The impact of Golden State’s quest for 73 wins has nothing to do with the 1996 Bulls
As you know by now, the Golden State Warriors are just one win away from basketball immortality: 73 regular season wins.
Everyone on this planet who consumes sports content has likely held the conversation with another person this year trying to figure out if this current Golden State Warriors team is better than the notorious 72-win 1996 Chicago Bulls. Any and every hot take from "Curry is better than Jordan" to "Draymond Green is a better defender than Scottie Pippen was" to "How would the Bulls defend Warrior small ball attack?" has already been discussed.
I hate to break this to you all, but there is no right answer and there will never be. We could throw every advanced NBA analytic statistic against the wall, load every highlight from all the games during their respective seasons, simulate the two teams playing against each other in NBA2K16 1,000 times, lock the doors and not come out until we have a PhD-worthy thesis supporting an educated hypothesis.
Even then, it still won’t matter – and here’s why: The Bulls and Warriors play two different sports.
Let me explain: Every decade, the NBA game seems to evolve into a new species.
The dominance of Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics claiming nine of the 1960’s 10 titles. The championship parity of the ’70s caused by the ABA siphoning talent from the league. Magic, Bird, the Bad Boy Pistons, and the Jordan era Bulls of the ’80s and ’90s. Kobe & Shaq and the dynastic San Antonio Spurs of the 2000s. The "Big Three" Miami Heat and now, the indestructible freight train from hell ‘small ball’ Golden State Warriors.
The NBA, since its existence, has taken the shape of new rules, preferred style of play, collective bargaining agreements, competition and its viewership. And it’s made the game unique to each individual era.
The 72-10 Bulls were the ninth slowest paced team in the league in 1995-96, averaging 91.1 possessions per game. This season’s Golden State Warriors are the second fastest in the NBA with 99.3. The Bulls averaged a league high 105.2 points per game, while the Warriors lead the NBA with 114.8 per contest. How are you supposed to compare these two teams when the average league-wide final scores are nearly 25 points higher now than they were then?
While we’re at it, should we dive into a discussion about Tony Soprano vs. Michael Corleone and figure out who was the best Mafia boss?
The 1996 Bulls didn’t have to deal with fake Woj accounts tweeting false trade reports that get worldwide attention:
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticaINBA) February 13, 2016
Or memes of their best player crying and having his face plastered all over the Web or passive-aggressive jabs from players at their coaches through the majesty of emoticons. It’s neither an advantage nor disadvantage, it’s simply an observation.
However, as sports content consumers in 2016 — we too live in a different era. The age of one newspaper columnist monopolizing the readership of a major market has come and gone.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, blogging and the Internet in general have given everyone on this planet a voice. As a result, every avenue of "social media" has one thing in common: originality is the cornerstone of success.
We don’t want to read the same thing someone else already said.
We don’t laugh at the tweet 30 seconds after someone did it first.
We don’t care if you think the Bulls were better because guess what? So do a million other people.
How does this all relate to what’s going on at Oracle Arena in Oakland this year? The Warriors are redefining the term ‘original.’
Wins in a season, 3-pointers made by one team over the course of 82 games, shooting percentages, offensive efficiency, players with individual NBA record-setting seasons … you name it, Golden State has likely conquered it.
It’s not just the stats that make them so great. It’s the ‘smallball’ revolution which they are the spearhead of.
They pass up layups for jump shots.
They have a guy who pulls up from Mars and makes more of the attempts than the rest of the league combined (literally).
Their "center" is a 6-foot-7 front-runner for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Of all the brilliant things we’ve seen accomplished in professional basketball — Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double, Michael Jordan’s decade-long domination just to name a few — we’ve never experienced ‘brilliance’ as original as this.
You can argue what defines ‘greatness’ all you want, the Warriors’ attempt at re-writing the book on how the game is played in such a flamboyant, incendiary way is why we watch. It’s why NBATV just pulled in its highest-rated broadcast (2.2, Spurs-Warriors April 10, 2016) in network history.
It’s why you have to pay the GDP of a third world country to see them play in person. And while these factoids are also the result of the NBA’s business and popularity growing exponentially over time, the demand for the product to exert basketball ingenuity is at an all-time high.
Somehow the Warriors have exceeded unrealistic expectations in all aspects of the game — including the way its covered by the media. That is why we can’t get enough of this team.
While the Warriors likely won’t hang "73 regular season wins" in the rafters unless they win the championship, the accomplishment is an essential prerequisite to completing the decade’s mutation of professional basketball. It will not only set the bar of excellence for the next generation in the NBA, but will serve as a shining example of originality and single-handedly define a new era of the way we consume sports.