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Layups: The NBA in the ’90s if Michael Jordan & the Chicago Bulls Didn’t Exist

Posted by Neil Paine on December 2, 2010

Here's a fun layup from May that I didn't find until this week... As an exercise in counterfactual history, Roger Pimentel of How To Watch Sports used our own SRS to re-shape the NBA's 1990s landscape if Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls hadn't dominated the league so thoroughly. It's all for kicks, of course, but it is interesting to think of what might have been for Portland, Phoenix, Seattle, Utah, and Indiana, had #23 hadn't been standing between them and the championship.


13 Responses to “Layups: The NBA in the ’90s if Michael Jordan & the Chicago Bulls Didn’t Exist”

  1. Luke Says:

    Interesting stuff. Although if Jordan really wasn't around, teams would have been constructed completely differently and drafts and trades probably would have shaken out differently, too. Drexler to the Rockets (during the '95 season) and Barkley to the Rockets (after the '96 season) probably don't happen if they had each won titles with the Blazers and Suns. Which means maybe the Rockets without Drexler don't make it to or win the Finals in '95. (They probably still would have but who knows? Perhaps Barkley's Suns knock them out that year. I remember that being a really close series.) Which leaves the door wide open for Orlando that year, meaning maybe Shaq doesn't jump ship to go to the Lakers the first chance he gets in '96. Kemp also probably doesn't get traded to the Cavs after the '97 season if they win in '96. So that means you've still got some pretty solid powerhouses in Portland, Phoenix, Seattle, and possibly Orlando through the rest of the 90's, plus Utah and Indiana probably remain unchanged. It'd be an entirely different landscape today without Jordan. Maybe with a recent championship or two the Sonics get a new arena and even stay in Seattle. You hear that Seattle? Michael Jordan stole your team! (And throughout all of this, Patrick Ewing still remains ringless...)

  2. Nick Says:

    He thinks the 1991 Lakers would beat the 1991 Pistons, the exact team that beat the Lakers in the finals the previous 2 years are was basically their Kryptonite?

  3. RobertAugustdeMeijer Says:

    Imagine if the Knicks won a couple of titles and totally ruined basketball's popularity with their Knickerboxer style. Might be the end of the NBA even!

  4. Seif-Eldeine Says:

    The Jazz really got unlucky, those two teams (96 and 97) were probably the team best non-championship teams in NBA history, including 2 of the top 25 players in NBA history in Malone and Stockton, who were, if not in their prime, only a little past it, as well as a host of solid role players, including Byron Russell. What a great team! They should start handing out rings to runners up if a player like Jordan ever comes around again.

  5. Anon x 2 Says:

    Nick - actually, Detroit beat Portland the previous season and beat the Lakers the season before that only after the Lakers lost Magic and Byron. That Laker team was 12-0 in the playoffs and had beaten Detroit the previous season in the Finals, so to say it was their Achilles heel is a bit of a um...revisionist perspective.

    I'm pretty sure if you take any Title team's best player with the quality of Magic friggan' Johnson out of the equation, no team will hold up (except maybe in the 2000s when the Nets made the Finals or Cleveland). Then add in a Byron Scott as well!

  6. Sean Says:

    The Lakers aren't winning the 1991 Finals against anybody if Worthy and Scott are done for the series in Game #4 like they were VS Chicago. Was that taken into account, I wonder? It certainly affected the Lakers/ Bulls series.

  7. AYC Says:

    The 92 Knicks extended the bulls to 7 games in the 2nd round, the only team do so during the first 3-pete... they probably would've beaten the Cavs and the blazers IMO. Might have kept the X-man and repeated in 93 too; defense wins championships, right? (thank God this didn't happen; I hate the Knicks)

    Hard to imagine D-Rob winning a second straight MVP after being demolished by Hakeem in the playoffs the previous year. Yeah, he had the most points after MJ, but he didn't have any 1st place votes. Penny had 2, Dream and Mailman 1 apiece. Without MJ taking up the majority of votes, I would guess Malone would've won the "life achievement" award that year

  8. dsong Says:

    I think this might have actually happened had Phil Jackson not come around...

    Oh, and the refs. Can't forget about that.

  9. Ryan Says:

    Yes, the referees were responsible for the Bulls' 6 titles in the 1990's.

    Laker fan? Sounds like it.

  10. Fritz Says:

    "Yes, the referees were responsible for the Bulls' 6 titles in the 1990's.

    Laker fan? Sounds like it."

    If so, that's throwing some awfully big stones from a glass house. But people say stupid crap like that all the time, and they're not restricted to LA. Far as I'm concerned the only titles that were significantly altered by refs were '06 and '88.

    Also, I remember the looming possibility of Indiana-Utah in 1998 (which I agree with the howtowatch guys is what would have happened without MJ). Boy, what a ratings catastrophe that would have been. And we would have missed Dennis Rodman desperately backing away from his insulting remarks by saying he "just thought Mormon meant someone from Utah." Classic. Screw Barkley and Malone's ring quests, we needed those Bulls.

  11. Ryan. Says:

    The irony, I know.

    And after reading more posts from him, I can confirm he is indeed a Laker fan.

  12. dsong Says:

    The Pacers probably would've beaten the Bulls in '98 had the refs not intervened, but that's the way the league works. While the Bulls were heavily assisted, the Lakers benefitted many, many times from refs as well. The 2002 series vs. Sacramento is one of the worst I've ever seen.

    After watching basketball I'm starting to get the feeling that a lot of these legacies and superstars are artificially created by shady officiating. Just look at the 4th quarter of Game 7 vs. Boston last season. It was a parade to the free throw line for the Lakers. When you see the same thing happen over and over again for 20 years, it starts to add up.

    It would also be interesting to see how the Bulls would have responded without Phil Jackson. The classic, "Jordan Rules", by Sam Smith, illustrates just how dysfunctional the entire organization was, from top down. Jackson was a key piece in the whole cog that helped bring the dynasty together. We've seen too many examples of talented teams that implode without a steadying hand to bring it together... would that have also happened to the Bulls?

  13. J.B Says:

    Another example of shady officiating happened in Game 6 of the 1992 East Finals. With about 35 seconds to go in the game, MJ went up for a shot and missed, but a foul was called. The replay showed, however, that Larry Nance really didn't touch him. If it wasn't for that, there may have been a Game 7.

    Dsong, I agree with you about Chicago. They may not have been as good without Phil's steadying hand. He also did the same in LA a decade later. Shaq probably would have demanded a trade if Phil never went there. He even said something like that.