One of the great conversations for NBA fans has always been what might have happened if Michael Jordan didn't take a break from basketball in the middle of his career to play baseball. Would the Bulls have won eight championships?
But his former teammate, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, believes the assumption that the Bulls would have continued winning is flawed. He told David Aldridge and Michael Lee of The Athletic that Jordan was "fried" before his baseball sabbatical:
"Sometimes people say to me, 'If Michael had stayed, you guys would've won eight in a row.' That's the most preposterous thing I have ever heard. People have no idea how emotionally draining it is for a team to keep winning.
"To me, the reason we won the second three was because he got away and recharged his batteries. He needed it, desperately. And that's why he left. He was just burned out. There were all of these theories: Did David Stern tell him you can't play? Like, yeah, that would be very smart—the greatest player ever and we're going to punish him for gambling or whatever? What are we even talking about? That's dumb. All of those conspiracy theories were dumb. Bottom line was, he was fried. Going through a lot with his father's death. Just getting away for two years, recharged his batteries and got him ready for the next three."
One topic that often goes undiscussed when talking about long dynasties is the sheer amount of extra basketball those teams play. At the very least, a run to a title requires 16 wins, though most champions play even more games than that.
Consider the career of LeBron James. Before his streak ended last season after joining the Los Angeles Lakers, James had played in eight straight NBA Finals, winning three titles (two with the Miami Heat, one with the Cleveland Cavaliers). In that eight-year stretch, James played in 168 postseason games, which is the equivalent of more than two full regular seasons.
That's an enormous amount of additional wear and tear. It's eight years of shorter offseasons, too. And in that time frame, James played fewer than 70 regular-season games just twice.
In Jordan's six title seasons, meanwhile, he missed a total of six regular-season games. In the last three title years, he didn't miss a single regular-season game, an incredible stretch of durability. Would that have been possible without his brief baseball hiatus?
Maybe, maybe not, but it's fair to question the premise that the Bulls would have been a lock to steamroll through the Eastern Conference and defeat the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals in the two seasons Jordan played baseball (he missed the entirety of 1993-94 season and came back late in the 1994-95 campaign).
Former Houston guard and current TNT analyst Kenny Smith believes the Rockets would have prevailed.
"I always say this: They won three, we won two and then they won three again. I don't think that they would've won eight titles straight," he told The Athletic. "I think, between injuries, between lack of focus, between whatever it might have been, I don't think they could've won eight in a row. It hasn't happened in the modern-day era."
To date, the only NBA team to ever win eight titles in a row was the Boston Celtics (1959-66). But the NBA was a much different league at that time, with only eight teams. That James himself played in eight straight NBA Finals is astounding. Assuming that Jordan and the Bulls would have won eight in a row is a stretch.