CHICAGO -- The respect is there.
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, the team that set an NBA record by going 72-10 in the regular season and winning an NBA championship, is watching what the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are doing with equal parts pride, awe and angst. The Warriors come into Wednesday night's game against this version of the Bulls with a 38-4 record. They've been compared to the Bulls at every turn, especially since they began the season on an improbable and record-setting 24-0 winning streak.
But before any comparisons are drawn between the two super teams, the Bulls want to make one thing very clear: If these two teams could have jumped into some kind of dream machine and met at the same time to play against each other, there is little doubt in the Bulls' collective wisdom what would have happened.
"I'll bet you out of, I don't know, 15 players, probably 16 would say that we would beat them," said former Bulls swingman Toni Kukoc, who now serves as an ambassador for the Bulls.
As confident as Kukoc and some of his other teammates are -- both in the feeling that they were the better all-around team and that their 72-win total will continue to stand even after this season -- the Warriors' play has made many of the former Bulls think about their record more than ever.
"I've thought a lot more this year about the 72-10 season than I have in the past because they're so close to doing it," former Bulls center Bill Wennington said. "Now they've just picked up their fourth loss in Detroit the other day, so I'd lie to you if I say I wasn't happy about it. But records and rules are made to be broken. It's going to happen one day. The longer it lasts, the better it is. But they're a great team, they play in a great system, they move the ball well, they play together well ... they're fun to watch."
At 38-4 entering Wednesday's game, the Warriors have fallen off the 73-win pace after their loss to the Pistons on Saturday. But Golden State still has a 14.3 percent chance to win 70 games, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index, up from 7.9 percent following their 132-98 thrashing of the Cavaliers on Monday.
Kukoc called the Warriors' play "beautiful." Former Bulls guard Randy Brown said what Golden State has accomplished so far this season has been "quite scary." Wennington, the radio color commentator for the Bulls, sees the joy the Warriors play with and notices the similarities.
"It's comparable in the way that they play together," Wennington said. "They're having fun out there. And it looks like they genuinely like each other's company. Everyone understands what their role is on their team. And so in that way, I think they're very comparable because guys are going out there, everyone's playing real well.
"Whether they have a starting role or they play five to 10 minutes a game role, whoever's out there is doing their job but having fun doing it. That was very much what we did. Hey, I wanted to start, I wanted Luc Longley's job, but I understood what my job was and I was going to go out and do what I had to do, and the same with Randy Brown, Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr. We all wanted to play more, but that's a good thing. You want guys that want to play more, but also guys that understand what their role is on the team, what they have to do."
The tone for that 1995-96 season was set early by Michael Jordan. Like Stephen Curry has done for the Warriors after earning the first MVP award of his career last season, Jordan was the one who led the way from the outset of that magical season, leading the league with 30.4 points a game to go along with 20.4 win shares and tying David Robinson in Player Efficiency Rating with 29.4. And like the Warriors have surely used the perceived slight that they were lucky in their path to the NBA title last season because they stayed healthy and didn't have to face the Spurs or Clippers in the playoffs, the 1995-96 Bulls had their own motivation.
"I remember Michael in training camp, he said every game was going to be like a playoff game to him," Brown said. "And I'm pretty sure you guys remember [the Bulls] had just lost to Orlando the season before [in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals] and during training camp he said every game is a playoff game, and that's the way we approached it. We had a veteran team. We had a system in play. We had limited injuries, we were lucky with that, and I just remember we were more serious than we were from the other two title teams. That '95-'96 team was all business."
In their first full season with Jordan back from his first retirement, the Bulls led the NBA in points per game (105.20), offensive efficiency (115.2) and defensive efficiency (101.8). They had 13- and 18-game winning streaks before going 11-1 through the first three rounds of the playoffs on the way to defeating the Seattle Supersonics 4-2 in the NBA Finals.
The confidence of those record-breaking Bulls' isn't rooted in cockiness. It's cemented by the fact that they had Jordan, arguably the greatest player of all time, as the centerpiece and a host of athletic and versatile players who could play multiple spots, much like the Warriors now.
