The 1996-97 Chicago Bulls are regarded as one of the best teams in history. After going 72-10 the previous season and winning a title, the Bulls won 69 games and lose just 13 on their way to another title. They beat the Jazz in six games in the NBA Finals to earn their fifth title in seven years.
But where does that Bulls team rank in relation to some other all-time great squads? According to one player that was a member of the team, it's not quite as good as one of the Boston Celtics squad of the 1980s.
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In a recent appearance on Barstool Radio on Sirius XM, former Celtics big-man Robert Parish, who was a part of both the 1986 Celtics and the 1997 Bulls, was asked which team he thought would win head-to-head in a seven-game series. And he didn't hesitate before giving his answer.
"The Celtics," Parish said. "For good reason, we had a better bench. I think that would have been the difference. Our bench was stronger. After Toni [Kukoc], the rest of those guys, you know, just – I’m trying to be polite here – complementary players."
Parish forgot to mention Steve Kerr, who averaged 8.1 points per game off the bench for the Bulls, but nonetheless, his point rings true. The Celtics did have better depth, with Bill Walton, Jerry Sichting, and Scott Wedman giving the C's plenty of production as a three-man bench unit. The trio combined to average 22.1 bench points per game while Walton helped clean up the glass, as he was fourth on the team with 6.8 boards per game.
The other important note is that the Bulls' starting lineup wasn't quite as strong. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were elite and Dennis Rodman was still a top-tier rebounder. But the other two primary starters, Luc Longley and Ron Harper, were just complementary players. So, perhaps that's what's skewing Parish in favor of the Celtics.
Parish himself didn't play much in in the 1996-97 season. The then-43-year-old played in 43 regular season games, averaging 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. In the playoffs, he played in just two games.
This is certainly an interesting debate in theory, but Parish seems to be most qualified to give an answer given that he played for both squads. So, we'll take his word for it on the Celtics being the better team.