It's obvious that the Miami Heat are talented enough to match or exceed the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' NBA record of 72 wins in a season. The Heat's trio of
So the smart money would be against the Heat's wiping the Bulls from the record books, if only because Miami has so little margin for error. But it's not just that. There were also a set of circumstances that were conducive to the Bulls' becoming dominant 15 years ago. Many of those circumstances aren't in Miami's favor in 2010. Here are a few of them:
The Bulls didn't have to concern themselves with such a high bar when they reported to training camp in the fall of 1995. As strange as it may sound in retrospect, hardly anyone expected
Then there was Jordan himself, who had returned to the NBA after a stint in baseball halfway through the previous season, to mixed results. He dropped 55 points on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden in his first week back, but the year ended with a humbling playoff loss to Orlando in which His Airness had looked very mortal. Believe it or not, there was a school of thought that suspected Jordan might have lost his mojo.
But those doubts might have been a blessing in disguise because they allowed the Bulls to build up steam somewhat gradually. They started 5-0, then lost, then won five more before they lost again. Imagine if the Heat are 10-2 after 12 games. They'll probably find themselves answering questions about what's gone wrong.
The relationship was so impersonal that, off the court, Jordan and Pippen barely exchanged a word with Rodman for most of training camp. "We have a good relationship," Rodman said during camp, with his unique brand of logic. "We don't talk to each other, but we have a good relationship." It was particularly hard for Pippen to roll out a welcome mat for Rodman, since the Bulls' second banana still carried a scar under his chin from being pushed into first row of seats by Rodman during the 1991 playoffs, for which the Worm had been fined $5,000. "No, I have not had a conversation with Dennis," Pippen said during that preseason. "I've never had a conversation with Dennis in my life, so I don't think that's anything new."
But team chemistry isn't necessarily about liking each other; it's about having individual styles that mesh, and the Bulls' big three had that. Jordan and Pippen had been a perfect partnership for years, and Rodman's game complemented them perfectly. Despite his personal peccadilloes, he was a serious student of rebounding. I remember his studying film in the locker room before games while his teammates mostly listened to their headphones. If he was in the mood, Rodman would give impromptu rebounding seminars during those sessions.
He would show you that almost every time Jordan missed from the top of the key, the rebound would come off to the right side, and how
So even if Jordan and Pippen weren't exactly Rodman's buddies, their games were a perfect match. Conversely, James, Wade and Bosh may be BFFs, but there is no guarantee that their styles will be an immediate match. If they're going to get to 72 wins or more, there isn't much time for their games to get to know each other.
For the Heat, the leadership question doesn't have such obvious answers. It is Wade's town, but is it now James' team? Will the two stars defer to each other too much? Not enough? Can Bosh find enough shots in a third-banana role that he's never filled before?
The issue gets even murkier when it comes to coaching leadership.
Though the Bulls didn't survive the season untouched by injury, they were fortunate that Jordan started all 82 games and Pippen missed only five. Before the first game of the playoffs in '96, which the Bulls swept through with only three losses, Jackson was asked what he thought the biggest key to the record-breaking regular season was. He pointed over to Jordan, who was out on the court early, shooting jumpers. "The biggest thing," Jackson said, "was that he came back, and his body held up so well. That was our great good fortune."
There is no telling if fortune will smile as warmly on the Heat this season. So many pieces have to fall into place, and quickly, if they are to make a serious run at the record. Possible? Yes. But 72 wins or more is still a longer shot than even James, Wade or Bosh has ever made.