The Chicago Bulls have to be recognized as one of the most successful franchises ever, as the Bulls rank 4th all-time in championships won behind the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Golden State Warriors. The Celtics and the Lakers each won 17 NBA titles, and thanks to the 2022 championship, the Warriors are ranked 3rd all-time with 7 NBA titles won. But the Bulls are 4th, and they have had some of the greatest teams of all time. The core of that team was Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, and Scottie Pippen, who is a top-ten defender and a top-50 player of all time. Together, they won 6 NBA titles with Phil Jackson as the head coach.
During the 1990s, being a member of the Chicago Bulls meant the expectations were at an all-time high, thanks to the brilliance of Michael Jordan. Out of all the 6, NBA titles won by the Bulls, the squad in 1996 has to be the most terrifying. Superstar Michael Jordan was the best player on the team, and the rest of the roster was built around two-way role players that brought toughness and elite defense.
Jordan posted 30.4 PPG and 6.6 RPG on 49.5% from the field, while Scottie Pippen was solid at 19.4 PPG and 5.9 APG on 46.3% from the field. Together, the Bulls knew they had a tandem that was beyond anyone else’s. As expected, the Bulls finished with an excellent record as they went 72-10, which was the best record in the NBA until the 2016 Warriors shattered the mold at 73-9. In the postseason, the Bulls went 15-3, with their only losses coming in Game 3 of the second round against the New York Knicks and two games during the NBA Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics. Of course, the Bulls ended up winning the NBA championship in 6 games, with Michael Jordan winning the Finals MVP award.
Meanwhile, the franchise with one more championship than the Chicago Bulls, the Golden State Warriors, has to be honored for their success. Arguably the best team in Golden State Warriors history has to be the 2017 squad that featured the Big Four of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green. Not to mention, former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala played a significant role coming off the bench as a 6th Man. Former MVP and 4-time scoring champion Kevin Durant made the choice to join a team that finished with a 73-9 record a year before, and the Warriors went on to finish with a 67-15 record, which was good for the best record in the NBA. Of course, the Warriors went an incredible 15-1 in the playoffs, with their only loss coming in Game 4 of the NBA Finals when the Warriors were already up 3-0.
It is easy to compare the two all-time great franchises by imagining a Finals series between them. What if we were to picture an all-time great showdown between a legendary Bulls team and a legendary Warriors team? Specifically, who would win between the 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2017 Golden State Warriors, arguably the two best teams in NBA history? After all, these two teams rank 2nd and 1st in terms of regular-season win-loss records, respectively.
A fan voting bracket held by Yahoo Sports gave an indication of what the majority of fans believe when it comes to the two best teams of all time:
“The 2017 Warriors received 53 percent of the vote in a narrow win over the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers. Recent bias could have sent the Warriors breezing into the finals, but a likely combination of the vast L.A. faithful and a healthy respect for Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain kept it close. On the other side of the bracket, the 1996 Bulls trounced a loaded 1986 Boston Celtics squad, receiving three quarters of the vote. The Jordan mystique is a powerful thing.”
Of course, NBA fans have been debating this topic for years, ever since the Golden State Warriors dynasty won their second title in 2018. Unsurprisingly, the debate is widespread and the single most debated team matchup of all time. According to legendary Warriors coach Steve Kerr who was actually part of the 1996 Chicago Bulls as a player, the debate will seemingly never end:
"It's really a hard question to answer -- not just because you're comparing eras, but also because it's literally tough for me to answer grammatically. I don't know who 'we' is and who 'they' are. I'll just say: if the two teams played each other, there's no question that we could beat us."
Stephen Curry, the franchise cornerstone of the Golden State Warriors, admitted that he likes his chances against the 72-10 Chicago Bulls:
"Obviously, we will never know, but you put us on paper with them, I like our chances. I'd say Dubs in six, too."
Obviously, the 1996 Bulls and 2017 Warriors have to be arguably regarded as the two best teams ever. But which all-time great team would come out on top in a 7-game series? It is time to pit the Bulls’ incredible team against the Warriors’ side that won the 2017 title in a matchup for the ages, where only one team can come out on top. In a hotly contested series, here is how the series is broken down and who eventually edges the other.
