Thankfully, with his loss in the 2017 NBA Finals, I should never have to hear anyone attempt to elevate LeBron James above Michael Jordan in the GOAT discussion. Unfortunately, I now have to listen to people claiming that the 2017 Golden State Warriors would beat the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. That claim is more ludicrous than claiming that LeBron is better than Jordan.
Below, I’ve listed three reasons why Michael Jordan’s Bulls would beat the 2017 Golden State Warriors.
1. Defensive Matchups
The 2017 Warriors are an offensive juggernaut, no doubt. However, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and company did not have to face the defensive juggernaut that was the ’90s Chicago Bulls. The Bulls’ defensive matchups would give the Warriors fits. People seem to forget that an argument can be made that Jordan was the greatest defensive player of all time. Add in the defensive prowess of Scottie Pippen (possibly MJ’s biggest rival for best defensive player of all time) and Ron Harper, and the ’90s Bulls’ ability to disrupt passing lanes, fight through screens, and play lockdown defense on shooters made them a scary team to face on the perimeter. Even if the Warriors could manage to penetrate the Bulls’ frontline wall of defense, Curry would find himself face-to-face with “The Worm.” Speaking of Dennis Rodman, the Warriors would lose the battle of the boards.
Think about these matchups: Ron Harper on Klay Thompson. Harper gives up about two inches, but his defensive skills are often overlooked when discussing the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty. Combine Harper’s dogged defensive ability with Thompson’s streaky shooting, and the Splash Brothers are reduced to one. Rodman on Draymond Green. The Worm would get Green to either foul out or be ejected, probably before halftime. Michael Jordan on Steph Curry. At this point, it’s over. The Splash Brother would be rendered non-existent. Scottie Pippen on Kevin Durant would be the most interesting matchup. Durant has a sizable height advantage, but Pippen played much longer than his 6’7″. And don’t forget that an argument can be made that Pippen is the greatest defensive player of all time. Kevin Durant may not be able to be stopped, but Pippen’s defense would definitely eat into his efficiency rating. Luc Longley on ZaZa Pachulia. Ha!
Now flip the matchups, and tell me with a straight face that the 2017 Golden State Warriors could stop the 1990s Chicago Bulls. Not to mention, the evolution of the game benefits the Bulls.
2. The Evolution of the NBA Game
When arguments are made about teams of the past versus teams of the future, one of the first questions is, under which era’s rules would the game be played? For the hypothetical matchup between MJ’s Bulls and the 2017 Warriors, the answer is that it doesn’t matter. Played under the ’90s rules, the 2017 Warriors would spend far more time face down on the floor than they’re used to. No question, the game was much more physical when the Bulls were winning NBA championships. Along the same lines, the hand-checking rules of the ’90s would make it virtually impossible for Steph Curry to find the space necessary to shoot as many 3s as he likes. The Warriors’ offensive schemes would be completely disrupted and they would never find the rhythm that they thrive on.
However, if the game were played under current NBA rules, the Chicago Bulls would just as easily dominate. Imagine how many points Jordan could score without the hand-checking rules. The amount of space that he’d be given on the perimeter would make an already unstoppable force even more unstoppable, if that’s possible. Plus, people forget that the Bulls had great three-point shooters. The difference is that the game was rarely played beyond the arc back then. In today’s game, B.J. Armstrong, Steve Kerr, or John Paxson (pick whichever one you want) would take on a different role. Instead of utilizing their three-point marksmen as spot shooters, the Bulls would evolve and take advantage of the current practice of spacing and ball movement to free them up. If they had played under the current rules and style of play, the Warriors might still be chasing the three-point records Jordan’s Bulls would’ve undoubtedly set. In fact, under today’s rules, Michael Jordan might be the one holding all the three-point records.
3. Michael Jordan
One of my favorite anecdotes about Michael Jordan comes from the 1992 NBA Finals. Heading into the series between the defending champion Bulls and the Portland Trailblazers, debates raged about who was the best two guard in the league. Some said Clyde Drexler. More said Michael Jordan. Shooting from beyond the arc was the one area that most people believed that Drexler bested Jordan. During game one, Jordan hit six three-pointers, which was a record for the NBA Finals at the time. After hitting his sixth, Jordan looked at the press table and shrugged.
For all intents and purposes, Jordan’s greatness on the basketball court was limitless. His maniacal will to win and his freakish physical gifts and basketball skills combined to make Michael Jordan the greatest X-factor in the history of sports. Regardless of everything else, the 2017 Golden State Warriors would not have an answer for Michael Jordan. There’s not a single player on the Warriors who could even slow Jordan, much less stop him. The amount of energy required to defend Jordan would undermine the Warriors’ defensive schemes. His Airness would impose his will on the game with such totality that the Warriors would be forced to play how Jordan wanted them to play.
In a seven game series, I have Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in five games over the 2017 Golden State Warriors.