TNT Inside The NBA analyst and former NBA player Kenny Smith told Scoop B Radio that the 1994 Houston Rockets would have beaten the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals even if Michael Jordan hadn't retired.
"Oh we would've beat them," Smith said (h/t Oliver Maroney of Uproxx). "And actually everyone forgets he was playing the second year, he was wearing No. 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."
"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."
You can see the full interview below.
Smith isn't the only former Rockets player from that era who believes the team would have beaten the Bulls with Jordan.
"Google the times we played them," Vernon Maxwell said in March 2015, per Matt Moore of CBS Sports. "They couldn't beat us. (The Rockets) couldn't get past Seattle (in 1996), but if we had, we would have knocked off Chicago. They couldn't match up with us. One time, just one time, I wish I could have gotten a seven-game series with them. I wanted that."
It certainly would have been a fantastic matchup. The Bulls won three straight championships from 1991 to '93, led by Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and appeared well on their way to one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.
But Jordan made the shocking decision to retire from basketball in October 1993, briefly taking up a minor league baseball career with the Chicago White Sox. He returned to the NBA in March 1995.
The Rockets, meanwhile, went on to win consecutive titles in 1994 and 1995, led by league MVP Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, Maxwell and Smith in 1994, beating the New York Knicks in seven games. The next year, the team traded Thorpe to the Portland Trail Blazers for Clyde Drexler and repeated as champions, sweeping the Orlando Magic.
Jordan's return to basketball would eventually fuel another run of dominance, however, as Chicago would go on to win three straight titles from 1996 to 1998. But for at least two years, it was Olajuwon and Co. who ruled the NBA. And Smith and Maxwell, at least, don't believe Jordan would have changed that fact.