Best Ever? Ten Reasons Why
Posted Mar 28 2007 1:11PM
The 1995-96 Bulls are the best team ever ... and it's not close
SECAUCUS, NJ, March 28, 2007 -- Debate? What debate? According to Scottie Pippen there isn’t any when it comes to the greatest NBA team of all time.
“I think the ’96 Bulls are the greatest of all time. I think the 72-10 record speaks for itself and the fact that we were able to cap it off with a championship. What it boils down to is we had a dominant style, a dominant defense and we were a very good offensive team. It was the way we dominated our opponents that separated ourselves.”
Whether you agree with Scottie’s assertion or not, there isn’t any denying that the ’95-96 Bulls set a new standard for NBA teams to follow. Look beyond the 72-10 record and you’ll see a team how a team devoured its opponents while piling up a multitude of records.
Here are the Top 10 Reasons Why the Bulls May Be the Greatest of All-Time:
10. 87-13 Unprecedented
You know all about the Bulls 72-10 record, which thanks to the Dallas Mavericks’ pursuit of the mighty 70 (they need to go 11-1 the rest of the way), Chicago’s record has been in circulation for a good portion of the season.
But overlooked is the Bulls combined regular and postseason record of 87-13. No one has posted a better combined record in NBA history. Yet that is rarely brought up when the debate centers on the greatest team of all time. The next best team to reach the 80 victory plateau was the ’86 Celtics with 82. Other teams comprising the short list of greatest ever (along with the Bulls and ’86 Celtics) include the ’64 Celtics, ’67 76ers, ’72 Lakers and ’87 Lakers and they all fall short in this category.
The Celtics were a combined 67-23 and needed only one round to advance to the Finals while the Sixers went 79-17. The ’72 Lakers were 81-16 and the ’87 Lakers went 80-20. You say, well the Bulls played more games to reach the Finals therefore their postseason win total is bloated. True, the Bulls, ’86 Celtics and ’87 Lakers all needed to go three rounds to reach the Finals while the 76ers and ’72 Lakers needed only two. So, then go by percentages and the Bulls still rank on top with .870 followed by the ’86 Celtics’ .836%, the ’72 Lakers’ .835%, Sixers .820 and ’87 Lakers .800. (Note: I did not include the 2000 or 2001 Lakers in this discussion and with good reason: While the 1999-2000 Lakers did win 67 games, they also plowed their way to the NBA championship with a 15-11 record while the 2000-01 Lakers own the best postseason percentage in NBA history winning 15 of 16 games, they also won “only” 56 games that season)
Yes, the Bulls led the league in scoring with a 105.2 average and Michael Jordan re-established himself as the game’s best player by not only winning his eighth scoring title but by earning his fourth NBA MVP Award joining Willis Reed (1970) as the only players to win regular season, All-Star and Finals MVP honors. The Bulls offense and the larger than life personas of Jordan, Rodman and to a lesser extent Pippen overshadowed what a truly great defensive team this was. Jack Ramsay described the Bulls defense as “the kind of defense that defies a period of time.” He was right. The speed and tenacity of the Bulls D was unmatched, virtually shutting down opponents at will. The perimeter defense of Jordan, Pippen and Ron Harper simply overwhelmed the competition while Rodman anchored the low-post area, earning his fifth rebounding title (14.9 rpg).
Vulnerable in the pivot with Luc Longley and Bill Wennington? Maybe that was considered the weak part of the Bulls D but they knew how to overcome with a great team defense, most notably by pressuring the perimeter. The Bulls amassed a 12-2 record against the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning that season.
“Our defense was the greatest attribute of that team,” said Pippen, who earned eight NBA All-Defensive First Team honors during his career. “That’s really where we were at our strongest. When Phil [Jackson] decided to go with our big guard lineup with myself, Ron and Michael, we had a huge size advantage from that standpoint and we were able to use that to our advantage. I mean spread the wingspans that we had across the court and it makes it very difficult for anybody to pass the ball or dribble around.”
The Bulls D tied for second in the league that season along with Detroit, holding opponents to 92.9 points per game. In the postseason, the defense got that much stingier to the tune of 86.8. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman all earned All-Defensive First Team honors, a claim that can’t be made by any members of the ’64 Celtics, 67 Sixers, ’72 Lakers, ’86 Celtics or the ’87 Lakers.
8. Point Differential = 12.2
Go by the numbers and again, the Bulls rank at the top. As mentioned previously, the Bulls led the lead in scoring 105.2 and ranked second in defense at 92.9 for a 12.2 point differential. The differential for the ’67 Sixers was 9.4 and the ’86 Celtics was also 9.4. The ’72 Lakers posted a tad better mark than the Bulls at 12.3 but when a team averages an impressive 121 points per game but gives up an unimpressive 108.7 on the defensive end, the 12.2 is more impressive thanks to the Bulls defense and the nod goes to Chicago.
