The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are considered by many to be the greatest team in NBA history, but Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors have passed them in two important ways. They won 73 games in the 2015-16 season, breaking Chicago’s league record 72 wins in 1996, but any hopes they had of becoming the best team of all time were dashed when they lost the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They reloaded the next offseason by adding Kevin Durant, and when the 2017 playoffs rolled around they set an NBA record of 16-1 en route to one of the easiest championships in the history of the league. The 1996 Bulls lost three times en route to the title.
This has created a divide in the ‘best team ever’ debate. Bulls fit the traditional definition. They had the best record of all time and possibly the greatest player in history with Michael Jordan. The Warriors are a bit more complicated. They weren’t as dominant in the regular season, but made up for it in the playoffs. They might not have a single Jordan caliber player, but unlike those Bulls, they had four true superstars.
At the very least, these Warriors are considered the most talented squad ever, but when asked in a video from GQ how he thought his Warriors would rank in a seven-game series, Curry said he ‘he “absolutely” thought Golden State would beat Chicago. “Obviously we’ll never know, but you put us on paper with them, I like our chances. I would also say Dubs in 6,” said Curry.
Chicago would have some critical showdown advantages in a hypothetical series. Few teams even have a defender who can bother Curry and Durant. Chicago could pitch Jordan on Curry and Scottie Pippen on Durant, two of the best defensemen of all time. Dennis Rodman may be the greatest rebounder of all time, and these Warriors teams, at their best, have played small. It would have cost them on the boards.
But Golden State had Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala to defend Michael Jordan, and they also had a significant mathematical advantage solely based on how many 3-pointers they took over any team in the 1990s. Even with a Shortened 3-point line, the Bulls took just 16.5 3 points per game in 1996. The Warriors nearly doubled that number, taking 31.2 3 per game. This makes their offense much less predictable. Golden State could play traditionally, leaving Durant to isolate himself, or he could use his movement attack, which borrows heavily from Phil Jackson’s triangle but with modern spacing concepts, to take advantage of the old-fashioned defense principles of Chicago. At the very least, the Bulls haven’t seen anything quite like the Curry-Green pick-and-roll. Blitzer Curry out of his long-range 3s is the standard defensive approach in these games, but giving Green a 4-on-3 against a defense so unaccustomed to defending such games would probably go well enough for Golden State.
There isn’t necessarily a right answer here, although I would personally go for Golden State. They are the two best teams of their time for very different reasons. If Jordan were asked the same question, he would likely share Curry’s confidence and pick the Bulls.