Chicago Bulls: Ron Harper, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia
The Bulls starting lineup has three names that stick out: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. Michael Jordan will be the single most dominant force in the series, and he will have a monster series on both ends of the floor in terms of points, steals, and assists. The shooting guard is simply the most talented player in the series because nobody else can average 30 PPG and dominate the perimeter on defense as well as MJ. Jordan will average 30.1 PPG in the series to go along with 7 APG and 2.3 SPG.
The next big name is Scottie Pippen, the fourth-most talented perimeter player in the series behind Jordan, Curry, and Durant. Sure, he gives up 2 or 3 inches to KD and also can’t shoot the three like Curry or Thompson, but his two-way play is simply elite. Pippen’s ability to guard Curry and Durant the length of the floor and also act as Jordan’s sidekick on offense will put the Warriors under pressure at moments throughout the game. The chemistry between Jordan and Pippen was all-time great, and their ability on defense can be suffocating.
The third big name is Dennis Rodman, who brings what Draymond brings as an irritant but does it at a higher level. Dennis could defend multiple positions and is also the best rebounder of all time, so he is certainly a star player on the defensive side of the floor. No doubt, “The Worm” will be critical when defending Kevin Durant and countering Draymond Green.
The rest of the Bulls roster is built with two-way players who are extremely tough and willing to do the dirty work. Ron Harper is an elite defensive guard who will get up in Curry’s personal space and force him into uncomfortable positions. Luc Longley is a massive player at 7’2”, and his raw size will make it difficult for any of the Warriors players when they attack the rack.
The Warriors' starters are stacked with big names and some superstar offensive ability, even more than what the Bulls have in terms of the number of players. Curry is the best offensive point guard in the series, Durant is the best offensive small forward in the series, and Klay Thompson might be the purest shooter from beyond, even more so than Michael Jordan. Their sharpshooting is impressive and also intimidating because they can cut leads in a matter of minutes and also kill a game off with just a few made jumpers. They have that ability, and the offensive star power is truly off the charts.
The Warriors also have two players who can create any looks they want on most possessions in Curry and Durant. Durant will average 26.5 PPG in the series while shooting 45% from the floor, and Curry will create his offense from three and will average 26 PPG in the series to go along with an average of 4 3PM per game.
Draymond Green often flies under the radar, but he will be critical of what the Warriors do. His ability to scramble for loose balls, poke balls away, and be an irritant will come in handy against the Bulls, who have their own irritant in Dennis Rodman. Golden State’s starting lineup fits wonderfully together and will be difficult to handle because of their elite scoring ability, even for a dominant Bulls squad.
Both sides have complete starting lineups, and the series will come down to the finest of details. With both starters confirmed, it is time to look at the benches.
Chicago Bulls: Randy Brown, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Jud Buechler, John Salley, Bill Wennington
Golden State Warriors: Shaun Livingston, Ian Clark, Patrick McCaw, Andre Iguodala, Matt Barnes, James Michael McAdoo, David West, JaVale McGee
The Chicago Bulls bench revolves entirely around Toni Kukoc, one of the best offensive backups in modern history. Kukoc was an extremely talented player because he could score inside and nail perimeter jumpers, and he did not have a real weakness on offense. His shot-making will be critical for the Bulls, alongside the sharpshooting ability of Steve Kerr. Before Kerr became a legendary coach for the Warriors, he was the greatest shooter of all time in terms of 3-point percentage (45.1% career 3-PT FG).
Finally, the Bulls have some guys that can contribute 5-15 minutes per game as required, including John Salley and Bill Wennington. Neither guy will be required to play big minutes or even play roles on offense, but they can step in to give Rodman and Longley a breather here and there.
The Warriors bench is certainly talented because Andre Iguodala is good enough to be a starter. The best player off Golden State’s bench is Andre Iguodala, an elite defensive player who has the talent to make big shots, so he will be the key contributor in the series as a backup. The swingman was a Finals MVP winner for a reason because he always elevated his play in the biggest games.
Talented point guard Shaun Livingston will also be a vital contributor off the bench because he has an elite mid-range game and can be given the free roam to make shots from the perimeter and also lead the offense. Veterans such as Matt Barnes, David West, and JaVale McGee also bring defense and toughness. Barnes, West, and McGee bring size and defense at solid levels. Barnes competes mainly as a wing, while West and McGee will patrol the paint.
Overall, the Chicago Bulls will rely mainly on Kukoc and Kerr, while the Warriors will have Iguodala and Livingston playing important roles as well.
