Best of All-Time?

[This started as a comment on a friend’s Facebook page… but it’s the longest thing I’ve written that wasn’t a work memo in months… and I love basketball, so here it is.]

So… after going 16-1 in the playoffs, three straight finals appearances, two championships in three years, and now – Kevin Durant – a lot of folks are claiming that the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors are the greatest team of all time. I think they are certainly in the conversation, but I’d love to see the Warriors play against any of these teams.

1996 Chicago Bulls:

Amazing squad. I HATED them, but they were must watch TV, and Jordan was simply incredible that year. I love the style GSW plays more than the Bulls (I mean – I love GSW’s game more than any other team I’ve ever seen…) but no team brought it with intensity every single night the way this team did. MJ created the conditions where there was no excuse but to win.

C – Longley is an upgrade over Zaza. Luc was actually pretty serviceable.
PF – I would pay a great deal of money to watch Rodman and Salley (who was only on the team for the last portion of the year) cover Durant. Like – lots and lots of money. They were masters of their craft. And I think that’s what they would have done defensively – especially every time GSW went small and took their traditional centers out of the game.
SF – Pippen was actually underrated because he was known as Robin to Jordan’s Batman. Pippen was a brilliant two-way player.
SG – Jordan – ’nuff said.
PG – Ron Harper – serviceable starter who played about 25 minutes a night and provided a steady hand. They would have hid him defensively when he was in – probably on Iggy… possibly on Green because he was a big guard.
Bench – Kukoc, Bill Wennington, Salley and Kerr were the main bench players. All amazing role players.
Coach – Phil Jackson at his Zen Master-est. The triangle worked to perfection.

I have no idea who would win this series. I know I’d watch every single minute of it. Twice. Maybe three times. I can imagine Jordan, Pippin, Durant and Curry playing “Top this…” with shot after shot after incredible shot. Maybe this one comes down to Jordan driving and dishing to Kerr who always seemed to hit the clutch three when Jordan drew the defense to him.

1986 Boston Celtics:

Not a deep team other than Bill Walton as a super-sub, but what a starting five. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish in their primes with Denis Johnson and Danny Ainge in the back-court. The Celtics were the team I hated the most as a Sixers fan, but they were amazing that year – and throughout the 80s. And a side note here – that’s what’s so easy to forget about the 1980s NBA. The decade started with the Lakers, 76ers and Celtics pushing themselves to greater and greater heights, and it ends with the ascendancy of the Isiah Thomas Pistons and the coming dynasty of the Bulls. The level of play in the NBA was incredible.

C – Parrish would have owned the paint against GSW. He was a presence – offensively and defensively. He gets overlooked but he was amazing.
PF – Kevin McHale – the classic “I hate him unless he’s on my team” kind of player. He shot 57% from the field for the year with some of the nastiest low and high post moves you’ve ever seen. Sharpest elbows in the game.
SF – Larry Bird – Bird averaged 26/10/7 for the year and was just unreal. As a Sixers fan, he was public enemy number one. But dang, he could play. And Parrish – McHale – Bird might just have been the best front court of all time.
SG – Danny Ainge – God I hated him. But he hit so many clutch shots and was a total pest on the court.
PG – Dennis Johnson – defender / distributor. I always respected him because he played a “Philly PG” style of game.
Coach – K. C. Jones – underrated smart coach who got this team to gel. Because he was only a head-coach for a short time (he retired), people forget how good a coach he was.

I think Klay is the match-up problem here for the Celtics. I can see him going off against this team, but this front court had the depth and length to hassle Durant and DJ v. Curry would be a blast to watch. And they have Bird. His game was so good. GSW would switch Iggy and Klay on him a lot, but he was just impossible to stop.

1987 Los Angeles Lakers:

Again… so incredibly good. Riley coaching Showtime. And this team was so balanced. Only Magic played more than 35 minutes a game, and eight players played 19 minutes or more. And they scored every time. The team shot 52% from the field for the entire season. Even GSW “only” shot 50%.

C – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – older, but still dominant. The sky-hook is the single most unstoppable shot in NBA history. Period. Full stop. And who was going to stop him? Zaza? Green? McGee? No way. Kareem could score 25-30 against this team every night because no one could stop that shot.
PF – A. C. Green – toughness and defense. He’s a lesser Draymond Green.
SF – James Worthy – so good. So silky smooth. So unstoppable when he got the feed from Magic.
SG – Byron Scott – solid contributor. Probably the weak link of the starting rotation but that’s a heck of a weak link.
PG – Magic Johnson – made every player he played with better. Has the length that they’d have to have Klay guard him. Maybe the best passer I ever saw.
Coach – Riley – one of the most adaptive coaches in the game. Showtime in SLA, Bullyball in NYC, a hybrid style in Miami. He was a brilliant tactician who also was a players’ coach.
Bench – Michael Cooper – every bit Iguodala’s equal as a super-sub. Mychal Thompson (Klay’s Dad) – 10PPG off the bench as a front court sub. Kurt Rambis – the enforcer. He was good at that. Edge to the Lakers.

This series would come down to one thing — The Warriors can’t stop Kareem. And I don’t think they can stop the Lakers offense. As much as the Lakers were known for their Showtime run and gun, Magic was an incredible “walk-it-up” half-court point guard too. This squad might present more of a match-up problem than the Bulls or the Celtics because of Kareem.

Mid 60s Celtics – between 1957 and 1969, the Celtics won 12 of 13 championships. I’m too young to have seen these teams play, but historically, lots of folks claim that the ’65 team was the pinnacle of the run. So let’s look at the 1965 Boston Celtics. They had five Hall of Famers – Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinson and John Havlicek. Coached by Red Auerbach. Russell *averaged* 24 rebounds per game. He is probably the greatest defensive center of all time. Jones and Havlicek were amazing scorers. And they were in the middle of the most incredible dynastic run in NBA history. It was a different game than today’s game, but watch the old footage. This team could play.

And all that said – I love this Warriors team. I have never seen a team move the ball around the court the way they do. And I love that they were actually a tough defensive team, even as most folks only saw the offense. And Curry has the fastest shot I have ever seen with the longest range I have ever seen. It’s possible that they win every one of these series. But all of these teams would make for a great match-up, and I think every one of these games would come down to a Game Seven for the ages.

One thought on “Best of All-Time?

  1. It’s been a long way to this blog but I’m glad I’m here and can’t believe this is the first post I got to read. Long story short I too was a Philly fan in the ’80s but bouncing between Chicago and Minneapolis, it was very lonely. This post was a great trip down memory lane and your scouting report on each of those fantastic squads was on the money. All Philly fans must hate Danny Ainge. The Rodman-Durant match-up would be a sight! I appreciate this and look forward to reading more of your observations on the real topic that led me to this blog…..the intersection of technology and education.

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