The NBA has seen the rise of great teams in its rich and colorful history, but none can compare with Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
Considered by many as the greatest team in league history, there are still those who cast doubts as to why they are aren’t.
Rather than diminish its prestige, the 24 years since the Bulls achieved a then-NBA record 72 wins has only solidified their status at the top of the totem pole.
With ESPN set to premiere the “The Last Dance,” a documentary that will take fans through the Bulls’ dynasty with a focus on their sixth and last championship of the 90s, talk of the greatest teams ever have resurfaced.
The 10-part series that will debut on Sunday, April 19 is expected to show ample footage of the 1995-96 season. But that will only fuel the debate even more.
These five reasons as to why the 1995-96 Bulls are the greatest team ever should end the arguments before then.
5. Best Combined Regular Season And Playoffs Record In History
In the Bulls’ epic run to the 1996 title, they clinched the best combined regular season and playoffs record in league history with an 87-13 (.870) record. No other team comes close.
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, whose 73 wins broke the Bulls’ record, had an opportunity but they squandered it with their monumental failure in the postseason.
They went 15-9 in the playoffs, giving them a combined 88-18 (.831) for the entire season.
The Bulls swept the just-happy-to-be-in-the-playoffs Miami Heat 4–0 in the first round of the postseason. Despite a tough series in the semifinals, Jordan and the company ultimately put away the New York Knicks 4–1.
Then, in one of the most-awaited series of the season, they swept the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway Orlando Magic (60-22 record) 4-0 in the Conference Finals.
And finally, Chicago emerged victorious over the Seattle SuperSonics (64-18) 4–2 in the 1996 NBA Finals.
The Magic and Sonics could have easily won the title were it not for the Bulls. Consequently, the Magic lost O’Neal to the Los Angeles Lakers that summer. Had it not been for the Bulls’ dominance, the Magic would most likely have had a better chance to keep O’Neal from leaving.
Not only did the Bulls dismantle teams on the court, but they also did so off the court.
4. Historic Home/Road Records, Winning Streaks
The Bulls may have won “only” 72 games compared to the Warriors’ 73, but there are nuances to Chicago’s record that give them the edge in terms of regular-season dominance.
They started the season with the best 3-loss start in NBA history with a 41–3 (.932) record.
The Bulls also won the second-most home games to start a season with 37. From Nov. 3, 1995, to April 4, 1996, they protected their home court until a one-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets ended the streak.
Their 39-2 home record for the season is second only to the 40-1 record held by the Boston Celtics (1985-86), San Antonio Spurs (2015-16) and tied with the 2015-16 Warriors.
Had Bulls head coach Phil Jackson not decide to rest Jordan in the final quarter of their game against the Indiana Pacers in the last home game of the season, they would have tied the record.
Note: Jordan returned briefly in the fourth quarter when it appeared as though they had a chance to win the game, one that they were casually giving away prior to a late Bulls run.
On the road, the Bulls were devouring opponents as well, running roughshod over the rest of the league in spectacular fashion. They won 33 games on the road that season, the most in NBA history until the 2015–16 Warriors won 34.
Chicago also set a new NBA record when they reached 50 wins with the fewest losses (50-6), which has since been eclipsed narrowly by those same Warriors (50-5).
In terms of win streaks, the Bulls won 18 in a row. Though the record is only tied for 10th best in history, the Bulls accomplished this without losing more than two consecutive games the entire season.
One little known fact, however, is that prior to the Bulls’ 18-game win streak, they had won 13 straight before a 103-97 loss to the Pacers ended it. Without that loss, the NBA would have been looking at a 32-game win streak, one less than the NBA-record 33 straight set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
3. Led The League In Major Offensive And Defensive Categories
The Bulls’ dominance is a result of an elite offense and superior defense. With the triangle offense in place, they led the NBA with 105.2 points per game while their defense limited teams to only 92.9 points a night which was third in the league at the time.
Also, their offensive (115.2) and defensive (101.8) ratings were no. 1 overall. They also hold the highest net rating in NBA history with 13.4 points per 100 possessions.
It’s no wonder that the Bulls could afford to rest their superstar trio of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in the fourth quarter of most games. The three players were often seen unashamedly with their warmups on, and ice on their knees and feet with the final 12 minutes of the game still being played.
How many teams in history could afford to do that during the course of an entire season?