7. Road Warriors = 33 Wins
No team had won more on the road than the Bulls who established yet another NBA record with 33 wins. The Bulls didn’t just show up in visiting arenas, it was how they showed up. They were the undisputed No. 1 road draw having converted the hometown faithful fans in visiting cities (see No. 23, 33 and 91 jerseys in the stands). Home or on the road, it didn’t matter, the adoration the ’96 Bulls enjoyed was unprecedented. It was Beatles-esque. Everyone wanted a piece of this team.
"There was an intimidation," said Steve Kerr, a key reserve on that team and now a TNT broadcaster. "The other team felt that. We used to go on the floor late. The other team was always warming up. The crowd would be going crazy when we went out there. The anticipation of the warm-ups was incredible, lightbulbs flashing everywhere. The other team would just stop and watch. It was a spectacle."
The intimidation resulted in a 10.9 average margin of victory on the road.
6. Most Wins With Only Three Losses – 40-3
The Bulls tied the ’72 Lakers with the most wins with three losses when they notched its 39th win over the Rockets in Houston. The Bulls bested that record the next night in Sacramento, rolling to a 40-1 mark.
5. 50 Wins With Fewest Losses
The torrid pace continued when the Bulls reached the 50 win plateau with only six losses. The previous record was held by the ’67 76ers who compiled a 50-7 mark.
If the headliners were Jordan, Pippen and Rodman, then the unsung label goes to the Bulls bench who played a key role in the team’s overall success. Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Randy Brown, Bill Wennington and Jud Buechler all rose to the occasion that season. Kukoc transitioned from starter to top reserve as a result of Jordan’s return.
“I thought it was the perfect role,” said Kerr who finished second in three-point percentage that season with a .515 mark. “When he was starting before that, he had to be a rebounder for us at the four. But by coming off the bench, he didn’t have to be a great rebounder, he just had to contribute.
"But Phil could always find the right combination out there to expose whoever was guarding Toni because he was a matchup nightmare. He was too long for the guards and too quick for the forwards and there were very few people in the league who could cover him, particularly when you had to expend so much energy on Michael and Scottie. I thought Toni was really a key part of that team, kind of an x-factor.
"When he played well, we were pretty much unbeatable.”
3. Month-by-Month Dominance
Sure, 72-10 is impressive but probe into the team’s month-by-month breakdown and it becomes even more amazing.
November Record: 12-2
December Record: 13-1
January Record: 14-0
February Record: 11-3
March Record: 12-2
April Record: 10-2
2. Home Court Dominance
April 8, that’s when the Bulls lost its first home game. April 8, folks. Five plus months into the regular season or less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, however you want to look at it, the Bulls D-O-M-I-N-A-T-E-D at the United Center.
In 41 home games, the Bulls averaged 107 points while holding their opponents to 89.9, a winning margin of 17 points per game. The Bulls may have finally lost a home game but not before establishing an NBA record by winning its first 37. Who finally unseated the Bulls at home? The Charlotte Hornets claimed the first road victory and the Bulls missed a golden opportunity to tie the ’86 Celtics with a 40-1 home record when it lost its last regular home game to the Indiana Pacers, 100-99 (note: Pippen sat out entire fourth quarter while MJ sat out fourth until 4:40 remaining. It’s also worth mentioning that Reggie Miller did not play in this game). It was the Pacers who hold the distinguished honor of being the only team to defeat the Bulls twice that season.
It’s worth noting that a few subtle changes were made by Phil Jackson prior to the start of the season to give the Bulls a homier feel in the cavernous United Center. The benches were switched so the Bulls would sit at the west end of the arena ala Chicago Stadium where they used to sit while the billboards that used to surrounded the court opposite the benches were removed to allow fans closer to the action. Did they changes really make a difference? It’s hard to argue with a 39-2 home record.
1. Average Margin of Victory = 15 PPG
While the ’72 Lakers barely edged the ’96 Bulls in regular season average margin of victory – 15.9 ppg to 15 ppg – the Bulls were consistent in the postseason, steamrolling past opponents also to the tune of 15 points per game while the Lakers dropped to 9.75 points. Combine both the regular season and postseason averages and the Bulls once again rank No. 1 defeating their opponents by an averaged of 15 points per game. The ’87 Lakers rank No. 2 with a 14.8 average followed by the ’86 Celtics (13.6), the ’67 Sixers (13.3), the ’72 Lakers (12.8) and the ’64 Celtics.
Regular Season - margin of victory
Playoffs - margin of victory
Combined Regular Season and Playoff margin of victory
The greatest team of all time? No argument here.