The arguments have been stated far too many times to count: “The 90’s were so physical, and with hand checking allowed, the Warriors would not be able to compete back then”. “MJ in this era with no hand checking allowed would average 50”. “Players today get to shoot free throws if they are even looked at wrong. Back then, they let things go and it was far tougher to score”.
Wanna know what every one of those comments is? INACCURATE.
Yes, not one of those statements is true, and the facts prove it…
First off, lets squash this hand checking argument (it’s so easy to do). #1. Hand checking became a thing with Pat Riley’s Knicks in 1993. That team pushed the envelope and dared the refs to spend an entire night calling fouls. The strategy worked, and before the year was done, most teams, including the Bulls were using it to make their defense appear to be better. #2. Here is what isn’t being said about hand checking…. It was banned, completely by the NBA in 1994. It was a short window that came and went in the blink of an eye. Also, it never had impact on the true star players of the league. Their scoring averages didn’t go down during the hand checking phase, and didn’t go up right after hand checking was banned. The argument that Curry couldn’t have succeeded because of hand checking is just ridiculous, and not supported by any evidence. Maybe it kept mediocre players from having good games, but it didn’t touch the stars.
If you try to rewind to the 80’s to say how tough basketball was there, here is a fact you cannot dismiss: There were more players in the 80’s who averaged over 25 points per game than any era in NBA history. Would’t that indicate scoring was easier then?
“MJ would average 50 today”? Not a chance. MJ played in the no-hand checking era, and he did what he always did. He dominated, and scored a lot of points, but he didn’t even come close to averaging 50, that is too lofty a number. He’d be the same amazing player today he was then, and there is no evidence to support the claim he’d average even 1 point more.
“Players get to shoot free throws if they are looked at wrong”? Another easy one to dice to pieces. In the 90’s, teams shot an average of over 27 free throws per game. Wanna know what teams average in the 2010’s? 22 free throws per game. I’d say players back then got the benefit of the whistle more than today, and when it comes to MJ, he is the most protected player in the history of the NBA by the refs. If you got a fraction of an inch to close to him, he was going to the line whether he was fouled or not. You weren’t allowed to get up in his grill, and if you did, he was shooting free throws.
I know people want to remember the 90’s incorrectly. They want it to be remembered as the decade of driving through the lane, and every time doing so suffering a broken limb, severed head, punctured lung, or career ending injury. Lets just back off a bit here. Yes, you saw some times where players get knocked on their a**. Guess what, they didn’t lose their season to injury, and they got off the floor, and shot 2 free throws. The myth is over, it’s been shattered because it never existed. By the way, the Pistons were dead and gone, and so were the Knicks by the time the Bulls had their record season. Here is a realistic view of what the 90’s were:
An era where the mighty, amazing Celtics/Lakers/Pistons teams all faded away due to age/injury/the window closing like it does with all great teams. Expansion was fresh, and the talent really got watered down more than ever. An influx of great European players wasn’t happening yet. Because of those factors, MJ and the Bulls got to rise to prominence in a new era of watered down talent and expansion. They absolutely dominated, and they deserve all the accolades they received. MJ truly is the best player ever, and to try to take that away from him is silly. He was a fierce competitor, had an amazing skill set, with legendary athletic ability. He could play great defense while leading the team in scoring too. He was a true legend.
Fast forward to today.
Golden State is everybody’s favorite team to hate. Why are they hated more than any team since the early 2000’s Lakers? Because they are winning at a record rate, and doing it in a way that was previously thought to be impossible. Ex pro players hate them, fans hate them, and many of the old school crowd clearly believes it threatens their definition of what real basketball is. However, once you take emotion out of the equation, and watch their game, and acknowledge the facts, the Warriors deserve just as much credit as the 96 Bulls (If they win the title this season).
Golden States offense is a thing of beauty, and admittedly, it breaks all the rules of 90’s basketball. Back then, the common logic was that if you live by the 3, you are certainly going to die by it. If a team was told they could have a championship series against a team that is going to shoot 25-30 3 pointers per game, they would laugh, and start getting their rings sized.
Here is where Golden State would make teams wonder what they just witnessed: If you sagged off them, they wouldn’t shoot 25-30 3’s per game, they would shoot 60 of them, and you would be beat by 50 points. Of course teams wouldn’t sag off after seeing their 3 point displays, they would be forced to do something no team did back then, extend their defense out, and not just to the 3 point line, we’re talking pick n rolls set at 28 feet, with a legitimate threat of having a 28 foot shot bury you all night. This creates spacing like you’ve never seen, it’s almost like breaking a press where you get driving and passing lanes, with numbers on your side. You have the freedom to go to the basket, pull up for a short J, or dish to a cutter. If the defense tries to recover by packing it in, you now have 3 point threats open everywhere. You cannot deal with that GS offense for an entire series.
Mathematically, the Bulls would have to account for something they never had to previously, the fact those 3 pointers made result in at least 10-15 points of advantage per game they never had to deal with. If you can’t match the Warriors 3 point ability, you are virtually starting the game -10 to -15. Pretty nice advantage to have, and not a situation the Bulls ever had to face.
What about the argument that MJ was 6-0 in the finals? That can’t be taken away, perfection in the finals is an awesome feat. Lets not forget in his 15 seasons of play, there were 9 seasons he didn’t make it to the finals (Okay, lets count 7 since we don’t want to factor in the Wizards). Yes, MJ actually had lost 9 playoff series in his career, it does happen. The Bulls had a rough 7 game series one season against the Pacers. I don’t mean to disrespect the Pacers… Wait yes I do. This years Golden State Warriors team would have absolutely demolished the Pacers with their pace, spacing, and 3 point shooting. That series would have been over the day it started, and almost wouldn’t be fair. Please don’t be foolish and try to argue that one. Since you aren’t that foolish, now I have a question: How are these Bulls going to manhandle the Warriors, if they needed to take the Pacers to game 7? Kind of a rhetorical question.. They wouldn’t have manhandled this team.
My money says the Warriors win the series in 6 games, with the acknowledgement the Bulls with MJ could have willed their way past them. It could have gone either way.
With the Warriors, you are witnessing greatness, and a record setting season. Hand checking would not have prevented it. The basket is the same dimensions, the air is the same, and Curry would not be missing these shots just because the era was different. Curry has the best range in NBA history, the quickest release in NBA history, and he’s the best shooter in NBA history. On top of this, he’s got dynamite handles, intelligence, and the mindset of an assassin. No era would stop that, and it’s foolish to think otherwise. The guy spends his life launching 26 foot shots, and he’s shooting 50% overall from the field, this is something you couldn’t have dreamed of since he launches 10 3’s per game, and now that it’s happening, everybody wants to discredit him. Greatness is greatness. He has it, and so does this team. Just enjoy the ride, and stop the hating.