Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls began their dominance in 1991 facing Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. That began a run of something special with Jordan as he and head coach Phil Jackson began their first three-peat, beating Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers, as well as the Suns with Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and “Thunder” Dan Majerle.
Then suddenly, Michael Jordan retired after the death of his father. He played minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons, a Chicago White Sox affiliate, and the NBA was left wondering whether or not the Bulls would’ve continued their dynasty before Jordan returned to capture another three-peat.
In Jordan’s absence, the Bulls lost the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals to the New York Knicks. The Rockets filled the void and won back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995. One member of that high-octane team led by Hakeem Olajuwon was Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith, now an analyst on TNT’s Inside The NBA.
Appearing on Scoop B Radio, Smith debunked the notion that the Rockets team was a stopgap for a Jordan-less Bulls team. In fact, Smith stated that had Jordan not retired, the Rockets would still beat that Bulls team. “Oh we would’ve beat them,” Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith told Brandon Robinson.
“And actually everyone forgets he was playing the second year, he was wearing number 45 and the team they lost to, the Orlando Magic, we swept them,” Smith said. “We were that much better than them that year, [and] they lost to them.”
Smith furthered his analysis stating:
”Even if a good, healthy Michael takes them to seven and maybe wins we would’ve beat the Bulls without a question, they didn’t match up well with us and during those years that they were actually winning championships, which wasn’t the playoffs. We were 8-2 against them during those years. We matched up well with them. We wouldn’t have been scared I tell you that much.”
“Michael is the greatest player that ever lived. So the legacy is going to be big, bigger than it should be and he never lost in the Finals, so we would have been the first.”
After Jordan’s brief retirement, the Bulls retooled their roster, adding power forward Dennis Rodman in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs. Their second three-peat saw them defeat the Utah Jazz twice and the Seattle Supersonics. Speaking of the Sonics, ‘The Jet’ admits that team gave the Rockets the most trouble in a hectic NBA Western Conference: “You had Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp,” he told Scoop B.
“Those guys matched up really well against us,” Smith said. “They could score the ball, they could defend, they had a great coach in George Karl, at the time. They had a lot, so that was probably was one of the best teams that didn’t win it.”