A look into this alternate universe.
Nearly 40 years ago, the Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon with the first pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. History shows this decision would benefit the franchise for years to come.
Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, was selected right behind Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. While both parties found success, it’s interesting to wonder what would have happened if Houston drafted Michael Jordan instead.
To propose a plausible answer, the tool Basketball GM was used to replicate this scenario. This event causes a vast butterfly effect throughout the rest of the league, becoming more evident with each passing year. For this reason, speculation becomes more apparent from season to season. With that being said, let’s dive into this alternative universe.
Michael Jordan is drafted by the Houston Rockets (Hakeem Olajuwon goes to the Portland Trail Blazers
The Rockets are eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals by Portland, led by Clyde Drexler and Olajuwon. For the third year in a row, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers meet in the NBA Finals.
Notable Occurrence: With Sam Bowie underperforming, Chicago finishes at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. The Bulls use their lottery pick to draft Karl Malone in the 1985 NBA Draft.
The Rockets’ core continues to develop in Jordan’s sophomore year. The trio of Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson, and John Lucas all earn NBA All-Star selections. The regular season ends with Houston edging out the Lakers for the best record in the West.
However, the Showtime Lakers are still in full throttle, eliminating Houston in the Western Conference Finals. This leads to a record-breaking fourth straight NBA Finals series between the Boston and Los Angeles.
During the offseason, John Lucas agrees to a deal with the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers and Rockets meet again in the Western Conference Finals, with Los Angeles prevailing. This leads to a fifth straight NBA Finals matchup between the Celtics and Lakers, the last championship showdown between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Jordan and Sampson continue to perform at a high level. Once again, Houston secures the number two seed in the West. The Rockets defeat Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Their NBA Finals opponent is Boston. The Celtics’ core consists of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. The Rockets defeat the legendary dynasty, bringing Jordan his first championship. Jordan also wins league MVP.
Notable Occurrence: Without drafting Dennis Rodman, and other key transactions, the Detroit Pistons never rise to power. This enables the Celtics to continue dominating the east coast.
As reigning champions, Houston make minimal changes to their roster. Sampson shows signs of decline throughout the year, missing the All-Star game after four consecutive selections. Meanwhile, Jordan is still competing in the MVP race.
Houston finishes with the best record in the West. However, the Rockets are eliminated by their greatest conference rivals, the Lakers, in the Western Conference Finals.
The NBA Finals are set between the Lakers and Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks’ lineup consists of Dominique Wilkins, John Stockton, and Dennis Rodman.
Notable Occurrence: Stockton decides to leave the Hawks in free agency to join Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon’s Bulls. Jordan wins his second MVP.
Houston is challenged by Sampson’s declining production rate and a lack of roster depth. Jordan manages to scrape his way to a playoff berth, with the Rockets entering as the number eight seed. They’re eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Tom Chambers’ Utah Jazz.
This year’s NBA Finals matchup is between the Bulls and Dallas Mavericks. The Bulls’ roster features Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and John Stockton. The Mavs are led by Clyde Drexler.
Notable Occurence: Olajuwon wins a title with the Bulls.
Sampson loses his spot in the starting lineup, while Jordan continues to compete in the MVP race. Houston’s second scoring option is the recently drafted Cedric Ceballos. The Rockets finish the season as the number five seed in the West, before facing elimination in the Western Conference Semifinals by Mitch Richmond’s Phoenix Suns.
This year’s NBA Finals pits the Los Angeles Lakers against the New York Knicks. New York boasts a lineup of Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin, Jeff Hornack, Dan Majerle, and Shawn Kemp, all of whom were drafted by the Knicks.
Jordan wins MVP number three.
Notable Occurrence: New York was a lottery team throughout the late 1980s. A series of critical drafting decisions rebuilt the franchise into a championship contender by the early 1990s.
Cedric Ceballos remains as Micheal Jordan’s most productive teammate, though he lacks developmental growth. Throughout the season, Houston loses their flare as a championship threat. The once promising franchise finishes the regular season as the 11-seed in the West.
