Charlie Pierce disputes my view that the ’96 Bulls were the best team ever, citing a variety of older teams as superior. I’m not really sure you can meaningfully try and compare teams from the 60s and 70s (’64 Celtics, ’67 76ers, ’72 Lakers) to more modern teams but his favorite choice is the ’86 Celtics (he’s a Bostonian after all) which, conveniently enough, is closer in time.
Still, it’s hard to know how you run these arguments. I don’t have any particular investment in the claim that the ’96 Bulls were the best other than the fact that in a straightforward numbers game kind of way they really did win the most games, have the best point differential, the best efficiency, etc. An actual game between the ’86 Celtics and ’96 Bulls would, I think, come down to the sharply contrasting styles — the Boston team was way faster. This becomes one of those situations where the team that dictates the pace probably wins the game. My sense is that matchups of that sort tend, all else being equal, to favor slower teams. But what’s the case for the Celtics. Let’s not merely intone — Bird! Parish! McHale! — those are great players, but the Bulls had great players, too. Folks more familiar with these squads (especially the Celtics team) than I can dig into the weeds.