The 1990s was a good time to live in Chicago, particularly if you were a Chicago Bulls fan.
His Airness, Michael Jordan, was in the prime of his basketball career and helped lead the Bulls to six championships in a span of eight years. And, some may argue, that if Jordan had never retired for two seasons, the Bulls would have won eight titles in a row.
But for as magical as the two separate three-peats were, one shining moment stuck out more than any other in the course of those six seasons. And that was their 1995-96 championship season when they set the NBA record for most wins in a regular season with 72.
I remember that season very well, and I knew the team was in for a special year in the summer prelude. The Bulls front office boldly pulled off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs for the enigmatic troublemaker, Dennis Rodman. The hair-dyed, multi-tattooed former Detroit Piston “bad boy” was just the missing piece the Bulls needed to fill their power forward position — a guy who would play defense and grab rebounds.
As a brash teenager, I confidently predicted the Bulls would win the championship on the very day they acquired Rodman. That seemed all but inevitable given that the team already had the greatest player of all time in Jordan, and one of the best No. 2 players ever in Scottie Pippen.
No, the question wasn’t whether the Bulls would win their fourth title of the 90’s … it was how quickly and by how much.
Little did I or anyone else expect at the time that the Bulls were destined for the record books. The Bulls destroyed their competition and went on to win 72 regular season games, with just 10 losses.
That was a record I didn’t think would ever be touched. To only lose 10 games in a season seemed impossible, as if you were playing a video game on “rookie mode” — the easiest competition level, for those of you unfamiliar with the video game lingo.
Several teams since that year had tried, but just couldn’t come close. The Los Angeles Lakers teams of the early 2000’s with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton couldn’t do it. The Miami Heat “super team” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh flirted with the notion but didn’t have the prowess. And none of the great San Antonio Spurs teams of the entire millennium up to this point could manage to top 70 victories.
Then something strange happened. A team from Oakland, California, which played an up-tempo West Coast style of play, started shocking the NBA landscape with ridiculously high shooting percentages and better-than-expected defense. The team was led by little 6-foot-3, 190-pound (soaking wet) Stephen Curry, a player who could go down as the greatest shooter of all time.
To think that a player of Curry’s stature could win the Most Valuable Player award and destroy opposing players who are bigger and stronger than him just seemed outlandish.
But alas, the Warriors have done it. They have won 73 regular season games and not only beat the greatest-team-of-all-time’s record, but they now hold the distinction of being the only NBA team in history to lose single-digit games in the regular season.
And that … is … amazing.
Even though I said it before for the Bulls, I now say it again for the Warriors: I don’t see any other team coming close to touching that record for a long time — if ever.
Part of me is bothered that the Bulls’ record is broken. As a fan of the team, of course I wanted them to live in immortality. There’s a banner that hangs in the United Center, where the Bulls play, proudly displaying “72” in honor of that record-breaking season in ‘95-96. I’d hate to see that banner come down, or worse — think of how that number is only second-best every time I look at it.
But then there’s another part of me that realizes change is inevitable in this world, and sports are no exception. Records — not rules — are made to be broken, and what the Warriors did this season was remarkable. But the Warriors winning 73 games does not take anything away from the greatness of the Bulls in the 90s.
Sure, there will forever be comparisons between the two teams and the question of “which team is better?” will be asked for a long time. My belief, of course, is that the greatest player of all time gets the benefit of the doubt. And there’s also some part of me that believes if the Bulls had it all to do over again, knowing that they would need 74 wins to hold the record — they would do just that.
So, why does it bother me that the Bulls’ record no longer stands?
I think part of the reason is the pride factor. Every sports fan wants to support a winner. A champion. A team team that defines greatness.
But in my moments of clarity — usually late at night, such as the time of this writing — I realize that sports pride is just foolish.
For starters, I had absolutely nothing to do with the Bulls’ success in the 90’s. Fans want to feel like they’re part of something special, which is why they use first-person possessive pronouns when referring to their favorite teams. But I didn’t step onto the court that season. I didn’t help them win 72 games. I had nothing to do with it.
Secondly, pride is a sin. To look so fondly upon a sports team for some kind of ego boost or self-satisfaction is just plain wrong.
With a level head, I’ve come to the realization that I’m more stunned by the manner in which the Warriors have won games this season than I am saddened or angered by the Bulls’ fallen record. I’m also relieved by the notion that this Warriors team is mostly — if not completely — comprised of good men with normal egos.
Could you imagine the feeling if the arrogant LeBron James held that record? I’d be devastated.
Instead, the Warriors are a team of talented, hard-working players who win as a team. They focus more on the names on the front of their jerseys than the ones on the back.
Kudos to them. They broke the “unbreakable” record and they deserve the recognition.
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