Because the original is always better than the copy, the Warriors are second best to a generation they don’t impress. To that particular crew, the Warriors can’t tilt the definition of great to their side, regardless of 73 wins. Nor can they change what has already been done. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls left their extraordinary mark, one the Warriors are knee deep in. Reflexively, the Warriors hate is revving up. Scottie Pippen is running off with the mouth of how he would stop Steph Curry. It is a poorly articulated point. Steph Curry is leading this magical Warriors team, this collection of brilliant, extraordinary talents with off the chart chemistry. The Warriors have had a very special year not seen in a long, long time. But that doesn’t make them immortal. Scottie should have said that. Their year only makes them excellent.
Special teams have existed in the NBA for decades. The ’71-72 Lakers won 33 games in a row. The 1966-67 76ers had the best record of the first 50 games, 46-4, and in 49 years it hasn’t been duplicated until this year. The 1985-86 Celtics who were 40-1 at home were breathtaking to watch.
In the beginning of the Bulls second three-peat, the idea that a team could win 70 games was shocking to think about much less witness . The Bulls, who already had three titles in their pocket, didn’t need the motivation to do something great; they were already phenomenal. But the perfection instinct that inhabits gifted teams created a dynamic of player vs. time.
If they did this, if the Bulls followed through, if they won a mythical amount of games, they would be a generational team. History would be theirs and yet, at the same time, if they did this, they would have all the pressure on their backs exponentially increase. The benefits were great. The cost greater. The consequences left scrutiny. The Bulls would have to win the title or be known forever as epic failures.
An oddity of the sport is what happens when the basketball regular season ends in April. There is a quiet death. The real season is born. It is loud and exhilarating and reactive and intensive. It is heartbreaking for so very many, defining for so very few. Winners are born, losers are exposed.
There were two schools of thought about the Bulls before the playoffs. The common assessment was that no one was going to beat a team four times that had only lost ten times in six months. Three of the Bulls losses were by one point. They easily could have won 75 games.
A lesser held belief was that the Bulls were mentally exhausted from chasing their record. There was an opportunity.
The Bulls swept the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic and pretty much had their way with the Knicks; the Patrick Ewing Knicks got a game off the Bulls.
In the Finals, the Bulls had a 3-0 lead, lost the next two and won game 6 in Chicago. When they beat Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp and George Karl and the Seattle Supersonics, the Bulls added to their overwhelming mythology. 72 wins was validated. 72 wins was the new perfection. The Bulls would forever be known as the greatest team in NBA history, the greatest winners, the most dominant.
The Warriors are currently dominant but their place in NBA history is still being written. Like those hyper-kinetic Steve Nash teams, the Warriors are one of the most popular because of how they attack the game. Their ball movement, their three point accuracy, their team chemistry is intoxicating and seductive to the casual fan that turns on the NBA after football is over. The Warriors could possibly reel off two more titles in a row, like the Bulls did. Steph Curry could have back to back regular season MVP’s institutionalizing him as the NBA’s best player. The Warriors could fill arenas and move merchandise and dominate television ratings. All that could happen.
And they still wouldn’t be the 1995-96 Bulls. They wouldn’t be appreciated like that Bulls team who climbed an impossible mountain. They wouldn’t be admired and written about and mythologized twenty years later. The Warriors would be loved. But the Bulls team with their multiple Hall of Famers and Olympians were beloved. The Bulls did it first.
1996 was a shrine to what it meant to be flawless in the NBA, the closest thing to an unbeatable season. The Bulls were champagne in a beer drinking universe. They were the quintessential team on paper that became the impeccable team on the court. They were perfect in a world where perfect didn’t exist. But for eight months, perfect was the standard.
For eight months, the Warriors have been the standard. They have been flawless. They have been ridiculous. They have been inspiring. They have been the straw that stirs the drink, even if Steph Curry is not the second coming of M.J.
These Warriors can be great and extraordinary and have the best regular season record in NBA history. It changes nothing about the past and the Bulls and the romanticism of what we remember. Bulls love is a wheel that continues to turn. The world gets older but the memories remain in tact.
photo via llannaba