7 reasons why Michael Jordan’s ’96 Bulls would beat ’17 Warriors
Editor's Note: Over the next week, NBC Sports Chicago and NBC Sports Bay Area will try to settle the debate about which is the best NBA team of all time: the 1995-96 Bulls or the 2016-17 Warriors. Check out NBCSportsBayArea.com for the Warriors perspective.
A new generation of Bulls fans are watching the 1996 championship run on NBC Sports Chicago, and it raises the question of how Phil Jackson’s team would match up against the most recent NBA powerhouse.
Under the direction of former Bulls sharp-shooter Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors advanced to five straight NBA Finals, winning three championships, including back-to-back titles in 2017 and ‘18.
The 2015-16 Warriors broke the Bulls’ record for regular-season wins with a 73-9 record but didn't win the title. And to be honest, that Warriors team would have been no match against Michael Jordan and company.
The real challenge would be the ‘96 Bulls against the 2017 Warriors. That Golden State squad featured Kevin Durant and was one of the best shooting teams the league has ever seen.
Could the Bulls’ elite defense be strong enough to prevail? Would the current rules put Jordan and Pippen into foul trouble? Would the Bulls have developed into a better 3-point shooting team given the current emphasis on pace and space offense?
Those questions are impossible to answer, but for this exercise, we’re going to pinpoint the areas where the '96 Bulls would have the advantage.
And, since this mythical series would give the Bulls a seventh “championship,” we’ll count them down from seven.
7. Home court advantage
The 1995-96 Bulls established a then-regular-season record by steamrolling through their schedule with a 72-10 mark. The 2016-17 Warriors owned the league’s best mark at 67-15, which means the Bulls would have owned home court in our make believe Finals match-up.
If you’ve been watching the Bulls’ 1996 title run, their dominance at the United Center is a huge factor. The Bulls went unbeaten at home on the way to winning the championship in ‘96, and whether the league used a 2-3-2 or 2-2-1-1-1 format, a potential seventh game would be played in Chicago, giving the Bulls a clear-cut advantage.
6. Kerr's 3-point shooting
The Bulls had a pair of long range shooters to bring off the bench in Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr. Kukoc was a nightmare match-up at 6-foot-11 and would have caused all kinds of problems for a Golden State team that lacked size up front. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston were impact players off the Warriors’ bench, but neither was a great 3-point shooter.
And while the “Splash Brothers” are widely considered among the best long-range shooters in NBA history, you might not know that it’s Kerr who owns the league’s all-time 3-point shooting mark at .454. In case you were wondering, Steph Curry is sixth at .435 and Klay Thompson is 14th at .419.
5. Phil Jackson's zen
Since we’re already stretching the time-space continuum by matching up teams that played two decades apart, there’s no way we’re going to let Kerr be in two places at once. He can’t play for the Bulls AND coach the Warriors. Since he was in Chicago first, that’s where he stays!
That gives the Bulls a huge advantage with the Zen-master keeping things calm on his team’s sideline, while Mike Brown and Ron Adams scramble to figure out how to keep their players under control facing one of the best defensive teams of all time.
4. Dennis Rodman's antics
Over his three-year run with the Bulls, Rodman managed to antagonize and infuriate some of the best players in the game, including Karl Malone, Shawn Kemp, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal. We can only imagine what he would have done to Draymond Green.
Don’t forget, it was Green’s suspension for overreacting to a loose-ball scramble that sparked the Cavaliers’ rally from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 Finals. Rodman’s physical play and histrionics probably would have led to Green getting tossed from a game or two, and melting down mentally when he was able to stay on the court.
3. Jordan's defense on Curry
For all of Jordan’s offensive brilliance, he was also one of the league’s elite defensive stoppers, able to defend three positions with his length and superior quickness. The Bulls didn’t put MJ on point guards very often, but Curry is the engine that makes the Warriors’ offense function efficiently, and we can only imagine how frustrated the 6-foot-3 marksman would have been with Jordan hounding his every move.
Plus, Bulls fans probably came away with a new appreciation for Ron Harper after watching the ‘96 playoff run. Harper was one of the league’s most explosive players before suffering a serious knee injury, but he was an underrated defender during the second three-peat and would have held his own matching up against Thompson.
2. Pippen containing Durant
Speaking of defense, Scottie Pippen’s suffocating play has drawn universal respect and admiration from younger fans watching the dynasty Bulls for the first time.
Durant is one of the league’s most dynamic scorers at 6-foot-10 and probably among the top 25 players all-time. Still, if there’s any player, past or present, who can slow down KD, it would be Pippen. His ability to anticipate moves and use his long arms to tap a dribble away and speed to the other end of the court for momentum-building dunks is one of the staples of the Bulls’ championship runs. Durant would get his points along the way, but he wouldn’t take over games with Pippen defending him.
1. Jordan's amazing resolve
Fans watching the ‘96 title run are getting a chance to see all over again why Jordan is the greatest player ever. His legendary competitiveness is on full display whenever the Bulls face a critical moment in a tight game. On a must-convert possession, Jackson knew the best strategy was to get the ball to Michael and have everyone else get out of the way.
Even when Jordan was struggling through tough shooting nights, you always had confidence he would come through with the game on the line. And, having the best player of all time on your side gives the rest of the players a confidence level that’s hard to quantify.
The Bulls never had to go to a Game 7 game during their six championship runs, but given the amazing talent level on the 2017 Warriors, this mythical series would require a seventh game at the United Center.
My prediction: BULLS IN 7.