Bulls fans, for their part, remain divided over two matters regarding Chicago and Golden State: Who would win a head-to-head matchup between the two teams, and whether or not the regular-season wins record actually matters. In both cases, the answer depends upon whom you ask.
“Watching those guys play, you knew you were watching something that was magic,” said Tom Herb, who used to score free Bulls tickets when he served as vice president of the Herb family-owned Coca-Cola bottling company, which had the pouring rights at both Chicago Stadium and into the team’s second home, United Center. “Something that would be very, very hard to repeat.”
Herb, who is currently the head of a venture capital firm, said that watching the Bulls that season was a unique experience, calling them “unstoppable” and labeling the United Center atmosphere “electric.” But times have changed. According to his observations, the most popular team in the city is no longer the Bulls, but the NHL’s Blackhawks, who own the limelight in the Chicago area after capturing three of the past six Stanley Cups. As such, he said he had not yet come across a fan in anguish over the possible downfall of the Bulls’ regular season record.
“Personally, I don’t have those conversations with those kind of people,” Herb said. “You know, like ‘Aw man, you remember ‘96, man? That was the year!’ Or like, ‘Oh my god, the Warriors are going to break it.’ ”
Those conversations, however, are certainly happening online. Social media was where Bulls fans issued Mercury Morris-esque anti-Warriors takes, noting their certainty of an imaginary Chicago victory, while one presumed Warriors fan took a more creative approach to answering the question.
Others, like Herb, bypassed the entire debate.
The noise from the 1996 Bulls’ camp has been just slightly more united than the above fan tweets. Former players began jawing before the wins record was even on the horizon for Golden State. Ron Harper, a former Bulls guard, wrote on Twitter Nov. 25 that, “records are made to be broke but we would’ve sweep that team for sure!!!!”
Harper’s initial boast established the message several players and scores of fans leaned upon when publicly discussing the record: yes, they may beat our record, but we would have crushed them head-to-head.
The most notable open display of confidence came from Pippen. In an interview with Paul Pabst on April 2, Pippen said the Warriors would have be swept by his prime Bulls squad in a hypothetical game.
Pippen caught plenty of flack for the comments, with the most notable call-out coming from ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, who took on-air time to remind viewers that the Bulls failed to sweep any of the six teams they defeated in the NBA Finals.
This wasn’t Pippen’s last time talking about Golden State, though. In an April 7 interview filmed as part of Bleacher Report’s “Uninterrupted” series, Pippen and Harper sat down with Gary Payton to talk basketball while eating cheese and sipping wine. Payton, 47, asked the former Bulls what they thought of the Warriors’ current chase for the record, and both professed to be fans of the team. Then Pippen admitted to still not being fully on board with the Bulls’ record falling.
“I don’t know if I’m watching them because I want to see them lose, but I played with Steve Kerr, one of my best friends, and I’m very happy to see him having success. But I don’t want to see them break the record.”
Pippen backed off the statement later in the interview, saying, “If they break it, let them have it. But regular seasons don’t win championships.” The latter sentence was a caveat both he and Harper agreed upon, saying the record is meaningless without a title. The same day, former Bulls forward Horace Grant sat down with CSN Chicago, saying that based on the Warriors’ current perceived mental state, all six of the Chicago title teams would have swept them in a series.
“I say any of the six championship teams would have swept them,” Grant said. “We had a camaraderie and we trusted each other, especially on defense. We had this love of getting our opponents down and stepping on their necks and getting rest. I think that’s what Golden State is missing right now in terms of their defense.”
ESPN’s Mike and Mike spoke with former Bulls reserve center Bill Wennington, who was open in telling the hosts that he wants his team’s mark stand.
Warriors Coach Kerr, who also played on that Bulls team, shared a story with USA Today about a phone call with former teammate Luc Longley. In the call, the center for the 1996 team tried to explain to Kerr that he should let his playing career be tied to the regular season wins record and his coaching record be connected to NBA titles.
“He said, ‘You know, you haven’t thought this through obviously.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Your coaching legacy is already established. You won a championship, so people are going to know down the road that you were a good coach. But as a player, you were mediocre at best. So if you break this record and you don’t have that record as a player, nobody’s ever going to remember you as a player, so what are you thinking?’ And I said, ‘Are you talking about you or me, Luc?’ He said, ‘both.’ ”
Meanwhile, Toni Kukoc told the Chicago Tribune, “I obviously think we would win 4-1 or 4-2 in a playoff series.” In that same piece, Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said that though the fact that Kerr may be associated with the record-breaking team will soften the blow, he had hoped to outlive the mark.
“I was hoping that it would last at least until I died,” Reinsdorf said.
When it comes to the biggest name from the Bulls squad, Michael Jordan, the current Charlotte Hornets owner has been on board with the idea of handing over the record for months, as he reportedly told Golden State guard Klay Thompson to break the record back in February. Jordan’s support was confirmed Monday, when Warriors forward Draymond Green announced that Jordan spoke with him at the all-star break, telling him, “Go win the record. Go get the record. If y’all don’t win this record, I’m going to be hot and I’m blaming you,” according to FOX Sports.
It would appear Pippen and Harper have both done their part recently to make peace with either outcome, as the pair, along with former Bulls coach Phil Jackson, congratulated the team on tying their record Sunday.
For all, it seems the record serves as a monument to mark what many view as the greatest single-season run any franchise has managed to put together. Letting it go is a tough pill to swallow for some because of what surrounded the phrase “72 and 10” prior to Golden State’s magnificent regular-season run.
When attempting to explain why he wasn’t worried about the record, Herb said that even if the Warriors win 73 games, “there are only a few people in the world who can do these kind of things.” He said he was confident that no matter what, the 1996 Bulls will always be remembered.
Luckily for the more resistant Chicago fans and players, he is most likely right.