There are a lot of “what ifs” in the NBA. Perhaps one of the biggest, when it pertains to MJ, is the unknown series of events that would have occurred had he never retired in 1993. For almost two full seasons, the Bulls were without their franchise star and it paved the way for other teams to step up and compete for a title.
The Houston Rockets profited the most from MJ’s hiatus, but what would have happened had Jordan never retired that first time?
According to Kenny Smith, who played with the team during their two Championships in 1994-95, things wouldn’t be very different at all.
“We would’ve won. Yes. We did win the title. He did play, wearing No. 45, and they lost to a team we swept. So, we were a better team that year,” Smith told Michael Lee and David Aldridge of The Athletic.
“When he had 55 points at Madison Square Garden, nobody was saying, ‘He’s not back.’ It was like, ‘He’s back! He just lost that year.’ And I always say this: they won three, we won two and then they won three again. I don’t think that they would’ve won eight titles straight. I think, between injuries, between lack of focus, between whatever it might have been, I don’t think they could’ve won eight in a row. It hasn’t happened in the modern-day era. LeBron James has gotten there (eight) times, but he didn’t win (eight) times. I just think that we were the better team that year, regardless of who was there.”
It’s hard enough winning two-straight Championships — but eight? Even with Jordan, Pippen, and a team of talented role players, that sounds like quite a daunting task.
The Rockets, meanwhile, seemed to have everything going for them in that stretch. Smith was joined by Olajuwon, Horry, Cassell, and (of course) Clyde Drexler. It’s hard to say for certain if they would have bested Chicago two years in a row had he still been with the Bulls, but I guess we’ll never know for sure.