So this is interesting, at least to me. Before the season started I wanted to do a piece, maybe two about the NBA. 20th anniversary of the 96 Bulls who won 72 games, and the 30th anniversary of the 86 Celtics who won 67 games (41-1 at home). Easily 2 of the greatest of all time. For whatever reason I didn’t get around to doing the piece, and ironically my laziness, ineptness, whatever have you, paid off because now we’re talking about the Golden State Warriors in the same breathe which makes for a MUCH better write up!
There was a lot more dynasty stuff going on in the NBA when the 95-96 Bulls were doing their thing. Houston Rockets were back to back defending champs, the Red Wings had their own record setting season going on and looked to be the next dynasty in the NHL. The Braves had finally got over the hump and were set up to rattle off 2 or 3 more World Series titles before the end of the decade. And the Cowboys in January of 96 claimed their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 seasons.
The Bulls were right in the middle of their dynasty in hindsight, but at the time they were looking to reclaim their dynasty. Entering the season the talk was all about how they wouldn’t be able to get past the Orlando Magic led by Shaq and Penny Hardaway. The Magic beat the Bulls in 6 games the previous year and won the Eastern conference (although they were soundly swept by the Rockets in the finals). A month before the season began, they traded for Dennis Rodman, but Rodman was a head case and he was 34, so it wasn’t looked at as a move that would have the massive impact that it ended up having.
That team couldn’t be beat. I think I recall every loss they had that season. I swear I’m not looking this up as writing this! 2 against the Pacers, obviously the one remembered in Canada was against the Raptors in their first season, 1 against the Magic….ok, I can’t remember. I’m going to GUESS the others were against the Rockets, Sonics, Spurs, Jazz, Knicks, and I’ll guess the Cavs who had a nice little surprise season. Ouch! I should have got the Barkley led Suns even though they fell off a bit that season. Lost to the Nuggets in Denver, a bad Nuggets team. In Miami, at home to Charlotte. I was right about the Knicks and Sonics.
They went 39-2 at home. Both were late in the year and meaningless games (the Pacers I believe were without Reggie Miller in that game due to a late season eye injury that forced him to miss 4 of the 5 games against Atlanta in the playoffs that season). This team literally could have beat any team they felt like beating that season.
10 years previous were the Boston Celtics. Bird, McHale, Parrish, Bill Walton, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, this team was amazing. 40-1 home record. 67 wins on the season. 67 is impressive, but it’s 5 short of 72. However many would be quick to point out that 1996 was an expansion season. The Raptors and the Grizzlies entered the league which watered down the league. And there wasn’t another power in the association in 1996. The 86 Celtics had the Lakers to contend with. So the bottom end of the league was much better, and the top end of the league was better.
But the Bulls had MJ. And Michael just had a way of making his team so much better, and totally opposite of the way that Magic or Bird had made their teams better. Jordan didn’t share the ball a ton, although by 96 he was sharing it a lot more than in the late 80’s/early 90’s. And he definitely wasn’t a guy who was always smiling and being a great guy! Jordan basically scared his teammates into being better (google the Will Purdue story).
So this all is the long winded way of talking about this seasons Golden State Warriors, ironically on the 20th and 30th anniversary of these 2 legendary teams. Neither of those teams started the season an amazing 23-0. Last night was one of the most impressive wins of the bunch, on the road against a very good Pacers squad. The 71-72 Lakers record of 33 straight wins is now within reach as the Warriors head to Boston for a Friday night game against the Celtics, before finishing their 7 game road trip in Milwaukee Saturday night. Neither is an easy game, but with the level the Warriors are playing at right now, I would be shocked if they lost before heading home.
Christmas day might be an even bigger media circus than was expected when the schedule came out as the Cavs head to Oakland for a finals rematch with what could by then be the 28-0 defending champions.
Are the Warriors in the same class as the 96 Bulls, 86 Celtics or 72 Lakers (69-13 in addition to the 33 game winning streak)? It is obviously too early to tell right now. There is A LOT of season to go, and I’m not sure I would take the Warriors in a 7 game series against the Spurs which would mean the Warriors don’t even make the NBA finals.
And are they better than those great teams? Probably not, because this is a luxury tax/cap era. And the game has changed drastically. When the Lakers were doing their thing, there was no 3 point line in the NBA.
The Celtics and Bulls played in a very similar era, and while most would pick the Bulls don’t forget that the Celtics were built to play any style of basketball. They preferred to play a half court game, but when they matched up with a team like the 80’s Lakers, they could get out and run. The Bulls really couldn’t run as talented as they were.
But the Bulls had a lineup that featured 4 starters who could guard any forward or guard position. In the 98 Eastern conference finals Phil Jackson used Scottie Pippen to guard Mark Jackson. In those days, Jordan was the most physical 2 guard in the game. Jordan might actually be a little less effective in today’s game because he didn’t shoot the 3 that well and couldn’t man handle players like he could in the 90’s.
But if you were playing by 80’s and 90’s rules, the Warriors would be DOMINATED by anyone of those 3 teams, or any of the great Laker teams of the 80’s, or the 60’s Celtics, or the early 2000’s Lakers or Spurs. But that is really what makes these debates so great. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, just educated opinions.
Steph Curry is entering the same realm as guys like Jordan, Bird, Magic, and LeBron. Of those 4 he is far more like Magic in that his a finesse player who can do virtually anything offensively. It’s really special to watch.
34 straight? It’s possible. 73 wins? It’s possible. 41-0 home record? It’s possible. If they accomplish 1 or 2 of those feats, along with winning back to back NBA titles, there is no doubt the Warriors would have to be included in that same class as those other all time teams.
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