I recently wrote an article comparing the 1995-1996 Bulls to the most recent dynasty, the Golden State Warriors with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and others. You can read that here. But I believe a more interesting debate would be those Bulls against the early 2000 Los Angeles Lakers, led by Shaquille O’Neal in his prime and a young Kobe Bryant to a three-peat of their own.
Now this one will have a couple ties, since both teams were coached by the Zen Master Phil Jackson. The starting point guard for the Bulls, Ron Harper, also played for the Lakers and was the starting point guard until Derek Fisher took over by the playoffs in 2001. So for the sake is this debate, we will leave them out. With that said, here are my 8 reasons that the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls would beat the early 2000 Los Angeles Lakers with Shaq and Kobe.
#8 Home Court Advantage
Obviously the 95-96 Chicago Bulls would have had home-court advantage over any team in NBA history except the Warriors from 2015-2016. That would give them a leg-up from the start.
If we were to single out one year from the Lakers run in the early 2000s, the 2000-2001 team did go 8-0 on the road, giving them obviously the best chance at the United Center to steal a game. However, when two teams are as close in skill as these two are, I would still give the advantage to the Bulls.
As far as the other years, the Lakers posted a 7-2 postseason road record in 2002 and a 4-6 record in 2000.
#7 Shaq’s Free Throw Shooting
There have been other NBA players who have struggled with shooting free throws, but for some reason Shaq gets talked about the most. They even invented a name for purposely fouling him, Hack-a-Shaq. Obviously, this strategy was around long before Shaquille O’Neal entered the league, but it would have been especially helpful in a matchup of these 2 teams.
Luc Longley was the starting center for the Bulls, and if you are able to make it to the NBA you are a very good basketball player. That being said, he was average at best when compared to the other big men of the time, including Shaq, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon. There is no doubt that Shaq would have a field day playing against Longley.
The thing about those Bulls though, is that they had 3 other big men behind him, in Bill Wennington, James Edwards, and John Salley (and yes, I realize he was on the first of the Lakers championship teams, but in this scenario, he is used for fouls, not basketball skill) That is 24 total fouls they could have used to slow down perhaps the most physically dominating big man to ever play the game.
#6 Steve Kerr
Kerr is often forgotten when talking about the Chicago Bulls, that will always be the case. On a team with 2 of the NBA’s top 50 players (when the NBA announced the team during the 50th season of the league in 1996), arguably the greatest coach in NBA history, and Dennis Rodman who once married himself (yes that really happened), it is not hard to see why he is not talked about being a back up guard coming off the bench.
That does not take away the fact that Steve Kerr is the all time leader in three-point shooting percentage at .454. So while the defensive attention would be on Jordan and Pippen, Kerr would be able to change a game with his three-point shooting.
#5 Toni Kukoc
The 1996 NBA 6th Man of the Year was the Bulls third highest scorer behind Pippen and Jordan. A 6’11” player from Croatia, Kukoc was able to defend 4 positions on the court. Although he did come off the bench in most games, he played with the starting line up often, and being paired with Jordan and Pippen at the same time would be difficult to defend.
#4 Team Defense
If looking at the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, you have to look at the entirety of their time together. While the Bulls won the NBA championship every year that Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman played together, there were 2 years at the end of the Shaq and Kobe era that they were not able to win the title.
In 02-03, the Lakers were defeated by eventual championship San Antonio Spurs, who under the tutelage of head coach Greg Popovich were know for fundamentals and working as a team. More surprising was the Lakers defeat the following year in the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons.
The only game in which the Lakers scored more than 90 points was game 2, which went to overtime, and was the only game in the series that the Lakers won. The Pistons did this with only one All Star that year, center Ben Wallace. Wallace was joined by teammates Tayshaun Prince and Chauncey Billups on the NBA All Defensive first team.
To say that the 95-96 Bulls, with 3 of their own players on the 95-96 NBA All Defensive first team (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman), would not have been able to do the same is a stretch.
#3 Dennis Rodman
Speaking of Rodman, he was one of few people that could get rebounds on a regular basis against Shaquille O’Neal. In the only playoff match up between the two while Rodman was a member of the Bulls, Rodman out-rebounded O’Neal 63-43 in a 4 game sweep against the Orlando Magic in 1996.
Rodman didn’t care about his offense stats, but he was tenacious on the defensive side of the ball. So much so, that he regularly aggravated opposing players, including Shaq, who said in an interview that he would have taken a suspension to fight Rodman, after a game in which the two were separated.
#2 Scottie Pippen
Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up in the 90s as I did know just how good Pippen was. For him and Jordan to basically play the majority of their career each in their prime is amazing, and does not happen often. Pippen led the Bulls in assists as well as steals, and was second in scoring to Jordan and second in rebounds to Rodman.
#1 Michael Jordan
This would have been a more interesting series if we took the later years Kobe Bryant and placed him on the early 2000 Lakers. The Black Mamba was by far the closest player that we have seen since Jordan to have the killer instinct when it came to basketball.
As it was, Kobe was still young and playing sidekick to a dominant Shaquille O’Neal. Michael, however, was right in the middle of the Bulls 6 NBA titles, in which he was named Finals MVP each one of them. The next closest player has 3, which is held by Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, Lebron James and Shaw. The NBA did not start handing out a Finals MVP until 1969, so Bill Russell no doubt would have had his share.
There will always be the what if when it comes to Jordans career, such as what if he doesn’t retire and miss almost 2 full seasons in the middle of his prime, or what if the Bulls did not split up after the 1998 season. The only thing that we do know is that in the last 6 full seasons Michael Jordan played for the Bulls, they won the NBA title. In those 6 seasons, the Bulls only went to a deciding 7th game 2 times, out of 24 series, and none of those were in the Finals.
A match up between the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant would have been one of the best 7 game series in the history of the league without question. I would have loved to see these two teams head-to-head.
What do you think? Would the Lakers have been able to do what no other team could do, and beat the Jordan-Pippen-Rodman Bulls in a 7 game series? Or would the Bulls have continued their winning ways? Let me know in the comments below!