We are all counting down to the first episode of “The Last Dance,” an all-access documentary following the ‘97/’98 Bulls. The magical second three-peat established Jordan and the Bulls as the greatest team in NBA history. As if six titles isn’t enough, many fans wonder - would they’ve gone eight for eight if MJ hadn’t retired?
The last dynasty we had, the Golden State Warriors, talked a lot about the mental fatigue and the challenge of staying motivated on such a long run. MJ and the Bulls had the same challenge. Don’t underestimate the value and importance of that break.
But, there was also one great 90s team the Bulls never faced in the playoffs. The Houston Rockets were their fiercest opponent. The Rockets went 5-1 versus Jordan’s Bulls in six meetings between 1991 and 1993, all before his first retirement. As much as the Rockets didn’t have anyone to cover Jordan, the same can be said about the Bulls’ ability to slow Hakeem down.
We never got to see the two teams battle it out in the Finals while at their peak, but it seems Jordan doesn’t think a Bulls win would’ve been a lock. Rudy Tomjanovich talked to Jordan after his retirement in 1998, and here’s what MJ said to him.
“He gave our team great respect. He didn’t feel that they could contain Hakeem. They just didn’t have the personnel to do it. And he said he thought we were the team that gave them the most trouble.”
Rudy Tomjanovich, via The Athletic
So the next time someone tells you those Rockets titles happened “just because MJ was out of the game”, you can say to them two things. First of all, MJ was back in time to stop the second Rocket’s title but lost to Orlando Magic. Secondly, even Jordan himself always had the utmost respect for Hakeem and appreciated their two titles.