Houston Rockets feature in ESPN documentary relives greatness

Legendary Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon
Legendary Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon /

Houston Rockets’ fans, ESPN is set to release their documentary of the 1997-98 Bulls’ team. What to expect? I’m sure it’s going to be exciting yet cringing.

Houston Rockets’ fans, with the coronavirus affecting the sports world, ESPN is making the decision to air the most anticipated sports documentary of the year. While fans will get a look inside to one of the greatest dynasties in sports history, the greatest what-if debate of the NBA lingers on.

Houston Rockets fans, I don’t know about you, but there is an excitement surrounding us as far as being basketball fans. While COVID-19 continues to make the headlines interrupting sports much like Space Jam, ESPN is making the decision to bring forward the documentary that has millions of fans talking.

The Last Dance.

The documentary will be talking about the Chicago Bulls during the 1990s. The team that won six titles in eight seasons with a pair of three-peats during the run. This documentary will feature interviews with key players starting with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and others. It will also feature interviews from other notables including actor and singer Justin Timberlake, former president Barack Obama, reporter Bob Costas, and yes, even the late Kobe Bryant, who we still grieve for.

Saving that Last Dance

This documentary will look into the last championship run for the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98. It was called “The Last Dance” because it was widely believed the Bulls would be broken up after that season. The tensions between the players, coaches, and management played a big part in the role. But this documentary will uncover the truth of some key questions. Why was Michael Jordan hard on his teammates? What was it like playing with Dennis Rodman? How much of a challenge was it to be a championship team while becoming such a cultural influence on people outside the sport?

This will be a 10-part documentary starting this Sunday night on ESPN. It will run for five weeks with two episodes each week. This was supposed to air in June, but because of COVID-19, and because of requests by athletes and fans alike, ESPN made the decision to move up the schedule for the event. I must admit that a 10-part documentary about a season is interesting. But when there are a reported 10,000 hours of footage, plus the story of how they became a dynasty, you have to admire the creativity of their producers for the film.

How the Rockets fit into the story

But while as a basketball fan, I’m intrigued and pumped for this documentary, as a Houston Rockets fan myself, I am skeptical. Any time talk of the 1990’s NBA comes up, there’s one mystery that will never be solved. The 1994-95 seasons. That was when Jordan “retired” to play baseball following the tragic passing of his father. Jordan claimed he didn’t have the will to prove himself anymore by then and that the game overtook him. Some people have speculated Jordan was suspended secretly by the NBA for his gambling troubles. I myself, don’t buy this theory. Jordan perhaps needed a new opportunity to compete and baseball gave him that chance.

Well, his baseball career never took off beyond Triple-A and he wound up returning in 1995. Then, he would lead the 1996-98 Bulls to three straight titles. The Bulls are the team of the 1990s, but because of Jordan’s retirement, the question of would they have won eight titles in a row is there. Any other team that would’ve won the title in those two seasons would feel the impact of this for sure. But, sadly, the Houston Rockets were the team that had to win those titles.

While we’re having to be grateful that the Houston Rockets got our two titles, the legitimacy of them has been debated because of an absence of a certain someone. It’s almost like there’s an asterisk to the titles. NONE of Houston’s titles should have an asterisk despite some controversy. But the fact is fans and media skeptics who probably don’t watch the NBA as much seem to agree with the widely accepted opinion that if Jordan played in ’94 and all of ’95, eight titles would be in Chicago’s grasps.

Telling it like it is

But we know the truth. The Houston Rockets were always a tough matchup for the Bulls. For starters, Houston went 5-1 against Chicago during the Bulls’ three-peat run with an average margin of victory of just 12 points in the wins.

Jordan did come back in 1995 and took a Bulls team to a series loss against the Orlando Magic, who the Houston Rockets swept in the 1994 NBA Finals. Despite arguments that MJ was rusty in 1995, he actually put up better numbers in the 1995 playoffs (31.5 PPG, 48% FG, 6.5 RPG) than in 1996 (30.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 45.9% FG).

Then, the biggest reason was, of course, Hakeem Olajuwon. Neither Bill Cartwright nor Luc Longley could hang with the dream. Jordan was quoted as saying it was a good thing the Houston Rockets couldn’t get out of the west because the Bulls had no answer for the Dream.

Olajuwon was just a different breed of center in the league then. No one center was more athletic and versatile than he was. Olajuwon bested Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal in playoff matches and they were the Mt. Rushmore of centers then.

What could’ve been

But why the Houston Rockets didn’t get to the finals in 1991-93 would come down to a couple of things. The players around Hakeem were slowly building a championship-caliber squad while Olajuwon was contemplating going elsewhere following an incident with then-owner Charlie Thomas over an injury.

Fortunately, Olajuwon stayed and that was what saved the Rockets to their titles. Plus, the Western Conference was loaded with talent. You had the Jazz, the Sonics the Spurs, the Suns, the Trail Blazers, and the Lakers to name a few teams all with championship potential while the Eastern Conference was the Bulls first, the Knicks second, then everyone else depending on who wanted to challenge the crown.

We’re never really going to know unless somebody down the future creates a mega simulation using the talent of the players that season. So we as Rockets fans have our beliefs that we would’ve won while the Bulls fans have their beliefs they would’ve won.

But while the argument can be debated, there is one argument that the Rockets unfortunately

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lose in. Regardless if the Bulls went 6-0, or 6-2, or 8-0 depending on if the two teams had met in the Finals, they still were the team of the 90s.

The truth is that the Bulls were a great team. But even the greatest of teams can lose in the championship series. Bill Russell and the Celtics lost one title in 12 appearances from 1957-69. Magic and the Lakers had five rings in the 1980s while losing three times.

Recently, the Golden State Warriors suffered their second finals lost in the decade. If you win more titles in a period, one loss or two won’t derail you as a dynasty. While the Bulls were fortunate to go 6-0 against some of the most talented teams, the truth is, they built a legacy that puts them right among the best in sports history.


So even if the Rockets were to beat them once or twice, all they get is to be a trivia question of

who beat the Bulls in the 1990’s finals while the Bulls still earn their crown. The Knicks and the Magic will be honored with playoff victories over the Bulls, but the legacy was the Bulls captivated the nation. I can’t say how much the topic will be featured in the documentary, but it might be cringe-worthy to hear people say a different opinion with some arrogance and cockiness.

As much as I along with y’all know for sure the Rockets would’ve won, the fact that we got to watch the greatness of the NBA in the 1990s is so nostalgic that the current NBA will never understand what it was like to play in the league.

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It was the Bulls, the Rockets, Jordan, Dream, Stockton-to-Malone, Reggie Miller vs, the Knicks, potential dynasties with the Magic and Hornets, the Spurs and Lakers’ rise to prominence, the end of the Pistons, Magic Johnson‘s and Larry Bird‘s retirements, Grant Hill, the 1996 NBA Draft. It was everything we as basketball fans could ask for.

So, I might just sit back and enjoy the Last Dance. It probably should live up to the hype.