The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls: Greatest Team Ever
Labeling something “the best ever” in sports is usually a meaningless gesture. Trying to decide which team was “the greatest” is usually subjective — statistics can be molded to an argument, changes in rules or culture can alter the playing fields, and each generation of fans will inevitably cling to their own teams. This is almost universally true — the exception to the rule being the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls.
In his first full season since returning from his first retirement, Michael Jordan reasserted his dominance over the league. In one of several instances where the stats back up the hyperbole when it comes to this team, allow me to quantify Jordan’s “dominance”:
- He was named first-team All-NBA and first team All-NBA Defensive Team.
- He was voted to the All-Star Game, where he was named the game’s MVP.
- Jordan was also the League MVP and the Finals MVP.
- He lead the league in field goals, field goal attempts, points and scoring average.
While many teams throughout NBA history have had remarkable individual members, the Bulls were armed with an entire team of exceptional basketball players, star and role-player alike. All-Star Scottie Pippen was also named first team All-NBA, and he, along with teammates Jordan and Dennis Rodman, became the first to be named to the Defensive Team. The volatile Rodman led the league in rebounds for the fifth consecutive year. Forward and fan-favorite Toni Kukoc was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year for his impressive work off the bench.
As key to the team’s success as any player or statistic was its coach, Phil Jackson. The “Zen Master” was the perfect man to manage the teams larger-than-life personalities and egos. Not only did he keep his stars motivated through the regular season, when a playoff appearance felt like a lock after the first game, he made sure each member of his bench understood his role. Not surprisingly, he was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year.
Running assistant coach Tex Winter’s now-famous “triangle offense,” the Bulls stormed through the league, winning ten of their first eleven games. After reaching 23-2 an eighteen-game winning streak followed, leaving the team at 41-3. Chicago would finish the season with a mark of 72-10, the best in NBA history. The Bulls had 33 wins on the road (the most ever) and won their games by an average of fifteen points.
Possibly even more remarkable was their combined regular and post-season record of 87-13, also an NBA record. Ever consistent, Chicago held the same margin of victory throughout the playoffs, ending, of course, with an NBA Championship series victory over the Seattle SuperSonics.
When discussing the 1995-96 Bulls, sharpshooting guard Steve Kerr, who was second in the league that season in three-point field goal percentage, is cautious in piling on superlatives: “I think comparing eras is really difficult to do just because of the league changes, expansion, player turnover, but certainly that team is right up there. To me, I don’t go back to the ’60s, but from the ’70s on, you think about the Lakers and the Celtics of the mid-’80s, the Sixers had some great teams, so it’s tough to compare one to another. But the Bulls are right up there.” Maybe I’ll get lucky and Mr. Kerr will stumble upon this article in cyberspace one day. Seeing all of the stats, all of the wins, and all of the magnetic personalities in one place makes it difficult to be so tentative in crowing the Bulls.
Scottie Pippen would seem to agree: “I think the ’96 Bulls are the greatest of all time. I think the 72-10 record speaks for itself and the fact that we were able to cap it off with a championship. What it boils down to is we had a dominant style, a dominant defense and we were a very good offensive team. It was the way we dominated our opponents that separated ourselves.”
Aaaand now, the roster for your ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls:
G Michael Jordan, 23
G Ron Harper, 9
F Scottie Pippen, 33
F Dennis Rodman, 91
C Luc Longley, 13
F Toni Kukoc, 7
G Steve Kerr, 25
C Bill Wennington, 34
G Randy Brown, 0
G Jud Buechler, 30
F Dickey Simpkins, 8
F Jason Caffey, 35
C John Salley, 22
C James Edwards, 53
F Jack Haley, 54
Thanks to NBA.com for great statistical resources and tons of excellent quotes, though I wish they would’ve had a few more Dennis Rodman hairdo shots.