While checking out a few of the now notorious Kobe vs Jordan or LeBron vs Jordan threads I keep running into this single argument that I have trouble swallowing. Some Posters keeps refering to the 1990s as a weak decade for NBA basketball. Often the argument states that there were few teams outside the Bulls that were really even that good and that that is why Michael Jordan is looked at so greatly. Then you will here this followed by the fact that the Lakers and Celtics were old and could no longer challenge the Bulls. That idea is an injustice to many great teams of the 1990s, many of which could have given the 80s Lakers and Celtics a run for their money. Am I saying that the 90s were better then the 80s? No, what I am saying is that they were very close and solid arguments can be made in both cases. Let us take a look.
The 1980s were really dominated by two teams and we all understand that. The rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics is by far the greatest in the NBA and maybe in all sports behind Yankees/Redsox. Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson in college and then on the NBA hardwood is a storybook-type legend that shaped the NBA into a powerhouse league. The Celtics with Bird, Parish, McHale, and Walton created perhaps the greatest frontcourts in NBA history and the Lakers with Magic, Worthy, Kareem, and Cooper were maybe the most balanced and exciting teams ever. Nothing can be taken away from what these two teams did and how great they were.
Let's look at the rest of the 80s teams. There were the Hakeem and the Rockets, Dr. J and Malones 76ers, and the late eighties Cavaliers and Pistons that were all great teams as well. What I am getting at is that the 80s were just like the 90s in that there were two teams that were above the rest and a half dozen or so very good teams just below them. In the 90s the Bulls were the Laker/Celtics in that they were just better then the rest. It is not like the Bulls just swept every team in the playoffs though. They had their hurdles to jump.
To me the 80s and 90s will always stand out as the two best decades in NBA history for a two reason. First, players started to get much bigger, stronger, and faster. This is even more true for the 90s when players like Shaq and David Robinson came on the scene. Before the 80s basketball was more of a team sport and a finesse game. I am not saying that it was not physical, but no one can say it was more physical then the 80s and 90s when players were much stronger and therefore fouls were just that more nasty. Secondly, there were no hand checking rules back then so defenses were twice as aggressive as they are today. I really wonder how LeBron James or Kobe Bryant would do against the 80s Celtics or Pistons or the 90s Bulls or Knicks. Jump shooting was much harder and so was driving the lane. The game is now designed for high scoring and fast paced basketball. Gone are the days of hard fouls every other play and players be whacked al the time. Take a look at some old tapes of games from the 80s and 90s and one will see that it was a much different game.
To say the 90s had no competition for the Bulls is just silly. The Bulls real rivalries took place in the East Playoffs and not the Finals. Sure the Suns, Jazz, Trail Blazers, and Supersonics were all great teams with HOF players on them, but anyone who was alive to watch Jordan and the Bulls play knows that the teams that the Bulls had most trouble with were in their own conference. The early 90s with the Pistons has to be one of the greatest rivalries in the NBA behind the Lakers/Celtics and if the Bulls had been in the west and those playoff series were really Finals matchups then some would argue them to be some of the greatest Finals matchups ever. Also, who could forget the intense matchups with the Knicks and Pacers. Surely those Knicks and Pacers teams of the 90s would have won rings had the Bulls not been around.
Bottomline. It is hard to really compare two different decades of basketball and I for one believe the 80s and 90s to be the best ever do to player size and athletic abilities and the lack of strict defensive rules. To make a claim that Kobe or even LeBron is better then Jordan or Magic is like comparing apples and oranges. Who is to say how well James and Kobe would have played back in the day against hard defenses? Maybe they would be even better. Who knows? Would Magic and MJ thrive even more with less contact? I think Jordan would be even scarier in today's game. You really only need to look at the stats and add to that the era of basketball that they played in to realize that MJ, Magic, and Bird were the greatest players ever. Wilt, Russell, Oscar, and Kareem are also in the mix.
I guess I will close with my alltime top ten list because it just seems fitting.
1)Michael Jordan. 2)Magic Johnson. 3)Wilt Chamberlain. 4)Bill Russell. 5)Larry Bird. 6)Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 7)Oscar Robertson. 8)Hakeem Olajuwan. 9)Tim Duncan. 10)Shaquille O'Neal