There was an article written by Austin Burton of Dime last week where he wrote a story about Michael Jordan. More definitively, he wrote a story on how Michael Jordan was not definitively the greatest player of all-time. He did state that he is the best player in NBA history, but the margin isn't as widespread as fans will tell you. Yes, he's better than Magic, Bird, Kobe, etc. However, he's not THAT much greater than the 3. Its like Jordan being a 99 and Magic and Bird being 98's. Its an interesting article that is a great 15-minute read.
I preface this post with referencing that article to say this, in the competitive era of pro basketball for the last 30 years, Michael Jordan and the Bulls dynasty got off easy. Yeah, I said it. (Leon)
I truly believe after looking at basketball in the 1980's and the 2000's, that the level of great basketball players and great basketball teams were much stronger in those eras versus the 1990's. Let me make a cross-reference, the Bulls teams of the 90's remind me of Roy Jones Jr.'s dominance where he was pummeling any foe that was put in front of him, destroying cats at will. However, many pundits will say that Jones never really had any competition, and the competition finally caught up with him when he got old.
I think I could definitely say the same thing about the Bulls.
Lets look at the dynasties that basketball has had since 1980.
1980's: Lakers - 5 rings, Celtics - 3 rings, Pistons - 2 rings
1990's: Bulls - 6 rings, Rockets - 2 rings
2000's: Lakers - 4 rings, Spurs - 3 rings
Solo championships - 1983 Sixers, 1999 Spurs, 2004 Pistons, 2006 Heat, 2008 Celtics
Now, we all know the story of Jordan and his upward battle become the game's elite player and carry the Bulls to becoming an elite team, but I look back at what transpired before in the 1980's and after in the 2000's and I think Jordan missed some major bullets.
Think about the teams that were really good in the 1980's, of course you have the championship legacies of the Lakers, Celtics, and Pistons, however, the 1983 Sixers team (Mo Cheeks, Dr. J, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Darryl Dawkins, etc.) is still considered one of the greatest teams in NBA history. The Rockets were an awesome team in the 80's, (lost in the '81 & '86 finals to the Celtics) with Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon forming the original twin towers. The Atlanta Hawks had a phenomenal team, with Dominique, Spud, Kevin Willis, Doc Rivers, and Co.
One thing I notice immediately is that all of the great teams in the 1980's had supremely strong frontcourts, and we noticed in the 1990's that Jordan and the Bulls definitely struggled with dominant frontcourts. In the 3 toughest series the Bulls had ('92 Knicks, '95 Magic, '98 Pacers) all of those teams had big frontlines and some really tough players. Fact: The '92 Knicks and the '98 Pacers are the only two teams in history to take the Jordan Bulls to 7 games. The Knicks had a ferocious frontcourt with Ewing leading the way, followed by Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, and Xavier McDaniel. The Pacers had Rik Smits and the Davis boys, who lets be real, were super goons in the late 90's. The Magic team in '95 had Shaq and Ho Grant, and the Bulls couldn't do anything against them.
Now, we look at the Rockets dynasty of 1994-1996. How the hell does Chicago match up with them? First off, they have NO ANSWER for Hakeem Olajuwon (who is in his prime) at all whatsoever. Even if they had Rodman they wouldn't have had an answer. Plus, a young Robert Horry is matched on Pippen (lets remember that when Horry got to the league, folks were saying he was the next Pippen) and with his length (pause) he's gonna give Pip some problems. Of course, MJ destroys Vernon Maxwell, but doesn't that get equaled by Olajuwon? Also, MJ's not going in the lane like that against Olajuwon, so he's shooting more jumpers. Even if the Bulls beat the Rockets in the 1993-94 season, the 1994-1995 would've proved to be even more of a challenge with the addition of Clyde Drexler. Again, is it so definitive that the Bulls would've just ran through the Rockets?
Plus, the competition of other great teams were severely lacking in the 1990's. The Sonics were always good (and this was my favorite team growing up) but again, poor coaching and no real killer on the squad hurt their chances. The Jazz were always pretty good, but they got to the finals when the West got weak. Yeah I said it, plus I've always thought Karl Malone was seriously overrated, and when he got to the finals he got exposed as just a decent go-to guy. He wasn't a killer either. Realistically, the Bulls cost the '92 Knicks/Blazers a ring (could you just imagine a '92 NBA Finals with the Knicks and Blazers? Someone would've died), the '93 Suns a ring, the '98 Pacers a ring, and that's it. Because I can't sit here and say that I felt any of the other teams in the 90's were real threats for a title. San Antonio? Hell no. Cleveland? Hell no.
Moreover, if Jerry Krause would've done his job and kept MJ and the Bulls together for 2-3 more years, do they beat the '99 Spurs? The 2000-02 Lakers? MJ has to retire around that point, but Shaq and Kobe could've easily ushered them out the way just like Jordan ushered Magic and the Lakers out the way in '91. If the Bulls in '96 (72-win season) were stuck in the 2000's, I think they would struggle with a lot of the top frontcourts in basketball. The Lakers and Spurs dynasties of the 2000's would be a major headache for the Bulls, because they would have no defense for Shaq or Tim Duncan. Kobe, Tony Parker, and Ginobili would be headaches too.
I would even say that the coaches in the 80's (Riley, KC Jones, Chuck Daly, Billy Cunningham) and the 00's (Phil Jackson, Gregg Poppovich, Pat Riley, Larry Brown) were WAY BETTER than the 90's (after Phil who? Tomjanovich maybe, Jerry Sloan maybe, but George Karl? Rick Adelman? Paul Westphal? Puh-leease)
Michael Jordan is still the best player in NBA history. The Chicago Bulls rival the 60's Celtics as the most dominant dynasty in pro basketball. Yet, the 1980's and the 2000's were just better, period. February 17, 1963 was a good day for Jordan, the city of Chicago, and the NBA...because if he was born a year or two off-schedule, I'm not sure we have 6 rings and the Bulls dynasty.
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