Kenny Smith adamant Rockets would have beat Bulls if Michael Jordan never retired
Kenny “The Jet” Smith is refusing the idea that Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls could have won eight straight NBA titles, had he never retired from basketball. The former Houston Rockets point guard won an NBA title during the first year of his absence (1994) and then another in 1995 after Jordan returned for 17 games that season.
“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, pushing back the notion that Jordan wasn’t fully himself that season.
“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.”
Many Rockets have heard their two titles be invalidated by claims that they only earned them because Jordan wasn’t there to contest them.
Hakeem Olajuwon, who played a major part in those title runs — even winning the Most Valuable Player in 1994, and Finals MVP in both seasons — offered a saucy response:
“You know, a lot of people they say that and it’s amazing because they act like (a Bulls-Rockets Finals) couldn’t have happened. Orlando beat them,” Olajuwon said. “He was playing (in 1995). He missed a year. They say he missed two years, but he lost in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference. Against a tough Orlando team. You have Penny Hardaway, (Nick) Anderson and Shaq. That’s a monster. They beat them!”
Olajuwon is right about this — a lot of the facts get forgotten in Jordan lore. Yet one thing that can’t be denied is the stampede that Jordan spearheaded the next three seasons, proving he was still the most dominant player in the sport even after an extended hiatus.
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