The Golden State Warriors have been linked to the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls throughout most of the 2015-16 campaign. After all, Stephen Curry’s team is 69-9 and three wins away from tying Chicago’s all-time record of 72 wins in a season.
Who would win in a hypothetical showdown has been debated in sports bars, articles and broadcasts all year, but one former Chicago player doesn’t think the argument should be limited to just the 1995-96 Bulls squad. Horace Grant appeared on SportsNet Central Wednesday and said any of the six Chicago teams that won titles would beat the Warriors, via CSNChicago.com:
I say any of the six championship teams would have swept them. We had a comradery and we trusted each other, especially on defense. We had this love of getting our opponents down and stepping on their necks and getting rest. I think that's what Golden State is missing right now in terms of their defense.
The Bulls won those six rings in the form of two different three-peats. One came from 1990-93 as Michael Jordan was just hitting the prime of his basketball powers, and the other came from 1995-98 after His Airness returned from retirement and his dalliance with baseball.
Jordan and fellow Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen were there for all six titles, but the third player so many think of with those Bulls—Dennis Rodman—wasn’t there until the second three-peat. Chicago would probably need Rodman to bang around on the glass and defend the likes of Draymond Green in any hypothetical showdown.
In fact, Grant himself was only a member of the first three-peat teams and actually battled Chicago in later years in the postseason with the Orlando Magic. Perhaps he was simply feeling some Bulls pride since he was recently named a special adviser to president Michael Reinsdorf, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.com.
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Grant isn’t the only former Bull who thinks his old team could sweep this year’s defending champions.
Pippen said his 1995-96 group would handle Golden State in four games during an interview in Houston, via ESPN.com. Pippen said he would defend Curry—while Jordan would check Klay Thompson—and added, “I think that my size and length would bother [Curry] a little bit.”
Pippen is one of the best perimeter defenders of all time and a 10-time member of an NBA All-Defensive team. His length and athleticism at 6’8” likely would bother Curry, even if it wasn't enough to completely shut the defending MVP down. Elsewhere, Thompson would have some issues since Jordan was a nine-time member of an NBA All-Defensive team, with all nine coming as part of the first team.
However, Curry is averaging 30 points per night this season—which is 6.2 more than he did during his MVP campaign in 2014-15—and has the type of unlimited range Pippen rarely saw during his career. Even if the Bulls would win, it is hard to say they would earn the sweep Pippen and Grant predicted given Curry’s unique skill set and talented supporting cast.
There is another connection between the Bulls and Warriors outside of the pursuit of history. Golden State coach Steve Kerr was also a member of the 1995-96 Bulls and an important three-point marksman.
He didn’t provide a definitive answer when discussing who would win a potential series and pointed to differences in the rules between the two eras as reasons he doesn’t “even bother” with making the comparisons, per Sam Amick of USA Today:
The rules are so different, and the game is so different. We take 30 threes a game, or more, but the defensive rules are totally different in terms of illegal defense.
With the old illegal defense rules, we would’ve had a hard time guarding the post. But now we can flood the strong side in a pseudo-zone. Back then you could hand-check, now you can’t hand-check. It’s hard to make a comparison if you’re really looking at it objectively, so I don’t even bother.
Golden State would receive a significant boost in these arguments if it actually eclipsed Chicago’s record of 72 wins in a season. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they have lost two of their last three games—including Tuesday’s contest to the 26-52 Minnesota Timberwolves—and now must win their final four to reach 73 wins.
They face the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies two times each to close out the schedule, with one game coming at home and one on the road against each opponent. The Warriors would be hard-pressed to pick a more difficult foe than the 65-12 Spurs, especially since San Antonio can still top them for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Gregg Popovich’s squad is three games back of Golden State in the loss column with five games remaining on its schedule and could make a late charge if it takes care of both head-to-head matchups.
The last time the Spurs played the Warriors, they stymied Curry and held him to 4-of-18 shooting in an 87-79 victory on March 19. Golden State as a whole shot 9-of-36 from three-point range.
Memphis is also battling for playoff positioning at 42-36 and plays a physical style of basketball that could tire the Warriors after facing San Antonio.
Golden State has a difficult road ahead if it hopes to win 73 games this season. Even if the Warriors do earn the record, it probably still wouldn’t be enough to convince some of the old Bulls players that they have a case in the best-team-of-all-time argument.