Many in the basketball world have put an asterisk next to the Houston Rockets’ two championships because of the retirement of Michael Jordan. But Jordan actually was the beneficiary of not having to face the Rockets.
There’s been a little bit more focus on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of late, due to The Last Dance, which aired on Sunday. The widely accepted belief is that the Houston Rockets wouldn’t have won their two titles were it not for MJ’s surprising retirement in 1993, but this is a premise that needs to stop being pumped out.
It’s been discussed by many, but it can’t be brought up enough that the Bulls did not have anyone who could defend Hakeem Olajuwon. Olajuwon is arguably the most skilled big man we’ve ever seen, and the Bulls’ bigs were Horace Grant, Bill Wennington, Will Purdue, Bill Cartwright, and Luc Longley.
It’s safe to say that none of these guys stood a chance at stopping The Dream. In fact, Olajuwon went up against the Bulls numerous times over the course of his career and flat out dominated them.
Olajuwon's Rockets faced Jordan and the Bulls 21 times during their careers.
The Rockets went 12-9 during those games and Olajuwon averaged 23.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 1.9 steals, and had a 51.3 FG%.
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Olajuwon’s averages against the Bulls were all higher than his career averages, which is further proof of how they simply couldn’t stop The Dream. Olajuwon had a 20-20 game against the Bulls, in which he scored 24 points and grabbed 21 rebounds, while also blocking four shots, and that’s just one of many good games Olajuwon had against the Bulls.
Hakeem also had three near triple-doubles against the Jordan-led crew, as he posted the following statlines in those three games.
- 23 points/10 rebounds/7 blocks
- 32 points/17 rebounds/9 blocks
- 28 points/13 rebounds/7 assists
The Rockets went 3-1 in those four games mentioned above, and it’s safe to say that they would’ve beat Jordan’s Bulls in the Finals, because of The Dream. Jordan actually stated that he feared the Bulls couldn’t stop the Rockets during a conversation with legendary Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich (subscription required).
“He gave our team great respect,” Tomjanovich said. “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.”
Considering how Hakeem dominated Jordan and the Bulls, it makes perfect sense that he had this concern. Olajuwon posted 14 double-doubles during his battles with Jordan and the Bulls, including posting one in nine straight games, spanning from their first match in the 1989-90 season and concluding with the first match during the 1995-96 season.
That means there were four straight seasons in which Olajuwon posted a double-double against the Bulls, and the Rockets went 6-3 during those games. We also have to remember that Olajuwon was such a great passer that the Bulls couldn’t double him, because Rudy T was one of the first to adopt the 3-point strategy.
The Bulls didn’t have the ability to defend Olajuwon one-on-one in the post, which means he would’ve drawn a second defender, which would have led to a wide open 3-pointer from the likes of Mario Elie, Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, Matt Bullard, or Vernon Maxwell.
It’s safe to say Jordan was right in being afraid of facing Olajuwon, and it’s telling that he was willing to admit that. Hopefully that’s enough to put the talk of putting an asterisk next to the Houston Rockets’ championships to bed.