There’s a weird temporal oddity among former athletes that “the good old days” stopped on the exact day that any individual in question retired. That is the exact day that sports stopped being “old school”, which is why you can have guys who were considered obnoxious new-era punks in the 1990s looking down on today’s players. Every ex-jock with a microphone has two contradictory stock phrases, both of which begin with “in my day”, and which concern how you couldn’t get away with something, or how you used to be allowed to get away with other things.
That’s normal human stuff. We always want to believe things were better when we were younger, when we had the world licked. That the passage of time doesn’t just highlight a personal diminution, but general dissipation. It’s why you have people who came of age in the 90s and 2000s saying that kids today don’t know how to drink like we did, or that they have stupid slang and talk like idiots and listen to terrible music. We don’t want to accept that even if the world isn’t exactly progressing, it’s refusing to stand still. It’s why we all secretly believe our own deaths are the actual end of the world.
The sports’ fan corollary to this is that no team is ever as good as your favorite growing up. As a Bulls’ fan, this is particularly relevant, right as the Warriors are about to win their 73rd game, breaking the 95-96 Bulls record for wins in a season. For 20 years, one of the main highlights for me as a fan was when the last team in the league got its 11th loss, usually in December, no later than January, and I knew the record was safe. I never popped champagne like the 72 Dolphins, but there was quiet gratification.
That never came this year, and by January it seemed inevitable. The last week it looked like they might “stumble”, but a wildly impressive win against San Antonio makes it look like a done deal. They won’t lose to a feisty Grizzlies team at home. And they deserve it. While I’m not happy the record is gone, these Warriors are amazing. There is nothing better in sports right now than watching Steph Curry ball. If it had been LeBron’s Heat teams, it would have been painful (I love LeBron, but come on). It would have been like when Emmit Smith broke Walter Payton’s record. That sucked. Bears fans would have been ok if it was Barry Sanders, who never had an offensive line and was a joy to watch. His was the inventive joy that made sports so great and meaningful. These Warriors are the same. The passing of the torch is odd and elegiac, and it makes me sad, slightly, but it is fine. Time passes, and if we can’t accept that, then we’re that loud guy at the end of the bar yelling about the good old days. We’re the self-blinding anti-prophet who refuses to think that maybe, just maybe, there’s some good music coming out. We’re the vain mummy who refuses to accept the reality of death, and therefore never actually lives.
Philosophy aside. The question is: who would win? The Bulls or the Warriors? I think that when people argue about which rules they’d play under it is kind of moot. The talent on boh teams would adjust. Hand-checking doesn’t stop someone who can pull up from 28 feet like he’s hitting a layup. And MJ would obviously thrive in any era.
What it comes down to is if the Bulls have enough offense vs. if the Warriors could actually run their offense. Klay Thompson is a great player, but I think Scottie would shut him down. People talk about Draymond vs. Rodman down low, and how Rodman couldn’t score, which is true, but people forget what a bruising and powerful defender Rodman was. Draymond would be working for his points (yes, rule changes mean that Rodman couldn’t be as aggressive, but great players- and Rodman is one of the greatest players of all time- adjust). Ron Harper would hound Curry, who would get his, but not as easily. On the other side, Igouldada and some of the Warriors other players would be able to move against weaker Bulls players who played softer D, like Kukoc- who himself would be a matchup nightmare. The X-factor, of course, is what happens when Phil Jackson is telling a young Steve Kerr his gameplan: does the Steve Kerr who is coaching Golden State somehow remember it suddenly? Does that change everything? Will Kerr be both simultaneously playing and remembering what happened, while he’s coaching? And will that make him insane? These are legitimate questions!
Nah, there’s no question. Bulls had Jordan. Chicago in 5.