Phil Jackson vs. Steve Kerr
Phil Jackson knows where his team’s bread is buttered, and he knows that the impact will need to come from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The two stars will clearly be focused in this all-time great series, and Phil will set them up to be in a position to succeed. Phil is a mastermind at pushing his players’ buttons, and he will help Jordan and Pippen motivate the rest of the team.
Jackson will make adjustments throughout the series whenever the Warriors go on their mini-runs. Most times that will come in the form of Michael Jordan isolations and spot-up plays for Toni Kukoc. Phil is lucky because he has the luxury of having Michael Jordan on his side because the shooting guard will be relied upon to get the troops ready. But Phil gets the credit he deserves for understanding how to tackle Durant and Curry on defense.
Steve Kerr is an excellent coach and one of the best to ever do it, make no mistake about it. Kerr has managed to create a deadly “Death Lineup” that features Andre Iguodala at the power forward spot when necessary. The former Chicago Bulls guard is also an excellent tactician because he manages to bring the very best out of Curry, Thompson, and Green while also incorporating Durant seamlessly.
Throughout the series, Kerr will focus on employing a perimeter-based approach to give KD, Steph, and Klay open looks as much as possible. Steve Kerr realizes the potent defense he is coming up against and will do his best to encourage constant movement to free up the stars. Again, Kerr will need to be at his coaching best to get his team going, and he will certainly achieve that.
Chicago Bulls Advantages
The Chicago Bulls have plenty of defense and clutch ability, something that normally results in wins. Michael Jordan is one the greatest winner in NBA history and is also a terrific defensive player, giving him the ability to shoot over Steph and Klay while also playing his part on defense and preventing his opponents from going off. Not to mention, MJ is the greatest clutch player in NBA history and will be the man to deliver in the biggest moments.
The Bulls also have other elite defensive players in Ron Harper, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. These three guys are devastating on defense because of their incredible length, athleticism, and toughness. Harper can pick up Steph the full length of the court, and so can Scottie. Pippen’s length was iconic, and he has to be regarded as a top-10 defensive player of all time. Finally, Dennis Rodman is an irritant and also one of the greatest all-around defenders we have ever seen. Rodman could defend any big man, guard perimeter players, and force misses while grabbing the rebounds. This trio of defenders helps MJ form a devastating defensive lineup.
Overall, the Bulls have a major size advantage and, in the half-court, can be suffocating at times against a Golden State Warriors side that is far more finesse than physical. Chicago will try to slow the pace down as much as possible, and taking good shots will be key in that regard which will be feasible considering they have Michael Jordan.
Golden State Warriors Advantages
The Warriors will rely on their shooting, unsurprisingly. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt ever, and joining them is Kevin Durant, who is the best all-around scorer in the series behind Michael Jordan. That trio proved that they are nearly impossible to beat when they are all on the floor, and the presence of unselfish players, including Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, will make them even better.
Golden State will struggle to deal with the Bulls’ physicality at times, so they will need to focus on their shooting and floor-spacing to make up the difference. The Bulls’losses will come down to their inability to handle the Warriors’ shooting throughout the series because the Warriors will live and die by the three. Of course, Golden State has historically lived by the three more than die by it. No other team could space the floor as well as the Warriors that had Kevin Durant, and this will create a fantastic series to follow.
As great as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are on the fast break, they do not have the luxury of having two or three elite shooters beside them. Golden State will be a major force on the fast break because of their ability to come up with misses and create three-point shooting opportunities for guys like Curry, Thompson, and Durant. Durant is also a major advantage because, at nearly 7 feet tall, he can shoot over any defender and can create his own offense as well. Overall, Golden State’s ability on the fast break will be their best advantage, and they will need to use their terrific off-ball movement to create space against the suffocating Chicago Bulls defense.
Which Team Wins A Best-Of-7 Series?
Game 1 goes to the Chicago Bulls in a difficult 99-97 victory. In the most competitive game of the series, there are 10 lead changes throughout the game, with both sets of stars going off against each other. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson combined for 11 threes made and 73 points, a big factor in the game. But the Bulls sneak by a victory thanks to an incredible Michael Jordan game-winner over Andre Iguodala with less than 5 seconds to spare. Jordan’s shot gives the Bulls a 99-97lead, but the Warriors try to answer through Kevin Durant. Dennis Rodman does a tremendous job denying him the ball before the forward is forced to pass to Draymond Green in the corner. The forward tries to find Steph Curry coming off a screen, but Pippen and Harper scramble to deny him the ball. That forces Draymond to force up a three, which just rims out.
