72-10. It’s one of basketball’s most hallowed records, the greatest single-season win total in history achieved by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Those Bulls were a juggernaut the likes of which had never been seen before, outscoring opponents by a whopping margin of 12.24 points per game and rolling through the playoffs with a 15-3 record. With all due respect to the ’85-’86 Boston Celtics and ’71-’72 Los Angeles Lakers, those Michael Jordan-led Bulls are generally regarded as the greatest team of all time, a title they have held unchallenged for 20 years. At least until this season.
If you follow NBA basketball, you are already familiar with the remarkable success of the Golden State Warriors, off to a 45-4 start and on pace to break Chicago’s record for the most wins in a season. Like those Bulls, the Warriors are led by a dynamic star playing at a historic level–Stephen Curry –along with two largely unheralded lesser superstars in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and perhaps the deepest, most talented 12 man rotation ever assembled. They are redefining the NBA, bombing three pointers with incredible efficiency at an unprecedented rate and playing seamlessly—switching positionless defense that has yet to encounter an offense capable of outsmarting it. For a group coming off a championship last year, the Warriors have shown no signs of relaxation or complacency, looking shockingly aggressive and hungry for success from the first game of the season. Now more than halfway through the schedule and on pace for 75 wins, you can bet that they won’t be letting up off the gas any time soon. If Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson are anxious about maintaining their record, they should be sweating right about now.
Of course, it’s not only the members of the ’96 Bulls who are concerned about the 72 win mark. Fans of the team, as well as a surprisingly vocal community in social media, are rooting for the Warriors to fail down the stretch, to fall short of the record for reasons that I can only assume are based in blind nostalgia. For the most part, these are the fans who don’t like the small-ball revolution that is taking over the NBA and is best exemplified by the Warriors’ gun slinging style. This is understandable as people tend to be uneasy with change in any form, but guess what: the game evolves! Critics once railed against Lew Alcindor and his gosh-darned dunking, even going so far as to ban the act in college basketball. Before that, George Mikan was disliked simply for showing the advantages of being exceedingly tall and broad and Earl Monroe angered traditionalists with his rule-bending crossovers and spin moves. Today’s game exhibits all of these changes and I don’t know of many fans who wish it otherwise. So when guys like Charles Barkley complain and make broad claims like “a jump-shooting team can’t win an NBA championship,” take it with a grain of salt and recognize that this is just the next step in the league’s development.
There is also a community that wishes the Bulls to maintain their record simply because of the presence of Jordan on the team. Admittedly, there is something poetic about the greatest player ever being a part of the greatest team, but let’s remember that basketball is ultimately a team game. If the Warriors break the record, win the championship, and go down as the greatest team ever, that does nothing to diminish Jordan’s status or accomplishments! He’ll still be as great as he ever was.
Ultimately, I am rooting for the Warriors because I believe in that oldest cliché about records: they’re made to be broken. Where’s the fun in hoping the Bulls keep their record forever? I wasn’t around to see them I have no emotional investment in them, and I want to see something new, bigger and better! I’m an American after all!