Evaluating Team Greatness
The debate around who is the greatest player of all-time has been settled, at least for now (and no it’s not Kobe Freaking Bryant). Though that doesn’t stop NBA media and fans alike constantly bringing up who reigns supreme in the conversation. With the out-of-this-world emergence of the Golden State Warriors over the past three seasons the argument has reemerged around who really is the G.O.A.T. when it comes to NBA teams? A topic that rarely surfaces around that discussion is what defines such team’s greatness? We know that all such teams have possessed elite superstar talent but what truly separates teams like the 1995-96 Bulls from the pack?
Sports love stats. With huge growth of analytics in basketball has come an even more pertinent impact of statistics within the game. One thing all the historically great teams have in common is numbers that defy belief. The Ringer reported in an article following the Warriors championship win this year how ridiculous their post-season success was:
“Here’s a way to put the Warriors’ win streak in perspective: The historical likelihood of a regular-season team winning 16 in a row is 1.9 percent — in the NBA’s 70 years, there have been 1,483 teams to have played a full season of NBA basketball, and only 28 have accomplished that feat.”
Now that’s a stat!
NBA.com analysed the greatness of the 1995-96 Bulls and pulled out this equally ridiculous stat:
“The Bulls (posted a) combined regular and postseason record of 87-13. No one has posted a better combined record in NBA history. Yet that is rarely brought up when the debate centers on the greatest team of all time. The next best team to reach the 80 victory plateau was the ’86 Celtics with 82.”
(The 2016-17 Warriors have since joined that illustrious company also).
To further illustrate the dominance of such great teams I’ll throw another one at you. Last year’s Warriors had a 13.5 point differential through the postseason; the best since the 2001 Kobe/Shaq Lakers (12.7) and second to only the 1971 Bucks who only had to do it over three rounds to claim that anomaly.
You can find endless statistics to illustrate how good a team is, but it’s the legitimately dumbfounding ones as mentioned above that show who the cream of the crop is.
MJ’s Bulls changed it all. The impact he and the team had on 90’s culture can’t be underestimated.
Yes, Jordan was the epicentre of the Bull’s greatness and had the most impact outside of the sport itself. Without the team Jordan by no means has the same societal effect. The Ringer, again, sums it up perfectly:
“Their dominance felt reflective of the cultural weight the NBA had amassed; it felt like a byproduct of the league’s iconography in full bloom.”
The best team’s dominance goes beyond the game of basketball. Heck, look at the rise of social media within the game and how the Warriors have been an inescapable part of meme culture (cue Warriors blew a 3-1 lead memes). You go back even further to the days of Magic and Bird and how their teams not only set a new standard for the sport but also impacted at a time where racial tensions were as prevalent as ever. The battles on the court between the Celtics and Lakers were an outlet for what was happening at the time. While it can be debated whether their rivalry impacted civil rights in a positive or negative manner, it certainly played its part.
The Intangible and Inexplicable
There are some things that words can’t explain. The beauty of a rainbow, love and historically great basketball teams fall into that category. Some teams transcend statistics and explanation: Jordan’s Bulls, Kerr’s Warriors, any number of Laker and Celtics teams are just some of those teams. It’s common knowledge that these teams are the greats and we don’t need to justify it because they just are. You can debate as to who reigns supreme but you can’t deny they belong in the conversation.
Evaluating greatness in any form is a complex exercise. There are elements of objectivity (statistics) and subjectivity (intangible qualities) that you combine to get some sort of answer. Whether that answer rings true or not is up for debate.