The Last Dance is the only thing going on right now so we figured we would do a roundtable here at vendetta to talk about some of the subplots in the documentary. We start things off with a simple hypothetical. Would the Bulls have won their 7th championship in 1999 if management didn’t blow up the team and let Phil Jackson walk out the door?
Sure, the Bulls were aging but I still think they had one more run in them. The 1998 Bulls were 62-20. There’s not reason to think that same group couldn’t have won 57 games the next year. Michael Jordan was still the most unstoppable force on the planet.
The 1999 season was shortened because of a lockout. You can look at that two ways. Less rest during the season. BUT… fewer games that you have to play. I think the grind of the 82 game season is more of an obstacle to overcome. They could have managed their own rest in the shortened season to make up for it and really come out firing with a reduced season. I actually see this as a benefit. More than anything, the constant media attention is what drove Jordan crazy. Fewer games would have helped that.
Let’s also not forget the 8 seed Knicks made the Finals that year. Jordan’s Bulls would have put that team in his back pocket. C’mon… you think MJ wouldn’t have taken Latrell Sprewell and Allen Houston to school? Think again. Let’s not even talk about Indiana. MJ beat them before and he would do it again. Reggie Miller was no spring chicken at this time. He was 33. The Pacers team wasn’t young.
NBA history has taught us that you need to be battle tested. The Spurs were not battle tested. San Antonio never beat a championship team to get over the hump. Jordan’s Bulls would have taught those Spurs that you need to overcome those bumps, bruises, and adversity to reach the hill. Tim Duncan was just 22 and while very talented, still had room to grow. David Robinson was starting to age fast. That Spurs team was very beatable. Also, Steve Kerr would have been a Bull in this hypothetical, not in a Spurs jersey. Bulls get it done in 5 or 6 to win ring number 7.
Would the Chicago Bulls have won the finals in 1999 if they kept their team? It’s a good question, let’s say Krause wasn’t an idiot to get rid of Phil Jackson, the Bulls never trade Scottie, Dennis Rodman re-signed with the team, and Michael Jordan never retired. Could they win it all again? As much as I want to say no, it’s hard to deny the possibility.
As a beloved Spurs fan, I don’t want to say the Bulls would win. The Bulls would no doubt make the finals again, that much is unquestioned, seeing how the 8th seed Knicks made the Finals. The Bulls would also keep Steve Kerr, so he wouldn’t be on the Spurs. The question becomes: could the Bulls stop the twin towers in David Robinson and Tim Duncan? Or: Could the Spurs stop Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? I hate to say it, but I have to stick with history on this one. Michael Jordan hates to lose and I cannot see him losing with Scottie and Rodman able to limit Duncan and Robinson the best they can. Who’s gonna stop Jordan? Chicago Bulls in 7
There’s more to this question than meets the eye.
On pure talent the Bulls still reigned supreme. They were not incredibly deep but they still had arguably the best 1-2 punch in the history of the sport, after all. They were still helmed by a brilliant coach.
However, the Bulls in 1998 were not the Bulls of 1996 – they were aging. For the 1999 season, Jordan and Harper would have been 35, Pippen and Kerr both 33, Rodman – who was awful after the 1998 season – would turn 37, Longley, Kukoc and Randy Brown would all turn 30 through the 99 season. This team was getting old.
In a regular 82 game season, with the regular amount of rest between games, that might not have been a significant problem. The professionalism of the team, combined with plain old muscle memory might have gotten them through physically. This was a lockout season, though: no preseason, and precious little in season rest. The compacted season would have worn down the team physically.
Emotionally, there’s also a huge question mark. There’s a reason that Bill Russell’s Celtics are the only team to win more than three titles in a row. It’s really hard. The physical toll of playing all those extra games and the shortened pre-season are obvious. Playing with a target on your back – getting the best version of your opposition each and every night – is also extremely taxing. The mitigating factor to this is that Jordan was a nutter who might have eked a 4th title out of the team by a combination of fear and pure force of will.
My gut feel, though? The Bulls pace themselves as best they can, coming in as a 3rd seed. Indiana find a way to break through and end the Bulls dynasty in the 2nd round before taking down the Spurs in the finals.