A few weeks ago, I did a Daily List for SI.com about the best sports teams ever. As with most of these lists for SI.com, everyone in the comments section disagreed, as did most of my friends and family. I put the ’95-96 Bulls at number 2, which my Dad disagreed with, saying the ’73-73 Celts (who went 68-14) should’ve been rated higher. Then we talked about this on the phone this weekend and he added that he thought one of the Celts teams with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy probably should’ve been higher also.
A few nights ago, on ESPN Classic, I watched a few seconds from an NBA game from the ’70s. I don’t remember who was playing, but I do remember Dan Issel was straight dominating guys out there and he couldn’t run or jump. It’s a different NBA we watch today, with probably the greatest athletes in the world on the floor. Dan Issel may have had his day, but stick him in a game tonight and I’m pretty sure an average post player — Zaza Pachulia, for example — could hang with him.
I took this into account when thinking about the best NBA team of all-time. Could the ’64-65 Celtics, for example, who won 62 games and an NBA title, have been able to handle the Bulls from ’95-96? I don’t think so, and it really doesn’t have a lot to do with basketball.
Bill Russell was considered a beast back in the day, big enough to dominate everyone (except maybe Wilt) in the paint, especially defensively. And Russell was listed at 6-9, 215. So if I was Phil Jackson, I’d put Dennis Rodman (6-7, 210) on Bill Russell, Pippen on Havilicek, Jordan on Cousy, and then run them off the floor.
And I think almost any average NBA team of today could compete favorably against a great NBA team of the ’60s or ’70s, solely on athleticism. As Russ pointed out on the phone with me earlier, guys back then were smoking cigarettes at halftime, and today teams have dozens of trainers and specialists.
It’s easy to pick the greatest NBA teams of all-time, but pit them against each other and it wouldn’t really be close.