The Bulls vs. The Avengers
Which brings us back to the duos.
The Bulls would have been an all-time great team with a 4-2 record. They could have won three titles in eight years and still been regarded as one of the greats. But they didn’t win three and they didn’t lose two. They went to six Finals and won them all. The Avengers can’t say the same — the conclusion of Age of Ultron is basically a pair of Ls, one because they needed Vision to stop Ultron, and two because they left a brutal trail of collateral damage in their wake with the city, and people, of Sokovia.
Still, the extended Avengers do embody a Bullsian level of greatness. They fall just short, I believe, because of a clash of personalities, along with some truly un-MJ decisions by Tony Stark. On the contrary, the second three-peat truly feels like a “a group of remarkable people,” as it were, drawn together as an ideal. Michael, the greatest player. Scottie, the greatest jack-of-all-trades. Dennis, the greatest rebounder. Toni, the greatest sixth man. Steve, the greatest shooter. Phil, the greatest coach. Krause, the greatest GM.
Look at how they talked about the team.
Jordan to Rick Telander in 1998: “On this team, we love each other — no jealousies, no animosities, no nothing. Is there another team like that? … On our team, everybody gets along with everybody, everybody can go out with everybody. And we’re not afraid to criticize each other.”
Pippen, early in the ‘95-’96 season: “Everyone enjoys the spotlight — being the leader, being the go-to guy. But it’s a lot of fun when you’ve got a good group of thoroughbreds you can go to as well, and then you can pick your places.”
Rodman, early in ‘95-’96: “I’ve been around great players before. And these two guys (Jordan and Pippen) are pretty much in a class by themselves.”
It’s quotes like these and so many more that sum up what Phil Jackson called his “totems.” That was the power of the second three-peat. The unity. It’s epitomized by the partnership of Jordan and Pippen — they are unquestionably and without hyperbole the greatest duo in NBA history. Tony and Steve are more Shaq and Kobe: a lesser #1 but a better #2, and yet the personality clashes make longstanding commitment impossible.
With Michael and Scottie, yes, the skillset combination was ideal. But the personality combination is what made the partnership transcendent. That’s how you master the mindset of Whatever It Takes. That’s how you get to six.
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, and author of How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls. He is the proprietor of the Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.