This year’s NBA Finals matchup is between the New York Knicks and Seattle Supersonics. New York shows potential of being the NBA’s next dynasty, a movement spearheaded by Reggie Miller. Seattle’s lineup includes Brad Daughtry, Larry Johnson, and Drazen Petrovic.
Notable Occurrence: Charles Barkley is traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Micheal Jordan is in need of a quick rebuild. The Rockets use their lottery pick to draft Alonzo Mourning. Additionally, David Robinson signs a contract with Houston during the offseason.
This new trio finishes the regular season with the best record in the West. They eliminate Barkley’s Clippers in the Western Conference Finals.
The stage is set for a highly anticipated NBA FInals contest between the Rockets and Bulls. Malone and Olajuwon are superstars, and Stockton is a star in his own right too. However. Jordan wins his second championship, with the Rockets defeating the Bulls in the real life 1990s postseaon matchup that never happened (except with the superstars switched in our simulation).
Notable Occurence: Hakeem Olajuwon wins MVP playing for the Bulls.
The core of Michael Jordan, David Robinson, and Alonzo Mourning retain the number one spot in the West. On their path to dominance, Jordan’s Rockets defeat Mitch Richmond’s Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
Houston is matched up against the Knicks in the NBA Finals in a replay of the real life 1994 Finals. This is New York’s third championship appearance in a four-year span. Jordan wins his third title against Reggie Miller’s Knicks and also wraps up MVP number four.
Houston’s big three aims for a three-peat. The Rockets slightly lose their edge throughout the year, finishing as the number three seed in the West. They defeat Barkley’s Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. Even in our sim, Sir Charles can’t seem to beat the Rockets in the postseason.
The Rockets advance to another NBA Finals, this time against the Miami Heat. The Heat are led by Patrick Ewing. Michael Jordan wins his fourth championship and his fifth MVP, including his second straight of both.
The dynasty is in full effect. This season, Houston’s star-studded core reclaim the best record in the West. They defeat Clifford Robinson’s San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
The Rockets advance to another NBA Finals appearance, this time against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs’ lineup includes Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rod Strickland. Michael Jordan wins his fifth championship and his sixth MVP. It was also his third consecutive of both.
The trio of Michael Jordan, David Robinson, and Alonzo Mourning are still thriving. Houston finishes the season as the number two seed in the West. Olajuwon’s new team, the Phoenix Suns, are defeated in the Western Conference Finals.
The Rockets earn another NBA Finals matchup against the Bulls. The Bulls’ lineup now includes Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Mitch Richmond. Michael Jordan secures his sixth championship.
Notable Occurrence: In 1996, Olajuwon was traded to Phoenix for Richmond.
The Rockets’ success is starting to draw comparisons to the Boston Celtics of the 1960s. However, due to injuries, Houston finishes the regular season with the number six seed in the West. The Rockets are eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by Olajuwon’s Suns, snapping their streak of five straight Finals appearances.
This leads to an NBA Finals matchup between the Suns and Bulls. The series is highlighted by Olajuwon versus Malone, former teammates and league MVPs. The Suns’ lineup also includes Ray Allen and Tracy Murray.
Notable Occurence: Hakeem Olajuwon wins his second NBA title and also his second MVP Award, this time as a member of the Suns. His team defeated the Rockets (his real life team) and the Bulls (one of his old simulation teams) on the way to another ring.
The last dance is here. In Jordan’s final season, Houston finishes with the best record in the West. They eliminate Kevin Garnett’s Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
The Rockets face the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. Indiana’s core consists of Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce, and Larry Johnson. It’s probable that Larry Bird is the Pacers’ head coach. Houston wins the series, with Jordan announcing his retirement from the league, going out in style with yet another title and his seventh MVP Award.
Notable Occurence: David Robinson moves on to the Los Angeles Lakers, while Alonzo Mourning finishes his career in Houston.
In this simulation, Jordan retires as a seven-time NBA champion (1988, 1993-1997, 1999) and seven-time NBA MVP (1988, 1989, 1991, 1994-1996, 1999) as a lifelong Rocket.
Olajuwon finishes with two titles (1990, 1998) and two MVPS (1993, 1998) and played for the Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago Bulls, and Phoenix Suns.