2017 Warriors or Jordan's 1996 Bulls? Vegas oddsmakers know which side they're taking

Henry Bushnell
Michael Jordan high fives teammate Steve Kerr during Game 3 of the 1996 NBA Finals. (Getty)
Michael Jordan high fives teammate Steve Kerr during Game 3 of the 1996 NBA Finals. (Getty)

Are the 2017 Golden State Warriors the best NBA team of all time?

Probably. The franchise broke the NBA single-season wins record a year ago, going 73-9, then added a top-three player in the league. In the first season of the Kevin Durant era, Golden State is two wins away from a perfect 16-0 run through the playoffs to an NBA championship. They’ve rendered LeBron James’ greatness futile, and have done all kinds of things that no NBA team has ever done before. There are countless ways to quantify the historic nature of their success.

But, with all that being said, only one NBA team has ever won 72 games and an NBA championship in the same season. That was the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Thus, we have a debate: Who was/is better, those Bulls or these Warriors?

One way to answer the question: Ask Vegas.

That’s what ESPN’s Ben Fawkes did, and his inquiries didn’t quite yield unanimity, but they came pretty close. Five of six bookmakers set the 2017 Warriors as favorites in a hypothetical game on a neutral floor. One set the line as high as Warriors -8. The lowest point spread offered was Warriors -2. One bookie said it would “have to be pretty close to pick-em.”

(For the sake of comparison, the Warriors were favored by 7.5 points over the Cavaliers in Game 1 on their home floor, and by 9 points in Game 2. They opened as 2-point road favorites for Wednesday’s Game 3 in Cleveland.)

As some oddsmakers whom ESPN spoke with pointed out, though, the hypothetical head-to-head matchup is a somewhat silly concept, and probably not the best way to judge who the greatest team of all time is. Not only are the two teams’ styles vastly different, the rules under which they built their rosters and play(ed) are significantly different, too.

Here’s what Matthew Holt, the COO at CG Analytics, told ESPN on that matter:

“The biggest factor is what rules is [the] game being played under. Being able to hand check would make the Bulls [the] favorite and their roster was built for that. In the no-handcheck era, the Warriors’ current roster is much better suited and would have some serious speed and shooter advantages at several key positions.”

It’s unclear if other bookmakers interviewed assumed the game was being played under current rules, or if they even considered that the versions of the game the two teams played were not the same. Nonetheless, debate is fun and good, and imagining a game between the two teams sure is intriguing.

It’s pretty difficult to argue that Jordan’s Bulls, if transported to the modern era, would be able to beat the current Warriors in a seven-game series. They certainly wouldn’t be favored in a single game. But, on the other hand, transport the 2017 Warriors back to the 1990s, and we certainly have a discussion.