Bill Wennington said the players from the 1995-96 Bulls team that set a record with 72 wins don’t sit around and wait to drink Champagne once it’s clear the record will stand another year.
Heck, he said he didn’t even know Miami Dolphins runner Mercury Morris made that an annual, infamous ritual to mark the continuation of the record for the only undefeated team in modern NFL history.
But even as the Golden State Warriors fast break toward and perhaps beyond the Bulls record of 72 wins, Wennington says if not them, well, someone. Records are made to be broken.
“It’s not something you think about every day,” said Wennington, now a Bulls radio broadcaster. “Obviously, when a team comes close to it as Golden State is now you think about it more. It’s not something I want to see broken. It is something, and I think I’m a realist, one day will be broken. Maybe they’ll be 94 teams in the NBA when it happens. It will happen.”
Though to the surprise of many, the Warriors have made the strongest run at the record that many thought might never be matched. In fact, before this season, the 20th anniversary of the Bulls’ 72-10 championship year, even Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a member of that Bulls team, told me he didn’t believe the record could be matched or broken.
“It was one of those years where everything went right,” Kerr told me then. “There was incredible motivation; and everything clicked. As motivated as Michael (Jordan) always was, that year was another few degrees higher based on what he had been through, the absence from the game, the loss the previous year to Orlando.
I tell people all the time that record will never be broken. It’s just impossible. That’s going to be like DiMaggio’s hit streak; it’s just not going to happen.
“Everything has to go right and even then it doesn’t matter,” said Kerr. “Everything went right for us last season and we won 67 games. Five games is a pretty big difference when you are talking about an 82-game season. Everything went right for us with the Bulls and we had Michael. That’s the thing; if we ever got to a point where we were going to lose or we looked like we were going to lose, he would just take over. And there aren’t guys like that anymore. Michael was so unique, so gifted, so motivated, so talented that he sort of transcended everything and I just don’t see that happening again.”
But Kerr has the remarkable Stephen Curry and the Warriors now are three wins from the unthinkable 73-9 season. They play Memphis twice and the San Antonio Spurs Sunday. The Spurs will be trying—we assume, though you never know about their lineup decisions—to protect their record undefeated home winning record.
So the Warriors really are the first team to make a serious bid to break the record. They had a bit of a setback in the past week, losing two of three when it seemed certain they’d break the record. Now it comes down to the final days of the season, and Bulls players from that team are watching.
And if not quite funereal, they’d like for their special team to remain in the record book.
“I’ve been getting nervous because I never thought it would even come close to being touched,” said Randy Brown. “I knew Golden State was going to be good. We always know the Spurs are going to win games, but I thought late in the year when teams start positioning for playoffs you start controlling minutes. So I never thought it would be challenged. Golden State at this point, they’re young, full of energy. So they’re thinking, ‘Forget about resting. We want to play in games.’ So it turns into 50-3 and 50-5. Boston had a great start a few years back, but you get close to the playoffs and everyone starts talking about resting players, avoiding injuries and Steve Kerr and the Warriors have been going against that.
“I’m going to be beyond sad (if they break the record),” admitted Brown, now a Bulls assistant coach. “It’s going to hurt because I think it was a special team. The following year we won 69 games and no one talks about that. The NBA has so much parity. I would never have thought someone could win 70 games. The Spurs as good as they’ve been, I didn’t think they would win 70 games. I never thought it would happen and now it’s about to happen and my heart is bleeding.”
Toni Kukoc looks at the Golden State quest more with curiosity.
“I would be lying if I say I don’t pay attention to it, but nothing we can do about it anymore,” said Kukoc, who is now a Bulls executive assistant. “It’s the way this season went and the way they played. You have to admit they played good basketball. They made a lot of shots and played more up tempo than the teams they played against. They have had a great season, so whatever happens will determine the record. But after that they have the playoffs to get to the championship. If they are going to look at these last games as meaningful to break a record with the playoff in front of them, I don’t know how that will be.”
That’s been an issue Kerr have been grappling with as well: How much to push now for a record with the playoffs on the horizon. And not winning a title—Don’t mean a thing without the ring, as the Bulls t-shirts told us then—would make this Warriors season and perhaps all time record rate an asterisk. But Kerr’s players have openly stated a desire to break the record, and there doesn’t seem any way to hold them back.
“What is the point of New England winning every game during the (2007) season and losing the Super Bowl?” noted Kukoc. “How often are they brought up as the team that won every game? It would be a special team if they won the Super Bowl that year. If you don’t win a championship what is the point of the other stuff?
“Me being selfish about our record, I am hoping San Antonio will (still) try to do something about it,” said Kukoc. “Just from the standpoint it’s the playoffs and we have to put some statement out there for Golden State for the upcoming playoffs. I don’t mind if they break it, but at the same time from the standpoint we did win a championship (that matters). We’ll see if they are capable of winning a second championship.”
But then without prompting, Kukoc ventured into the debate about which team is superior. Former Bull Scottie Pippen made it a topic of discussion last week for saying in a radio interview the Bulls would sweep this Warriors team. The assumption was at similar ages since even Jordan now in his 50s might not be able to defend Curry. Don’t ask him, though.
Kukoc did give the Warriors their due. He said Bulls in five.
“I hate to go into this, but I believe the way basketball was played with the contact and everything, just how much more power we had in posting up the ball, more defense than they do, I honestly think we would beat them in five games, I’ll say,” said Kukoc. “I do honestly think they would have a hard time playing against New York, Indiana, really good and physical basketball teams.
“We match then perfectly when it comes to the small game,” explained Kukoc. “We can post up a bunch of guys, Michael, Scottie, myself, even Harper if he is guarded by the smaller point guard. Just my opinion; maybe I don’t see the other side of it (because I played for the Bulls). They win a lot of games because of the good shooting and the up tempo they have to the game, but I think our team would be really, really good at matching them.”
Obviously, it’s just an engaging and amusing debate topic as are any of the era contrasts in sports. The Warriors, clearly, are a great team and have an excellent chance to tie or break the Bulls record. And even if Bulls players from that team would like to hang onto the historic marker, many feel there’s something greater that they have from that magical 1995-96 season.
“It’s still a great thing, what we went through, the team we had, how we bonded together,” said Wennington. “The way you see this league and the way everything is today, that in itself is really special. No matter what happens, it (breaking the 70-win barrier) was a great accomplishment, something never done before. Like breaking the four-minute mile. Now everybody does it, but the first time it was done it was really special.”