Don’t underestimate the heart of a champion.
According to research in which we looked at every team’s path to their eventual championship wins (we only examined champions who had to win four playoff series during their postseason runs), Hakeem Olajuwon’s 1994-95 Houston Rockets had the toughest road ever to winning a title.
The worst team they beat had a 57-25 record, and that was their Finals opponent, the Orlando Magic, who boasted a lineup featuring Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardway, amongst many valuable role players.
On top of that, the Rockets won four series without having home-court advantage, an almost impossible feat to even fathom, let alone pull off. Houston’s road was made that tough due to the fact that they went 47-35 that regular season, a disappointing campaign prior to the playoffs. The Rockets beat two teams in the Utah Jazz (60-22) and the San Antonio Spurs (62-20) that won at least 60 games, and a third, the Phoenix Suns (59-23) that came within one win of reaching that benchmark.
A road that featured the aforementioned Shaq-and-Penny duo, along with Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, that year’s regular-season MVP in David Robinson, who Olajuwon made look very foolish during their matchup, and John Stockton and Karl Malone, there’s no questioning just how tough the Rockets had it during their second title run, and how well-earned their championship was.
It’s a shame they weren’t even mentioned in The Last Dance, even though they were champions when Michael Jordan made his midseason return to the NBA.
Some of the other toughest roads faced on the way to a title, per our research, include Jordan’s 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, LeBron James’ 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers, who had to face the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in the Finals, and the Shaq-and-Kobe–Bryant 2001-02 squad.
Just click through our gallery to see where every other championship (again, only champions who had to win four playoff series in the postseason) ranked.
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