and became a big reason he ultimately left for the Lakers).
Here is a full highlight of the game that made Michael Jordan worried about facing Hakeem in the NBA Finals.