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The biggest news of 1993-94 came a full month before the season got underway. On Oct. 6, 1993, three-time NBA regular-season and Finals MVP Michael Jordan announced his retirement. At age 30, he said he had accomplished all he set out to do in basketball.
Not since Jim Brown’s retirement from the NFL had a star of such magnitude stepped away while he was at the pinnacle, having won NBA championships in his final three seasons and scoring titles in his final seven.
Without Jordan’s dominating presence to deal with, other superstars of the league got their chance to shine. Seven teams won more than 55 games in 1993-94 (Seattle, Houston, New York, Phoenix, San Antonio, Chicago, Utah and Orlando), but no player emerged more than center Hakeem Olajuwon. His breakout play through the course of the season lifted his Rockets to newfound heights.
As he led Houston on its winningest season ever, Olajuwon found himself among the league leaders in scoring (27.3 ppg), rebounding (11.9 rpg), blocks (3.71 bpg) and field goal percentage (.528).
Jordan had led the league in scoring for seven straight seasons, but on the last day of the ’93-94 season, Spurs All-Star center David Robinson scored 71 points to edge out Orlando’s Shaquille O’Neal for the scoring crown. Earlier in the season, Robinson also recorded the fourth quadruple-double in NBA history (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 blocks).
The SuperSonics took a big leap forward and won 63 games to lead the West, while Houston won 58. In the East, a pair of defensive stalwarts, New York and Atlanta, won 57 games apiece. The Jordan-less Bulls did surprisingly well, winning 55. Phoenix, which battled through injuries to Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, won 56 games, and San Antonio, with Robinson enjoying his best season, won 55.
In the postseason, a young Denver squad achieved what was thought impossible. The Nuggets became the first No. 8 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed when it came back from a 2-0 deficit and ousted Seattle in the first round. Houston disposed of Portland easily, came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Phoenix in seven games, and beat Utah in five games to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1986.
New York, which took the hard road all season with its grinding defense, dismissed New Jersey, then survived seven-game series against Chicago and Indiana to reach The Finals for the first time since 1973.
Olajuwon had long been the NBA’s most underrated superstar, quietly flourishing in the background while charismatic stars like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Jordan, Isiah Thomas and Charles Barkley captured the spotlight. As a second-year player in 1986, Olajuwon made it to the NBA Finals, but hadn’t experienced much playoff success since then.
He was simply magnificent in The Finals, winning his private duel with Patrick Ewing and scoring 26.9 ppg in a series where Houston managed just 86.1 ppg. He also averaged 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.9 blocked shots, and it was his block of John Starks’ last-ditch 3-pointer that preserved Houston’s 86-84 win in Game 6.
An epic Game 7 was set and Houston came through, thanks to Olajuwon. The 90-84 win not only sealed the city’s first major-league championship in any sport, but was the first Finals since 1955 where neither team reached 100 points in any game.
In the company of Jordan at last, Olajuwon added a championship ring and the Finals MVP award to his regular-season MVP trophy.
Eastern Conference first round
Atlanta defeated Miami (3-2)
New York defeated New Jersey (3-1)
Chicago defeated Cleveland (3-0)
Indiana defeated Orlando (3-0)
Western Conference first round
Denver defeated Seattle (3-2)
Houston defeated Portland (3-1)
Phoenix defeated Golden State (3-0)
Utah defeated San Antonio (3-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
New York defeated Chicago (4-3)
Indiana defeated Atlanta (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
Houston defeated Phoenix (4-3)
Utah defeated Denver (4-3)
Eastern Conference finals
New York defeated Indiana (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Houston defeated Utah (4-1)
Houston defeated New York (4-3)
Points — David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs (29.8)
Assists — John Stockton, Utah Jazz (12.6)
Rebounds — Dennis Rodman, San Antonio Spurs (17.3)
Steals — Nate McMillan, Seattle SuperSonics (3.0)
Blocks — Dikembe Mutombo, Denver Nuggets (4.1)
FG % — Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic (59.9)
FT % — Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Denver Nuggets (95.6)
3PT % — Tracy Murray, Portland Trail Blazers (45.9)
Most Valuable Player — Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets
Rookie of the Year — Chris Webber, Golden State Warriors
Defensive Player of the Year — Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets
Most Improved Player — Don MacLean, Washington Bullets
Sixth Man of the Year — Dell Curry, Charlotte Hornets
Coach of the Year — Lenny Wilkens, Atlanta Hawks
All-Star Game MVP — Karl Malone & John Stockton, Utah Jazz
NBA Finals MVP — Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets