Detlef Schrempf Didn’t Realize Just How Great Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls Were Ahead of the ‘Biggest Mismatch in NBA Finals History’
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were heavy favorites against the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1996 NBA Finals, totally unbeknownst to Sonics star Detlef Schrempf.
Schrempf was so focused on his own team’s success that he was blissfully ignorant to the aura that the 1995-96 Bulls team carried everywhere they went. In fact, he remembered being stunned the Sonics were such underdogs.
Detlef Schrempf had no clue that the ’96 Bulls broke the NBA record for regular-season wins
Detlef Schrempf and the 1995-96 Sonics weren’t slouches by any stretch of the imagination.
Seattle posted the best record in the Western Conference (64-18) that season, with Shawn Kemp and Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton leading the charge and the likes of Schrempf and Hersey Hawkins providing an added scoring punch. Schrempf, in particular, gave the Sonics a versatile forward who was a sniper from beyond the arc and finished second on the team in assists at 4.4 dimes per game.
The Sonics were so good that Schrempf had no conception of how other teams around the NBA were playing, including Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
It’s pretty astonishing that Schrempf had no awareness of Chicago’s success, because that storyline dominated the NBA landscape.
The Bulls’ longest losing streak that season was two games, and they did that just once. Chicago had separate winning streaks of 13 and 18 games, going 42-5 before All-Star weekend and 30-5 after the break. Jordan, meanwhile, reclaimed his status as the best player in the NBA, winning another scoring title and taking home his fourth MVP Award.
As good as the Sonics were, MJ and the Bulls simply appeared to be too much. Legendary sportscaster Bob Costas dubbed the showdown as the “biggest mismatch in NBA history.” Schrempf forgot about that, too. “I didn’t realize we were such an underdog,” Schrempf said, via 710 AM Seattle.
The Sonics played like underdogs initially, though they did make things tough on Chicago.
The resilient Sonics could not conquer Michael Jordan and the Bulls
Bob Costas’ “biggest mismatch” assessment of the series proved true through the first three games.
Michael Jordan scored an efficient 27 points as the Bulls cruised to a 17-point win in the series opener. He was less efficient in Game 2, but Dennis Rodman‘s 11 offensive rebounds keyed yet another Chicago win. Jordan really got cooking in Game 3, pouring in 36 points and giving the Bulls a stranglehold.
But the Sonics rallied. Seattle made the switch to put Payton on Jordan in Game 4, and The Glove held MJ to 6-for-19 shooting as the Sonics cruised to a 21-point win. His Airness recovered in Game 5, but his teammates were shackled. Seattle suddenly had a glimmer of hope heading back to Chicago.
The Bulls snuffed that hope out early in Game 6. Schrempf scored 23 points and did his best to push the series to a seventh game, but Chicago led wire-to-wire en route to a 12-point victory and a fourth championship.
Are the 1995-96 Bulls the greatest team in NBA history?
Although the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls no longer have the record for most regular-season wins, they still have a strong case as the best team in NBA history.
The Golden State Warriors won 73 games during the 2015-16 season. But the Dubs could not clear the last hurdle, relinquishing a 3-1 series lead to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2016 NBA Finals.
There are cases to be made for the Warriors team that did win the title the following season. The 1985-86 Boston Celtics have an argument, as do the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks and 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. However, it’s hard to deny Michael Jordan and the ’96 Bulls.
Detlef Schrempf might not have been aware of that team’s greatness at the time, but he almost certainly is now.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.