Additionally, their winning margin of +12.24 is third all-time, just a few percentage points behind the 1971-72 Lakers (+12.28) and 1970-71 Bucks (+12.26). Now, imagine if the Bulls didn’t rest their trio of stars as much in the fourth.
2. Team Accomplishments
No team in the league’s storied history arguably had as much of the spotlight throughout the season as the 1995-96 Bulls did. Not surprisingly, their dominance shined a spotlight on them when the awards and accolades were handed out by the league office.
The Bulls superstar duo of Jordan and Pippen were selected to play in the All-Star Game in 1996. To show that he was still a man amongst boys, His Airness won the All-Star Game MVP, less than a year after he returned from playing baseball in the minor leagues.
Jordan also won his eighth scoring title (30.4 points per game), the MVP award and the Finals MVP award.
Unsurprisingly, he made First Team All-NBA and First Team All-Defensive. As the best player in the game, Jordan solidified his status by earning the game’s most prestigious awards in 1996.
Pippen was a First Team All-NBA selection as well as a First Team All-Defensive Team member.
Rodman won his fifth rebounding title (14.9 per game) and was also First Team All-Defensive. He led the league in hair colors, too, but I digress.
Toni Kukoc, the team’s super-sub that season, won Sixth Man of the Year.
With three of the Bulls’ starting unit among the league’s best in defense, and the first player off the bench playing like a star, it’s no wonder that they annihilated virtually every team in their path that season.
When you add Jackson, who won Coach of the Year honors and earned the right to coach the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game, there’s very little reason to doubt why the Bulls are the greatest team ever.
But there’s one more evidence that cements their lofty status in NBA history.
1. Won 70+ Games And The NBA Championship
The Bulls are the first and only team in league annals to win 70 or more games and win a title at the end of the season.
The 73-win Warriors never put the finishing touches on their remarkable season when they surrendered a 3-1 lead in the Finals and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That monumental collapse makes the 1996 Bulls team unique and special.
Their rallying cry after a historic season summed up their resolve in the playoffs:
“72-10 don’t mean a thing without the ring.”
That statement was emblazoned on their practice shirts to remind them that they accomplished nothing if they didn’t win the championship.
“That team refused to lose,” assistant coach Jim Cleamons said. “It was like, ‘Hey, we’re not supposed to lose.’ It hurt them every time they lost a game. That 72-10 record was their stamp on their quality of work and what they thought of each other.”
During an interview with ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike after Cleveland defeated Golden State for the title in 2016, Pippen explained why his Bulls team was superior to the Warriors
"We had done so well and now we're faced with the same thing that the Warriors were faced with,” Pippen explained. “Can this team be considered one of the greatest teams? Well, you can't be considered a great team until you win a championship.
"No matter how well you do in the regular season, it has to be capped off with a championship, to really mark your legacy in the game. That's where we see Golden State had some failure there. They lost their dominance throughout the playoffs."
The Bulls, meanwhile, only seemed to look vulnerable in Games 4 and 5 of the Finals when they gave up a 3-0 lead in the series and allowed the Sonics to make it 3-2. Seattle was a tough-as-nails defensive team and they finally showed up when their backs were against the wall.
Perhaps it was jitters on the part of the bench that led to the uninspiring effort in those games, but they nonetheless didn’t let the series go to a seventh and deciding game. Steve Kerr’s game- and series-clinching shot on a pass from Jordan in Game 6 showed that the Bulls, as a team, trusted one another completely no matter who received the glory.
In a promotion for the NBA 2K14 video game, Jordan playfully challenged gamers to present to him a better team than the 1996 Bulls.
“People always debated: who’s the greatest player of all time?” Jordan asked. “Dumb question! It should be: Whose the greatest team of all time? You know there’s so many teams to choose from:
“‘91 Chicago Bulls. Sorry showtime.
“The ‘92 Bulls. Back-to-back.
“The ‘93 Bulls. First 3-Peat
“The ‘97 Bulls. Even with the flu.
“‘98 Bulls. No push off.
“And my favorite, the ‘96 Chicago Bulls. 72 wins. Tough to beat that. What? You think there’s someone else?
That is definitely a tough challenge from the greatest to ever play the game, and the fact is, it’s difficult to prove him wrong.
The Bulls are, without a doubt, the greatest team in league history.
Let the debate end here.