1991 Chicago Bulls vs 1965 Boston Celtics
So far in the NBA Greatest Teams feature, we have been given some dream match-ups (Shaq vs Hakeem, Kobe vs Magic Johnson, Wilt vs Hakeem, Jordan vs Dr need help write my essay. J), but those all pale in comparison to Bill Russell vs Michael Jordan . Forget basketball for a second; these two are the standard for winning in team sportsJordan’s 6 titles in 6 finals record completely blows any challenger out of the waterWell, nearly anybody.
“You know who Bill Russell is?”
6 from 6 is amazingBut 11 from 12 is even better, and that’s Bill Russell’s recordHonestly, it’s the only truly untouchable record in sportsWe have seen players come close to Oscar Robertson’s triple-double average for a season (hell, Russell Westbrook is averaging that right now 25 games into the season)Wilt’s 50 ppg record also seems untouchable, but with the way players flock to the 3 point now, it’s just a matter of time before someone challenges it (Steph Curry had a higher p/36 average scoring prior to the all-star game last season)My point is those records can be at least flirted withThe closest to Russell is Jordan, and he’s 5 rings behind5 rings!! He barely got half way there, and we’re talking about the epitome of success in JordanIf you combine Jordan and Magic, you only tie RussellI’m shaking my head as I type this.
“But wasn’t that in an era where the league had 6’3 white guys playing centre?”
I don’t know about any 6 foot 3 inch guys playing centre, but yes, the athleticism of players back then wasn’t really a high standardThe reality of it is you can only beat who is in front of you, and yes, sports science wasn’t really a factor back thenBut the argument goes both ways; what if the Celtics of the 60s had the same benefits that the 90s Bulls had? Or, what if the Bulls of the 90s had to use what was available to the teams of the 60s? These are impossible questions to answer, and at some point will we be asking the same questions about the teams from the 80s and 90s? I hope notAt the end of the day, 11 titles in 13 years (and 11 titles in 12 finals appearances) is damn impressive on any level.
Enough of the context; let’s roll the balls out.
Let’s get right to itJordan, in my opinion, was at his peak during the first 3-peatHe posted borderline Godly numbers whilst incorporating his teammates to produce a level of brilliance we hadn’t seen before or since.
31.1 PPG (52% FG, 39% 3PT), 8.4 APG, 6.4 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG.
34.5 PPG (50% FG, 39% 3PT), 6.2 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
35.1 PPG (48% FG, 39% 3PT), 6.7 RPG, 6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Let’s just drop the “borderline” from the previous sentenceIsn’t it funny how people say that 3 point shooting was Jordan’s “weakness”? The guy shot 39% in all 3 title runs during 91-93, and that included the shrug gameFor purely comparison’s sake, Steph Curry is considered by many to be the greatest 3 point shooter of all time and during the past 2 Finals series, he has shot 40% and 39%.
The question that presents itself is how can anybody possibly slow down Jordan during his prime? And perhaps a better question is how can anyone from the often-disrespected 60s contain an irresistible force on the basketball court? Oh, wait…
Russell has a proven track record (lowering Wilt’s PPG by over 10 points when they matched up) of taking on a seemingly impossible task in order for his Celtics to remain dominantNow, don’t get me wrong here; I’m not comparing Wilt to Jordan in terms of style or mental toughnessBut what I am pointing out is the dominance, especially from a scoring standpoint from Jordan and Wilt is comparableAnd Russell did enjoy success against WiltIf you could sell me on anyone being able to slow down Jordan during a 7 game series by himself, it’s Bill RussellThe flip side to this argument though is Jordan’s ability to raise his game in pressure situationsI cited his playoff stats for this run earlier, but lets look at what Jordan did in the Finals from 91-93:
31.2 PPG (56% FG, 50% 3PT), 11.4 APG, 6.6 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 1.4 BPG
35.8 PPG (53% FG, 43% 3PT), 6.5 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.7 SPG
41 PPG (51% FG, 40% 3PT), 8.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
His numbers actually jumped as the games meant more, and was going against Magic, Drexler, and BarkleyCan I buy that given the opportunity to go up against the greatest winner in team sports history, Jordan wouldn’t explode again? I have Bill Russell on my MtRushmore of NBA players, but I don’t think that even he could slow down Jordan significantlyIn fact, if these teams met, my money would be on Jordan to exceed his regular (for lack of a better term) productionBut the mere fact that I’m entertaining this as a possibility is perhaps the greatest form of respect one can give to any defender.
So what’s the conclusion?
The Bulls were a stable and hungry for history squadThe scary thing is that it wasn’t a one-man show during this periodScottie Pippen had emerged as a top-5 talentIn Phil Jackson’s latest book, Eleven Rings, he discussed how Jordan himself admitted Pippen’s development over that 3 year period.
“Michael returned from the [92 Olympics] raving about Scottie’s performanceBefore the summer, Michael had regarded Pippen as the most talented member of his supporting castBut after watching him outplay Magic, Bird, Drexler, Stockton, and other future Hall of Famers in Barcelona, Michael realized that Scottie was the best all-round player on what many consider the best basketball team ever assembledScottie, Michael had to admit, had even outshone him in several of the games” – Phil Jackson
You can make the argument that beyond Jordan and Pippen, the Bulls only had pure role playersBut Jordan at his peak, and Pippen ascending to MVP-level play (check out his 94 season, when Jordan was retired) on both sides of the ball, and there is nothing the Celtics can do to slow this team down offensively, and then generate enough offense themselves to take them outBoston was a team full of pride, with the ability to rise in big gamesFor that, I think they make the Bulls work for everything they get, but they simply don’t have enough firepower to win.
Chicago in 6.