No three men could stop Hakeem Olajuwon in the NBA Finals.
Hakeem Olajuwon was a playoff nightmare that Michael Jordan never had to face.
James Harden is a force of one with the Houston Rockets.
It is a notion that’s been used to haunt and mock Houston Rockets fans for years — a specter that never quite goes away no matter how nonsensical it truly is. It’s the Jumpman in the champagne shadows.
But now — finally — an impartial national publication is squashing that sucker. Hopefully, once and for all.
The idea that the Houston Rockets never would have won those two city-defining NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 if Michael Jordan hadn’t walked away from basketball for baseball? Sports Illustrated hears the claim — and summarily rejects it with the force of Hakeem Olajuwon blocking David Robinson.
In its new “What If…” issue, the sports bible squashes the idea that Houston’s two titles carry any type of No. 23 asterisk. Much of Sports Illustrated’s What Ifs in the issue — such as what if the Colts hadn’t blown the last game of the 1997 season and Peyton Manning ended up in San Diego instead, what if then Nets coach John Calipari hadn’t listened to Kobe Bryant’s bluff and drafted him and even what if Lance Armstrong hadn’t kicked cancer’s butt — imagine vastly different sports landscapes.
But on the Jordan Rockets question, there is no alternate ending offered. Instead, SI rightfully still has the Rockets turning back all comers, including the Jordan-led Bulls, and winning those same two championships.
“Do the Bulls rip off a Celtics-like eight straight championships (if Jordan never walks away)?” the magazine proffers. “Dream on.”
Sports Illustrated notes that the Bulls went a combined 3-7 against the Rockets in Jordan’s first three title seasons and the two non-Jordan seasons (his Airness pulled off his “I’m Back” return very late in the 1995 season). Michael Jordan could not have beaten Hakeem Olajuwon in those two seasons either. The Dream truly was the most devastating force in the NBA during that window. Jumpman no matter.
“In our fantasy ’93-94 and ’94-95 Finals, a top-of-his-game Hakeem Olajuwon shreds Luc Longley,” Sports Illustrated concludes. “Rockets keep the crown.”
Well, duh. Still, it’s nice to see a national publication completely demolish the theory that kept bitter Dallas Mavericks and annoying Jordan Truthers warm for years. Just ask that “MVP” Year David Robinson. Or a young Shaq. Or an overmatched Patrick Ewing. Nobody was beating Hakeem and Friends.
It’s been quite a nice little run for the Rockets lately. James Harden punks the NBA MVP voters, rope-a-doping Enes Kanter with the flair of a young Muhammad Ali on the kind of fun, highlight play his game not supposed to produce, on Sunday night. Sports Illustrated absolutely crushes anyone who still wants to claim the Rockets lucked into the franchise’s crowning moments.
Now, Rudy Tomjanovich just needs to be given his rightful spot in the Hall of Fame.