The two Houston Rockets title teams from the mid '90s sometimes get disrespected by the national media. We often hear how Michael Jordan was off playing baseball (mostly), and that Hakeem Olajuwon and those two Houston championship squads were merely keeping the trophy warm for MJ, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson.
Though those truly in the know understand that the only reason the Rockets didn't beat the Bulls in the NBA Finals was simply because the fates never aligned to match them up. During the early to mid '90s, the Rockets were, in fact, the Bulls' kryptonite. From 1991 through the last Houston title team in 1995, the Rockets owned the season series with the Bulls, winning 7 out of the 10 contests between the two teams.
Jordan, who was always respectful of Olajuwon's game, famously said to Rockets beat man Fran Blinebury at the time, "We have no answer for that huge monster over there," when referring to Hakeem.
Jordan also had difficulty (well, as much difficulty as his Airness could have, anyway) with facing off with Vernon Maxwell. Mad Max had an ability like no other to get under Jordan's skin, and his fearless defensive hounding of MJ often knocked Jordan just a bit off his mental game.
The Rockets rarely get that same respect elsewhere, however.
That's why it came as a surprise (at least to me), that games from Houston's two title runs actually appeared on ESPN's list of the 25 best NBA Finals games of all time.
First at number 17 is the Nick Anderson free throw game from the 1995 Finals, where the Magic guard famously bricked four straight from the line in the closing moments. Those unbelievable misses were one of the greatest choke jobs in NBA history and allowed Kenny Smith to send the game into overtime with his seventh three pointer of the game. The Rockets had been down 18 in the first half and 7 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Olajuwon then closed the show with a tip in at the buzzer, and the Rockets were on their way to a four-game sweep.
And then, coming in at 15, was the "tip game" against John Starks and the Knicks from Houston's run in 1994. After having their championship appearance maddeningly overshadowed by the O.J. Simpson drama earlier in the series, the Rockets returned to Houston down 3-2 to New York.
Despite leading for most of the game, the Rockets were barely clinging on for dear life, holding just a 2-point lead with under 6 seconds left after Starks went unconscious from downtown in second half. The Knicks had the ball, and of course they were going to the red hot Starks.
Only Olajuwon had other ideas, switching on to Starks at the last moment. And after at first appearing a half-step behind and with the Rockets' championship dreams in the balance, Olajuwon managed to misdirect Starks' seemingly on-target game winner on the strength of a fingertip.
The Rockets won Game 6 and went on to win Game 7, the series, and their first NBA title.
The ESPN countdown still has it's top 10 to go, but the Rockets are likely done with their appearances.