"... during training camp [Jordan] said every game is a playoff game and that's the way we approached it. We had a veteran team. ... and I just remember we were more serious than we were from the other two title teams."Randy Brown
"Klay Thompson you could say is like Scottie Pippen," Wennington said. "Draymond [Green] could be the Dennis [Rodman], but we had Toni. Everyone forgets how good Toni was and what he really meant to the team. But they've got some great players and guys filling into holes around them."
The Warriors have Andre Iguodala, an athletic wing who spent time guarding LeBron James during last season's Finals and has been a vital player off the bench for Golden State the past two seasons. The Bulls could counter with Ron Harper, another athletic wing, who his teammates believe would have drawn the assignment of guarding Curry.
Current Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg reiterated Tuesday that he believes Curry is the best shooter the league has ever seen, but Kukoc doesn't believe Curry should be considered the game's best player.
"There are people [who] think that he's the best player in the league," Kukoc said. "It's hard to argue that he is the best player, but he is certainly the best scorer, the best shooter, very, very talented ball-handling guy and he uses every bit of it. It's a pleasure to watch him. But if you put complete basketball from a defensive standpoint, a rebounding standpoint, and all that, you can't ... I don't think you can compare [him to] LeBron or some other player. I would even put in [Bulls guard Jimmy] Butler. These two-way players, defensively and offensively are really good."
Brown, who made a name for himself as a defensive player during the Bulls' second three-peat and currently serves as an assistant coach on Hoiberg's staff, isn't certain if he could have slowed down Curry. Brown credited Jordan and Harper with helping him become a better defensive player, but he knows that Curry is playing a different game than most of his peers.
"I'm not sure if angles would probably work with Stephen Curry today," Brown said. "He's got different angles. It would have been different with Ron Harper, because he's long, he was smart; but I'm seeing Stephen Curry, he's doing it against small, medium, large, it's not mattering to him. So the angle part with him probably wouldn't make a difference."
The former Bulls all acknowledge Curry's greatness as a scorer and also note how big of an adjustment it would be to play against Golden State now because of the way the league has changed with no more handchecking. But the new rules would also have helped Jordan's game.
"Of course, I think the game would have been better for Michael, because he would have slowed the game down by living at the free throw line," Brown said. "We would have actually had to adjust by using our length a little bit more."
The beauty of the Warriors' game is that, much like the Bulls from 20 years ago, they make teams adjust to them. They play their own style and force opponents into a game they aren't comfortable with. The Warriors have the killer instinct and the confidence to break the will of the team they are facing on most nights, a mantle the Bulls earned during their record-setting campaign.
"Cleveland tried to play them physical, and they just got out of their game so much that they couldn't do anything about it," Kukoc said of the Warriors' rout of the Cavaliers on Monday.
The irony and importance that their former teammate Kerr is now the head coach of the Warriors isn't lost on any of his former teammates. Kerr hasn't coached a game yet this season as he recovers from offseason back surgery, but he has set the foundation for the success interim head coach Luke Walton and his players are having this season. It remains unclear when Kerr will return to the sidelines, but he still plays a major role in the Warriors' success.
"The second half of the season is a lot harder than the first half of the season ... in the end [Steve Kerr] is going to remind them that the record doesn't matter. It's the ring at the end that matters."Bill Wennington
"I think it's very important," Wennington said. "I think Steve knows exactly what it takes and the focus that you need to have so he can be there in the locker room. And I know he goes to all the home practices and he's there a lot to settle the guys down and say, 'Hey, this is great, but you got to be focused.' The second half of the season is a lot harder than the first half of the season ... in the end he's going to remind them that the record doesn't matter. It's the ring at the end that matters."
The ring might matter most, but the former Bulls hope that they can keep their record a bit longer.
"It might be a little champagne flowing when they lose that 11th game," Brown said with a smile. "I wouldn't mind.
"As they say, they're not focusing on the record as well; I think they're focusing on playing good basketball. And if that turns into wins, so be it for them."