Nearly 40 years ago, the Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon as their first overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. History shows that this decision will benefit the franchise for years to come.
Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, was selected just behind Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. While both sides were successful, it’s interesting to wonder what would have happened if Houston had drafted Michael Jordan instead.
To come up with a plausible answer, the Basketball GM tool was used to replicate this scenario. This event causes a vast butterfly effect in the rest of the league, becoming more evident year by year. For this reason, the speculation becomes more apparent from season to season. That being said, let’s dive into this alternate universe.
Michael Jordan is drafted by the Houston Rockets (Hakeem Olajuwon goes to the Portland Trail Blazers and Sam Bowie to the Chicago Bulls). The North Carolina star joins a roster that includes Ralph Sampson, John Lucas, Rodney McCray and Lewis Lloyd. Jordan and Sampson are having a breakout season, and Houston claims the number three seed in the West.
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 bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. The Bulls used their lottery pick to sign Karl Malone in the 1985 NBA Draft.
The Rockets’ core continues to grow 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 West’s best record.
However, the Showtime Lakers are still at full throttle, knocking out Houston in the Western Conference Finals. This leads to a record fourth consecutive NBA Finals series between Boston and Los Angeles.
Notable occurrence: Hakeem Olajuwon signs with the Bulls this offseason.
During the offseason, John Lucas agrees to a deal with the Golden State Warriors. Ralph Sampson remains Michael Jordan’s best supporting teammate. The dynamic duo lift Houston to second place in the West.
The Lakers and Rockets meet again in the Western Conference Finals, with Los Angeles winning. 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 the Magic Johnson Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Their NBA Finals opponent is Boston. The core of the Celtics is made up of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. The Rockets defeat the legendary dynasty, bringing Jordan his first championship. Jordan also wins the league MVP award.
Notable occurrence: Without the drafting of Dennis Rodman and other key deals, the Detroit Pistons will never achieve power. This allows the Celtics to continue dominating the East Coast.
As the defending champion, Houston is making minimal changes to its roster. Sampson showed 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 biggest conference rivals, the Lakers, in the Western Conference Finals.
The NBA Finals are between the Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks roster is made up of Dominique Wilkins, John Stockton and Dennis Rodman.
Notable occurrence: Stockton decides to leave the Hawks in free agency to join the Bulls of Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon. Jordan wins his second MVP.
Houston is challenged by Sampson’s declining production rate and the roster’s lack of depth. Jordan manages to fight his way to a playoff berth, with the Rockets entering as the number eight seed. They are eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Tom Chambers’ Utah Jazz.
This year’s NBA Finals game will pit the Bulls against the Dallas Mavericks. The Bulls roster includes Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and John Stockton. The Mavs are led by Clyde Drexler.
Notable occurrence: 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 recently drafted Cedric Ceballos. The Rockets finished the season as the number five seed in the West, before being eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals by Mitch Richmond’s Phoenix Suns.
This year’s NBA Finals will pit the Los Angeles Lakers against the New York Knicks. New York has Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin, Jeff Hornack, Dan Majerle and Shawn Kemp, all drafted by the Knicks.
Jordan wins MVP number three.
Notable occurrence: New York was a lottery team in the late 1980s. A series of critical editorial decisions turned the franchise into a championship contender in the early 1990s.
Cedric Ceballos remains Micheal Jordan’s most productive teammate, although he lacks developmental growth. Throughout the season, Houston loses its shine as a championship threat. The once-promising franchise ends the regular season as the 11th seed in the West.
This year’s NBA Finals game will pit the New York Knicks against the Seattle Supersonics. New York is showing the potential to be the next NBA dynasty, a move led 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 needs a quick rebuild. The Rockets use their lottery pick to draft Alonzo Mourning. In addition, David Robinson signs a contract with Houston during the offseason.
This new line ends the regular season with the best record in the West. They knock out the Barkley 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 also a star in their own right. However. Jordan wins his second championship, with the Rockets beating the Bulls in the 1990s postseason game that never happened (except with the superstars reversed in our simulation).
Notable occurrence: Hakeem Olajuwon wins MVP while playing for the Bulls.
The core of Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Alonzo Mourning retain the top spot in the West. On their way to dominance, Jordan’s Rockets defeat Mitch Richmond’s Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
Houston takes on the Knicks in the NBA Finals in a replay of the actual 1994 Finals. This is New York’s third championship appearance in four years. Jordan wins his third title against Reggie Miller’s Knicks and also finishes MVP number four.
Houston’s big three are aiming for a hat-trick. The Rockets lose their advantage slightly throughout the year, finishing third seed in the West. They beat the Barkley Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. Even in our simulation, Sir Charles can’t beat the Rockets in the playoffs.
The Rockets advance to another NBA Finals, this time against the Miami Heat. The Heat are managed by Patrick Ewing. Michael Jordan wins his fourth championship and fifth MVP, including his second in a row of both.
The dynasty is in full effect. This season, the star-studded core of Houston reclaims the best record in the West. They beat 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 roster 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 the two.
The trio of Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Alonzo Mourning is still going strong. Houston ends the season as the number two seed in the West. Olajuwon’s new team, the Phoenix Suns, is defeated in the Western Conference Finals.
The Rockets win another NBA Finals game against the Bulls. The Bulls roster now includes Karl Malone, John Stockton and Mitch Richmond. Michael Jordan wins his sixth championship.
Notable occurrence: In 1996, Olajuwon was traded to Phoenix for Richmond.
The Rockets’ success began to draw comparisons to the Boston Celtics of the 1960s. However, due to injuries, Houston ended the regular season as the number six seed in the West. The Rockets are eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the Olajuwon Suns, snapping their streak of five consecutive Finals appearances.
This leads to an NBA Finals game between the Suns and Bulls. The series is highlighted by Olajuwon vs. Malone, former teammates and league MVP. The Suns roster also includes Ray Allen and Tracy Murray.
Notable occurrence: 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 team) and the Bulls (one of his former sim teams) on their way to another ring.
The last dance is here. In Jordan’s final season, Houston finished with the best record in the West. They eliminate Kevin Garnett’s Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
The Rockets take on the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. Indiana’s core consists of Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce and Larry Johnson. It is likely that Larry Bird is the head coach of the Pacers. Houston wins the series, with Jordan announcing his retirement from the league, walking out in style with another title and his seventh MVP award.
Notable occurrence: David Robinson moves to the Los Angeles Lakers, while Alonzo Mourning ends 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 the Rocket at life.
Olajuwon finished with two titles (1990, 1998) and two MVPS (1993, 1998) and played for the Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns.