The NBA has seen some killer teams over its 75-year history. The ’86 Boston Celtics, the ’71 Milwaukee Bucks, the ’89 Detroit Pistons, and the Los Angeles Lakers in ’72, ’87, as well as 2001, just to name a few. Despite an insane talent pool, two franchises are consistently mentioned above all else: the 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2017 Golden State Warriors.
It goes without saying, fans of professional basketball love to talk in “all-time” terms more than any other fandom. And while the very notion of a GOAT player is ridiculous in the context of a team sport, it doesn’t stop you from turning into Stephen A. Smith after a couple of beers when your mate offers a piss-poor take. Which begs the question: assuming everyone was healthy, would the ’17 Warriors actually be capable of beating the ’96 Bulls in a seven-game finals series?
When the million-dollar question was posed to none other than Steph Curry, the future Hall of Famer didn’t hesitate:
“Absolutely. Obviously we’ll never know, but you put us on paper with them? I like our chances. I’d say Dubs in six, too.”
You heard the man. Let’s put both teams on paper…
2016-2017 Golden State Warriors
Just to acknowledge my own bias here, I thoroughly disliked this team when they played. I’d go as far as to say that I actively prayed for their downfall. For a team that was coming off a 73-9 record in the regular season with the first-ever unanimous MVP leading their team, to add Kevin Durant to the roster was just ridiculous. It killed parity in the NBA with its enormous talent imbalance; there was not a single second of that year where anyone expected another team to win a championship.
Despite this, I will give them their just due here. Lead by a quartet of All-Star players, it’s pretty hard to see this team losing to anyone. Steph Curry is the greatest shooter of all time, Klay Thompson is an elite 3-point shooter and defender, and Draymond Green is perhaps the best defensive coordinator, as well as being a world-class playmaker.
Then you add Kevin Durant to this team: a 7-foot player with incredibly lateral quickness and unlimited range. A matchup problem for any defender. On a humble homegrown team with great passing, shooting, and team-oriented defence, he was the missing piece. Give the best scorer on the planet the most open looks you can possibly have, you get this Warriors team.
With 67 wins in the regular season and a playoff record of 16-1 (best in the history of the NBA), this 83-6 combined record puts them up there as the team with the second greatest win percentage ever. You may have guessed the only team that beat their win percentage.
1995-1996 Chicago Bulls
You watched The Last Dance. MJ, Scottie, Rodman, Kukoc, and the greatest head coach of all time in Phil Jackson. They won six of ’em. Do I really need to say more? It was dynasty central.
The depth of this team led them to a 72-10 record (the best ever, at that point in time). The highest net rating for a single season of any team to ever play, the ’96 Bulls dominated in every possible statistical category. They had the guy with the scoring title and league MVP, the rebounding leader of the year, the coach of the year, the executive of the year, and the sixth man of the year. The team was stacked.
Who would win?
Both teams are the hallmarks of excellence. I don’t even want to know how many times I’ve typed “the best/greatest ever” in reference to these two teams. They belong to an elite tier. Two very different teams united by their dominance.
The answer is actually fairly mundane. Truth be told, it honestly all depends on which era the series was played in. In today’s game, with zone defences and the prevalence of the 3-point shot? I’m giving it to Dub Nation. With the hand-checking and tough physicality of the 90s, I’m giving it to MJ and the Bulls.
In short, who would win in this matchup between the 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2017 Warriors – two of the greatest teams in NBA history? Definitely Steve Kerr, that’s for sure.