Former Houston Rockets guard Kenny Smith isn’t buying the logic that the Rockets’ two titles shouldn’t count because of Michael Jordan’s unexpected retirement.
ESPN’s docu-series The Last Dance has been worth the wait, as it’s provided an opportunity for many of the younger generation of basketball fans to see Michael Jordan, while also allowing basketball historians to revisit moments from their earlier fandom. The featured film has also re-created the discussions regarding whether the Houston Rockets‘ titles should count or whether they should be discredited due to Michael Jordan’s retirement.
What gets lost in all of the Jordan hoopla is the fact that the Rockets were the Bulls’ toughest test, although The Last Dance would lead one to believe something different. But the Rockets’ players of those championship teams haven’t been afraid to make it known exactly what the outcome would’ve been if the two teams faced each other in the NBA Finals.
“I know how we view it as a Houston Rockets organization during those two years. Everyone always says it was two years but actually it was just one. When [Jordan] was wearing number 45 and he scored 55 points in the Garden and everyone was like ‘he’s back, he’s back.’
So we actually were in that season that they didn’t win it when they lost to Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic. They lost 4-2 to Orlando and we swept them. We felt really good if our opportunity were to come.”
This is alot to digest, but it’s an interesting point that Smith makes regarding Jordan’s retirement, as he only missed the 1994 postseason. The fact that there are people that dismiss the Rockets’ title during the 1994-95 season is an example of the MJ bias and the constant slight towards the Rockets.
As “The Jet” mentions, Jordan returned during the 1994-95 season and looked like the same player, as he averaged 26.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5.3 assists during the regular season. Jordan played a total of 27 games that year (including the playoffs) and posted 30+ points in ten of those games.
He also scored 40+ points three times, including the 55-point performance he had against the New York Knicks, which certainly should end the narrative that Jordan “wasn’t playing”. In fact, Jordan was the leading scorer in each of the Bulls’ two playoff series during that postseason, as he averaged 32.3 points in the first round against the Charlotte Hornets and 31 points in the second round against the Orlando Magic.
Jordan’s heroics weren’t enough to lift the Bulls past Orlando in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, and the Rockets swept the Magic en route to their second consecutive title. What doesn’t get discussed enough is that Jordan’s 31.5 points during the 1995 postseason were more than he had in each of the Bulls’ next two postseasons, in which they won the title both years.
Jordan also had a field goal percentage of 48.4 percent during the 1995 postseason, which was better than he fared in each of the Bulls’ final three title runs. So it’s safe to say, Jordan was not only playing in 1995, but he was also the same dominant player he had been up to that point.
Smith isn’t the first Rockets player from that championship team to admit that Jordan was actually on the court during the 1995 playoffs, as Hakeem Olajuwon made the same comments. Although the biases and narratives towards Jordan cause his fans to write off the Rockets’ titles, even the biggest MJ fan would at least have to admit that he looked like his normal self in the 1995 postseason.
In spite of that, it wasn’t good enough to even make it to the NBA Finals, and certainly wouldn’t have been enough to defeat the Houston Rockets. Hopefully this is something that’ll get put to bed sooner rather than later.