The Warriors exact revenge in Game 2, as Klay and Curry, combine for 61 points, and Draymond Green has his best game with 14 assists. The Warriors get Scottie Pippen in early foul trouble, thanks to their devastating clever ball movement and ability to take charges. Michael tries to answer the bell, but he has a difficult shooting night, going 11-23 from the floor and also coming up with turnovers. In fact, the Bulls as a team have 15 turnovers, and that lends itself to a constant barrage of three-pointers by Golden State. In an incredible team effort, the Warriors take Game 2 rather convincingly.
The Bulls win Game 3 on the back of a fantastic performance from a focused and rampant Chicago Bulls team. In somewhat of a blowout, the Bulls end the game 111-99. Jordan plays a solid all-around game, contributing 27 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds to go along with 2 blocks and 2 steals. Pippen is quiet with 15 points, but he does his job on Curry by picking him up the entire length of the floor. Other than Durant, who has 33 points, no Warriors player gets hot because Curry and Thompson cannot find the rhythm as they combine for 3-17 from deep. Steve Kerr realizes this game is finished with 3 minutes left and pulls his starters.
The Warriors bounce back in Game 4 as the shooters find their range again, and the Death Lineup comes into play in spurts. Steph is the player of the game, dropping 31 points on 8 threes made. Kevin Durant starts the first quarter with 14 points, and the Bulls go all out to stop him, which they do as the forward only scores 8 points through the second and third quarters. But Curry and Klay go off, as Klay Thompson also contributes 25 points. Jordan has 28 points and 10 rebounds but is fouled constantly and goes 12-13 from the free-throw line. The Warriors make it tough on MJ and force him to pass or get to the line rather than beat them to control the momentum. Scottie struggles again, and the Bulls get outscored by the Warriors bench thanks to a combined 24 points from Iguodala and Livingston.
The Bulls feel embarrassed by their putrid showing in Game 4, especially since Pippen failed to show up. But Scottie finds the hot hands early, scoring 20 points in the first half and giving Michael some help with the shooting guard going 5-12 from the floor after two quarters. Once again, the Warriors get a massive boost from their bench as Andre Iguodala chips in 15 points, and Shaun Livingston has 13 of his own, which essentially helps close the gap from the Bulls' superstars. But this time, Kukoc wakes up and has 11 points by the half as well. In a high-scoring game, the first half ends 65-65. The third quarter slows down, but both sides find themselves even 86-86.
The fourth quarter will be critical, as neither team wants to go down 3-2 before Game 6. The difference comes in the hands of role players. With the Bulls down 3 points with less than a minute to go, Phil Jackson draws up a genius play for Steve Kerr from a Michael Jordan assist. The shooting guard drives and kicks to an open Kerr who nails a three-pointer in the corner with 23 seconds remaining. The Warriors try to answer, and they do with Kevin Durant who nails a tough contested jumper with 4 seconds remaining. The Bulls have a chance to finish the game, but they fail to get a good shot off at the buzzer. In OT, a Kevin Durant jumper goes but no other Warrior scores a point. Instead, the Bulls score thanks to Jordan, Kukoc, and a Luc Longley offensive rebound. That lends itself to a 4-point victory, and the Bulls go up 3-2.
Game 6 is a must-win for Golden State, but they can’t quite respond. Durant is a monster again with 27 points and 11 rebounds, but Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are the two best players in the game. The Warriors find little hope besides Durant and Curry’s 24 points, as they give up 37 to Jordan and 22-10-8 to Scottie Pippen. The game ultimately ends in a 112-106 victory for the Bulls. But it takes 3 straight clutch possessions by Chicago to finish off the series. A steal by MJ leads to a Scottie Pippen fast-break dunk, and Pippen then forces a miss from KD. Jordan gets the switch on Steph before nailing a fadeaway and comes up with the rebound on the next possession off a Klay Thompson miss. Once again, Jordan takes control to nail a stepback jumper and end the game with a 6-point margin. The shooting guard takes Finals MVP honors, and the Bulls win the series, 4-2.
Final Result: 1996 Chicago Bulls vs. 2017 Golden State Warriors 4-2
Finals MVP: Michael Jordan