’96 Bulls record falls but their greatness still stands


If you tuned into the Golden State Warriors game Wednesday night rooting for them not to break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls single-season record of 72 wins, you probably knew win #73 was going to be a certainty somewhere between the second and third Stephen Curry 3-pointer of the first quarter—he ended up with six in the quarter and ten for the game.

From then on, it was only about watching long enough to see Curry hit his 400th (?!?!) triple of the season and then flipping over to watch Kobe get 60 in his final game, which was simultaneously one of the most remarkable and surreal experiences I have ever seen and perhaps ever will see in sports given the circumstances. But I digress.

After the Warriors anticlimactic 125-104 trouncing of the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State took over sole possession of one of the most illustrious single-season records in sports, vaulting past that aforementioned Bulls team and winning a borderline unfathomable 73 out of 82 regular season NBA games. Leading up to, and following, the Warriors’ historical accomplishment, former Bulls greats Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen offered their congratulations to their former teammate Steve Kerr, Curry, and their team:

As much as I’m sure they would’ve liked their record to stand, these all-time great players acknowledge the greatness they’ve seen from this Warriors team. And particularly if you’re a Bulls fan that grew up with those ’90s teams, I would hope that you also recognize the Warriors great accomplishment and also take pride in how outstanding that ’95/’96 Bulls team was to have set the bar so incredibly high.

I’m sure some people probably think I’m not being a true Bulls fan, as I’m not sticking by the 72-win Bulls and trying to invalidate what the Warriors did this year in winning 73 games. I certainly see a lot of people taking that stance in last night’s aftermath. Basketball was more stacked when the Bulls played, making their win total more difficult and therefore more special. Today’s game is too soft; with ’90s defense, the Warriors couldn’t do what they did. The Warriors don’t have six championships to their name yet. The list goes on.

In the end, so what if any of those things are true? The Warriors still won 73 games in a grueling 82 game season, and no quibbling about today’s rules or today’s talent can change that. If the game is so much easier now than it was twenty years ago when the Bulls first broke the 70-win margin, why has only one team—the Warriors—managed to do it since?

The Spurs were close this year (67-15) but faded down the stretch. LeBron’s 2008-09 Cavs got to 66 wins. Going back further, the 1996-97 Bulls actually almost repeated as 70-game winners but fell one game short (69-13). No matter what the era or who’s playing, getting to 70 wins, let alone exceeding the mark set by the ’95/’96 Bulls, is something to be applauded in and of itself. End of discussion.

Also, the 1995-96 Bulls didn’t win six championships; as great as they were, you only get to win one every year. This isn’t about which franchise is better; that’s when you start lining up championships and comparing overall legacies.

Also, don’t forget that, aside from Jordan, Pippen, and Phil Jackson, the two three-peats in the ’90s featured two entirely different teams, so comparing the ’90s Bulls as a whole to the 2015-2016 Warriors is not accurate. Over an 82-game regular season, the this year’s Warriors now have the highest win total ever, and that’s all this record means.

Their longevity or even what they do in the playoffs this year and in subsequent years cannot alter this fact in any way, though it would certainly affect how people remember this season if they did not win the title this year as the ’96 Bulls managed to do. No one wants to be the 2007 New England Patriots…

With all that in mind, there’s no need as a Bulls fan to feel threatened or bitter about what the Warriors accomplished this year.

Maybe it bothers some that one day, young generations will see the Warriors’ (or perhaps another team) name in the history books and not think of the teams that came before. Knowing the nature of sports history discussions, though, I’m confident that the ’96 Bulls will never be forgotten by the pundits, and for myself, I know I’ll never forget them. Watching the ’90s Bulls gave me my first memories as a sports fan, and I’ll remember staying up late and watching the whole second three-peat forever.

I still watch classic Bulls games (thanks YouTube!) in my spare time and remember where I was and who I was with when I watched those plays on live TV. No one is taking away our memories of that Bulls team and how awesome it was to be a fan of Chicago basketball in the ’90s, and nothing about this Warriors season changes anything about the dominance of those Bulls.

Similarly though, nothing the Bulls did twenty years ago can take away from what the Warriors did last night. Instead of continuing to embrace the schadenfreude, maybe we should just take pride in what Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, and that group did and tip our collective caps to the team good enough and lucky enough to reach their standard.

Watching that Bulls core and the one before it (the Jordan/Pippen/Grant/Cartwright era), we were repeatedly treated to greatness over and over again. One might even say us Bulls fans were quite spoiled: after all, we got to witness two of the greatest players of all time on one team destroying everything in their path during the prime of their careers. It was epic, and it was unforgettable.

And if you’re a fan of the sport itself, like I am, you should want the players of this generation to aspire to be like the greats that came before them and to aim to surpass their feats. To briefly go back to Kobe, look at who he patterned his game after and sought mentorship from…do you think it’s coincidence that Jordan has discussed at times how much he relates to Bryant and has even said he was never offended by Kobe’s close imitations of his game? What about the tributes levied to Bryant last night and the adulation from players like Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitski, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James that said he paved the way for them in return?

That’s how greatness is maintained through the ages, and that’s why there’s not a single thing for Bulls fans to be upset about despite the ‘95/’96 Bulls’ wins record being eclipsed. We have already witnessed greatness that can’t be taken away, and the accomplishments of the ’96 Bulls helped inspire this Warriors team—guided by Kerr, one of the very players that helped them attain their record—to push themselves to their limit and captivate basketball the way that they once did. Even twenty years later, the 1995-96 Bulls are still impacting the game of basketball, and that’s the kind of praise that can’t be counted in wins alone.

Khari Thompson

I'm currently a graduate student studying biology at the University of Notre Dame that follows sports (especially the Bears and Bulls) less like a hobby and more like a second job. Also a fan of all things dinosaurs. And Tolkien. Twitter: @kdthompson5

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