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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Toni Kukoc Boldly Claims the Chicago Bulls Would Have Beaten the Back-to-Back Champion Houston Rockets Without Michael Jordan

This past week, the Chicago Bulls routed the Houston Rockets, winning their eighth-straight game, and eighth-straight at home! Their eight-game winning streak is the longest in the NBA this season. And while the Bulls have always been great, they just keep getting better this year. Now, if the team would only stop losing and start getting some W’s, we’d all be in a much better spot. Then again, every time a Bulls fan watches a game, they’ll see the face of Michael Jordan. How do you think that makes us feel?

As seen in the picture above, Michael Jordan is the most dominant basketball player to have ever lived. His legacy is cemented in stardom and his influence is now the standard for every player. However, even if Michael Jordan never got his hands on the ball, the Chicago Bulls would have absolutely crushed the arch-rival Houston Rockets in the 1990 NBA Finals . With the Bulls at their apex, their four-year run of consecutive Finals appearances has been erased, and they would have taken out the upstart Rockets in six games. ( Sound familiar? )

In the summer of 1995, the Houston Rockets were the defending NBA champions, and Toni Kukoc was their leading scorer. The Bulls, on the other hand, were coming off of a season that saw Michael Jordan win his final NBA Finals MVP award, and they had just added their third scoring champion of the decade in Scottie Pippen.

Toni Kukoc, a former Chicago Bulls player, made a daring statement during a recent interview with Bally. He said that during Michael Jordan’s retirement, the mid-90s might have won an NBA championship.

From 1991 through 1993, Jordan led the Bulls to three straight NBA championships before unexpectedly retiring shortly before the 1993-94 season. For years, “His Airness” had been the best player in basketball, but the Bulls had to make do without one of the game’s most illustrious players.

Chicago, it turns out, had its fair share of success. Kukoc still thinks the Bulls could, and maybe should have, won an NBA championship without Jordan.

Even after Michael Jordan retired, Toni Kukoc and the Chicago Bulls continued to win.

Jordan’s retirement might have easily sent the Bulls into a tailspin. Chicago was missing the game’s leading scorer and one of its greatest perimeter defenders, not to mention basketball’s most vicious competitor. Despite this, the Bulls had a successful season in 1993-94.

After long being sought by then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, Kukoc was in his first season, providing playmaking and scoring off the bench for the club. Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong, both power forwards, were All-Stars, while Scottie Pippen had an MVP-caliber season.

In the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Chicago Bulls cruised to 50 victories and swept the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bulls faced their arch rivals, the New York Knicks, in the first round of the playoffs.

It was a back-and-forth series that included Kukoc’s stunning buzzer-beater in Game 3 and Pippen’s reluctance to enter the game in the closing seconds. The Bulls would take the Knicks to a seventh game, but they would lose. The New York Knicks would go on to lose in the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets.

Jordan would not be in Chicago for the start of the 1994-95 season, but he would return in March. Even with Jordan still in baseball condition, that team found its stride and advanced to the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, the Bulls would lose once again, this time to a youthful Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and the Orlando Magic.

Without Jordan, Kukoc thinks the Bulls might have defeated championship Rockets teams.

Did the Bulls of 1993-94 have what it needed to win an NBA championship? Kukoc, for one, believes so.

If the Bulls and Rockets had met in the NBA Finals, the newly inducted Hall of Famer told Bally Sports’ Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson (about 18 minutes into the conversation) that the Bulls would have won. Kukoc’s argument comes from Chicago’s regular-season sweep over Houston.

Kukoc did add a few caveats. He dubbed former Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon “the greatest center in NBA history” and said he would have been a matchup nightmare.

Kukoc, on the other hand, believes the Bulls are still well-rounded enough to defeat Houston. He referred to the 1993-94 Bulls as the “most team-playing” club he had ever been a part of, claiming that everyone on the roster executed head coach Phil Jackson’s triangle system flawlessly. He also brought up the “phantom foul” on Pippen in Game 5 that might have lost Chicago the opportunity to advance.

Is it possible that the Bulls might have defeated the Rockets?

Toni Kukoc stretches before a a game during the 1996 regular season. Without Michael Jordan, Toni Kukoc believes the Chicago Bulls might have defeated the Houston Rockets | Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Even if Michael Jordan hadn’t retired, former Rockets player and current TNT commentator Kenny Smith believes Houston would have defeated the mid-90s Bulls teams.

Despite Kukoc’s claims, Smith is likely to think that without Jordan, Chicago would not have had a chance against those Rockets teams. He’d most likely be correct.

Olajuwon would have been a nightmare to deal with in the paint for the Bulls. The Bulls dynasty never had an outstanding center despite their dominance in the 1990s. Olajuwon’s two-way brilliance might have made the difference, particularly because the Rockets had Smith and Mario Elie to help spread the floor. With Robert Horry presumably shadowing Pippen and Kukoc, Vernon Maxwell might have made things difficult for Chicago’s guards.

Kukoc’s appraisal of the regular season may be a cause for Chicago’s potential success versus those championship Rockets teams, according to fans. The playoffs, on the other hand, are and always have been a separate beast.

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