Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the Golden State Warriors accomplished one of the most impossible feats this NBA season when they topped the ’96 Bulls regular season win record of 72-10, to finish the season 73-9. An amazing feat indeed, but like the ’96 Bulls so eloquently said back in 1996, “It don’t mean a thing if you don’t get that ring”. With the Warriors losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals 4-3, many now wonder whether all the hype around the 2016 Warriors was just that…hype.
Winning 73 games in an 82 game regular season is obviously outstanding. But was it as outstanding as it looks on paper? Take, for instance, the fact that many of today’s NBA and basketball “experts” will tell you that the league is now a watered-down version of itself. Other than teams like the Spurs, Thunder and Cavaliers, who did the Warriors really have to play against? Additionally, only in Game 7 of the NBA Finals did we actually see a glimpse of how normal games were refereed in the days of the ’96 Bulls. In case you don’t remember, if you drove the lane, you were going to pay a price in the days of the ’96 Bulls. If you drive the lane today, many experts, including this one, are wondering how much of a price basketball players really have to pay.
In the 1990’s, you were coming off a “Bad Boys” Pistons team that just loved to hit people. Then you had Pat Riley’s Knicks whom also loved to hit people…The Magic whom were always tough with the likes of Shaq and Penny Hardaway…The Sonics with the likes of Sean Kemp and Gary Payton…The Blazers with Clyde Drexler and Kevin Duckworth…The Suns with Barkley and Majerle..the Pacers with Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson…and the Jazz with Malone and Stockton. You had teams, across the board, who loved to make people pay a price for winning. If you were going to beat those teams, it was going to take a physical and mental toll.
In today’s NBA, the Warriors didn’t face that type of competition. Granted, the Warriors were not a 2-point basketball team. They lived and ultimately died by the 3-pointer and did it better than every other team in the history of basketball. They also had the likes of back-to-back MVP, Steph Curry as well as Klay Thompson. Not to mention their own version of a “bad boy” in Draymond Green.
But here’s the ultimate breakdown that nobody talks about. Just like we saw with the officiating in Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals (a more nitty-gritty, tougher basketball game) if you took the 2016 Warriors and put them into play in the 1996 season, you have a team that might have won 50 games. You might have a team that got to the 2nd round of the playoffs. You, however, most definitely don’t have a team that excels to the levels they have shown in today’s NBA. While not exactly can be said if you were to take the 1996 Bulls and put them into today’s NBA, the ’96 Bulls would have found great difficulties. For example, being that they were accustomed to a much rougher NBA, you could imagine the Bulls would have found themselves in a great deal of foul trouble, some might argue. Though I firmly believe the ’96 Bulls are far superior to any team today’s NBA offers, you have to wonder how they would have dealt with a much softer NBA.
All in all, there is no team more dominant than the ’96 Bulls. Along with their 72-10 regular season record, they breezed through the playoffs with a 15-3 record and never found themselves trailing in a single series. The 2016 Warriors, however, not only found themselves in a 3-1 hole against the OKC Thunder (formerly the Sonics), but also became the first NBA team in history to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals when the Cleveland Cavaliers beat them in Game 7.
Though I firmly believe the Showtime Lakers vs. the ’96 Bulls would be a far better, and more debatable series, just for fun, let’s take a look at the lineup breakdown for both sides and you make the call:
Point Guards: Ron Harper vs. Steph Curry
Though Steph Curry is obviously the bigger name between the two, Ron Harper’s play was priceless for the ’96 Bulls. There is no way Curry could drive the lane on Harper, but that’s not a big part of Curry’s game anyway. Curry could still get his points as long as his 3-point shoot was on target. Curry, however, wouldn’t have much of a chance stopping the likes of Ron Harper offensively.
Shooting Guards: Michael Jordan vs. Klay Thompson
As a renowned defender, Michael Jordan would have had his way with Klay Thompson on both sides of the court. Klay Thompson wouldn’t be able to score and also would have no chance defending the likes of his Airness.
Small Forwards: Scottie Pippen vs. Harrison Barnes
Though I still believe Scottie Pippen is one of the most overrated players in the history of the NBA, he was a great player. That said; Harrison Barnes has gone from being a decent player to being a terrible player. This wouldn’t be a matchup.
Power Forwards: Dennis Rodman vs. Draymond Green
Draymond Green is one of the very few players in today’s NBA whom I think would fair well in the NBA of the ’80’s and ’90’s. His physical play, grit, determination, and cheap shots would have fit in quite well and imitate the play of Dennis Rodman. That said, Dennis Rodman put absolutely everything he had into each game (when he was with the Bulls) and would have out-rebounded and out-hustled Green. Green would have definitely had the upper-hand offensively, but just as Rodman did to a very dominant Shaquille O’Neil, he would have gotten in the head of Draymond Green (which wouldn’t have posed too much of a challenge) and would have ruined his game for the series.
Centers: Luc Longley vs. Andrew Bogut
Andrew Bogut is a solid player, but he’s meant to be a post-up player, which isn’t the Warriors style of basketball. Luc Longley was strong and could post-up, which would be an advantage, but this matchup is pretty even.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the ’96 Bulls had a bench that couldn’t be stopped. The 2016 Warriors would have no chance at matching up when the stars were off the court. This ultimately means that the ’16 Warriors starters would have to be on the court pretty much the entire game, which would be costly playing against the ’96 Bulls.
The ’96 Bulls never swept a series during their 6-year championship run. I would say this would be a 4-1 ’96 Bulls win.