“The Bulls were too little then!” : Kenny Smith Claim his Rockets Would Have “Smacked” Michael Jordan and the Bulls
The Chicago Bulls won 6 championships in the 1990s, including two three-peats. They were the dynasty of the 1990s without a question and find themselves in the greatest team of all-time discussion more often than not.
However, albeit briefly, they did have one challenge to deal with. Especially during Michael Jordan‘s brief baseball-induced hiatus from the league. This challenge arose from the Western Conference of the NBA, in the form of Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets.
Also read: Bulls GM Rod Thorne believed Hakeem Olajuwon over Michael Jordan was a no-brainer in 1984
During MJ’s hiatus from basketball, the Rockets secured back-to-back championships and stamped Hakeem’s legacy as an all-time great. However, owing to such a significant absence at the same time, fans often raise an asterisk against Houston’s championships.
Kenny “The Jet” Smith of the Inside the NBA crew was a part of Houston’s championship rosters. And as someone with a great idea of the strengths of his team, Smith backs them to beat the Bulls during those years, with or without Michael Jordan.
Kenny Smith believes the Rockets had a size advantage over the Bulls of 1994-1996.
The Jet, while referring to Olajuwon as one of the best players in the league, if not the best, at his peak, mentioned how at that point in time, the Bulls had no answer to Hakeem. They had no Horace Grant or Dennis Rodman to contest Hakeem, and leaving the Dream with that sort of leeway in the paint is a dangerous way to go.
Talking to Draymond Green, Smith explained why he backs his team to the top in a hypothetical showdown with MJ even.
“Michael Jordan to me is the greatest player to ever touch the basketball. And I’m actually glad that we didn’t play them because I love the resume that he has, that he’s never lost in the Finals. They would not have beaten us, Dray” declared Smith with some confidence. Smith then went on to double down on his take.
“No Rodman, no Grant? Oh we SMACKIN’ them”
—@TheJetOnTNT says his Rockets would have beaten the Bulls even with Michael Jordan pic.twitter.com/FVs8khgrtD
— The Volume (@TheVolumeSports) January 25, 2023
“They wouldn’t have beaten us because of two things. Not because he (Michael Jordan) was the greatest player. Because Hakeem would have been the #1 or #2 player in the world at that time too. In those championship months. The Bulls were too little then. People forget. The reason they lost to Orlando wasn’t Shaq. Horace Grant was gone. With Rodman, they would have probably beat(en) us. But with no Rodman, no Grant – oh, we’re smacking them” stated the Jet with great conviction.
Smith also relied on their regular season dominance over the Bulls to back his statement. The Rockets had posed a consistent regular season menace to the Bulls, even before their championship years.
The Houston Rockets had beaten the Chicago Bulls in the last three games prior to Jordan’s first retirement.
While the argument remains that the Playoffs are an entirely different beast in comparison to the regular season, the available sample size cannot be ignored. Even before Jordan left to play baseball, the Rockets seemed to be a team the Bulls were struggling to best.
Extending the sample size to 1989, and the advantage still belonged to the Rockets. From 1989 to 1993, the Rockets held a 7-3 advantage over the Chicago Bulls.
Owing to them being in different conferences, meetings were certainly few and far apart. But the Rockets did seem to have the Bulls’ number more often than not. Olajuwon and his footwork in the paint seemed to be the Bulls’ undoing.
Regardless, the two great teams won their fair share of championships and laurels. And while there was space left for debate, the conversation doesn’t warrant an asterisk like casual fans might suggest.
Also read: “I’m happy that Michael Jordan made the right decision”: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Larry Brown react to the Bulls superstar’s return from baseball