In honor of the NBA playoffs, I put together a special kind of tournament featuring the legends of the hardwood. Using Whatifsports.com and using their advanced computer simulation, I put the eight best teams in history up against each other to see who would become Champion of Champions.
I tried to be relatively objective with the selection process. I used Simple Rating System (via Basketball Reference) which uses both strength of schedule and points differential to rate every NBA team in history, and then added the following qualifiers: The team must have won a championship, every dynasty (ex. Jordan Bulls or Bird’s Celtics) can only get one team in the tournament, and each NBA decade gets a maximum of two teams.
- 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks
- 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
- 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
- 2014-15 Golden State Warriors
- 2007-08 Boston Celtics
- 1985-86 Boston Celtics
- 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers
- 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs
The ‘71 Bucks completed a 4-0 sweep over the ‘07 Spurs. San Antonio’s legendary defense was strong enough to contain Oscar Robertson, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar proved that his skyhook really was unguardable. In Game Four he had an incredible 48 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks.
The ‘08 Celtics were able to win Game Three during a poor shooting night from the ‘15 Warriors, but that was all they had in the tank. Golden State won a decisive 4-1 series against the “Big Three” of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
The ‘96 Bulls ran into a major matchup problem—their one weakness was always going up against great centers, and they just happened to be matched up against Wilt Chamberlain’s 76ers. The Sixers took Game One decisively, but the Bulls fired back with a large deficit win in Game Two. Ultimately, it came down to Game Seven: Michael Jordan’s 35 points and Dennis Rodman’s 21 rebounds helped the Bulls survive a scary first round matchup, taking the series 4-3.
In an interesting take on the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, Los Angeles (with a more seasoned Wilt Chamberlain on the team) took down the Larry Bird Celtics in a 4-1 series. Winston-Salem’s very own Happy Hairston put up 18 points and 17 rebounds in Game Five.
I didn’t plan it this way. Look, it wasn’t supposed to be some kind of sick joke on a certain group of NBA fans—it just happened. The Warriors got off to a 3-1 lead against the ‘71 Bucks, and then…well, you can probably guess. The Warriors lost in Game Seven—where they shot just 37% from the field and turned it over 16 times.
The ‘72 Lakers looked like they were going to make it a tough series for the ‘96 Bulls, but then Michael Jordan reminded us all why he is remembered as the best clutch performer in sports history. Jordan had 49 points in Game Four and 47 points in Game Five, enough to take the Lakers down 4-1.
The Championship of Champions is finally set—the finals will take place between the 1970-71 Bucks and the 1995-96 Bulls.
Before talking about the finals, let’s take a second to appreciate just how well the Whatifsports simulator has done. While having no upsets might make for a less eventful tournament, it says a lot about the realism that the higher seeds have won each series. Also, we got the added dimension of match-ups and how they affect the outcomes of series, such as the Bulls struggling against a young Wilt Chamberlain.
Speaking of that match-up, the only thing more terrifying for the Bulls than young Wilt Chamberlain is young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Michael Jordan’s 32 points were impressive, but not nearly enough. Bucks win 116-97.
The Bucks continued to control the tempo of the series, but Scottie Pippen was absolutely unleashed for this one. He finished 35 points, eleven assists, and eight rebounds to help push the Bulls over the Bucks in a high scoring affair—130-122. Series tied at 1-1.
The first overtime game of the entire playoffs. It was 120-120 when the Bulls got the ball with thirteen seconds left on the clock. The result? A Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper from the baseline with one second left. Bulls lead the series 2-1.
At this point, I’m starting to think the Bulls are just too athletic for the Bucks. Oscar Robertson had been rendered almost useless against Jordan and Pippen’s on-ball defense, and Kareem’s skill can only carry them so far. The Bulls took Game Four, 111-98. They lead the series 3-1 going back to Milwaukee.
A 33 points, eight assist performance from Scottie Pippen, along with a fourth quarter in which the Bulls dropped 40 points, led to a decisive victory. The away crowd watches in utter silence as the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls win the Championship of Champions.
Michael Jordan runs out to the center of the court and collapses on his knees, in disbelief that he has won his seventh title. Benny the Bull dances around the court for four straight hours. Okay, so this last part wasn’t actually included in the simulation, but it would have happened.
In the end, although it might not be a surprise, the ‘96 Bulls are crowned as the Champion of all Champions.