In my opinion, dynasties should be measured by a number of factors, including dominance, consistency, the level of competition and the quality of players and coaching staff.
A naïve person would proclaim up front that the Jordan’s Bulls dynasty was better than Magic’s Lakers teams because the Bulls won an additional championship. But like most honest analyses of highly debated issues, the answer is not so simple.
Both dynasties were incredibly successful, and few will deny this claim. However, some suggest that the Bulls would have won eight championships in a row if Michael Jordan didn’t retire for a season and a half in the middle of the run. Not only is this speculative, but it is almost impossible to prove. The Bulls surely benefited from early playoff exits in 1994 and 1995 that helped the team rest up for the dominant three years to follow.
People often forget that the Celtics teams from 1959-1966 that won eight titles in a row benefited from shorter seasons and playoffs that lasted half as long, not to mention Boston had a huge talent disparity over the league. With longer seasons and salary cap rules, it would be nearly impossible for a team today to put together a similar title-winning streak.
During the time off from the league that Jordan took, he developed a better jump shot and more potent post game, which helped keep him dominant through the second three-peat.
With Jordan gone, Chicago made decisions to rebuild and got certain draft picks that the team would not have gotten otherwise. The new additions of Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman were all instrumental in getting the Bulls three additional championships.
Meanwhile, the Lakers may have “only” won five rings with Magic Johnson, but the team could have easily won a few more. In 1981, Johnson suffered torn cartilage in his left knee that caused him to miss 45 games. Not only did that hurt the Lakers’ record that season, but his return caused several chemistry issues for the team.
In the 1989 playoffs, the Lakers started off 11-0 before facing the Detroit Pistons in the finals. However, with Magic going down with a hamstring injury coupled with a serious injury to Byron Scott, the Lakers had to play without their starting backcourt against Pistons legend Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. It can be argued that LA would have won a title in 1989 with the on-court dominance and fluidity the team showed during the playoffs.
The Lakers dynasty has to get the edge for consistency. In the 12 years from 1980 to 1991, Magic Johnson’s teams reached the NBA Finals nine times, including four years in a row from 1982-1985. The Bulls only reached the finals six times and never had four consecutive trips.
Few should argue that the Lakers dynasty didn't win more consistently for a longer period of time compared to Jordan’s dynasty.
Level of Competition: Lakers
As was discussed earlier, the Lakers faced tougher competition with strong teams like the 76ers, Celtics and Pistons (not to mention several tough Western Conference opponents). The Bulls were challenged by the Pistons early on, but no team came close to the Bulls during the three-peat years. Unlike the 1980s Lakers dealing with another dynasty in Boston, the Bulls were the sole dynasty from 1991 to 1998.
Quality of Players and Coaches: Lakers
From the previous section on coaches, we already can assume that while Jackson may be the best coach in NBA history, Riley’s run with LA was slightly more impressive than Jackson’s run in Chicago.
Regarding the players, Chicago’s teams revolved around two superstars in Pippen and Jordan. The Bulls also had great power forwards in Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman (though at different times).
Each of the core three sets of players were surrounded by solid role players like three-point specialists Steve Kerr, John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong, centers Luc Longley and Bill Cartwright, forwards Scott Williams and Stacey King and wing players like Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper.
Meanwhile, the Lakers teams were loaded with All-Star or close to All-Star talent. Surrounding the core of Magic, Kareem and Worthy were Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, Bob McAdoo and Byron Scott. The Lakers teams also had defensive specialist Michael Cooper and role player forwards Kurt Rambis, A.C. Green and Mychal Thompson.
In fact, the 1986-1987 Lakers team featured four No. 1 draft picks in Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy and Thompson. That’s the only team that carried that distinction in NBA history.
Needless to say, the Lakers were stacked with more talent from top to bottom compared to Jordan’s Bulls teams.
With the Lakers being just as dominant as the Bulls but having the edges in consistency, competition and quality of players and coach, it is a fair statement to say that the 1980s Lakers were the superior dynasty to the 1990s Bulls.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers