Maybe you forgot, or maybe you don’t care, but the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10 in the regular season and started the playoffs going 11-1 through the first three rounds ran into a Seattle team in the finals that finally started to realize its potential.
It didn’t start out that way. Chicago won the first two games of the Finals at home, then won the first game in Seattle to take a commanding 3-0 lead. The finals were over as far as commentators and fans were concerned. Gary Payton didn’t give a shit; and you could probably sum up his career and braggadocio by the ensuing two games and running dialogue with Jordan.
Led by pre-1999 lockout weight gain Shawn Kemp and the Oakland shit-talking maestro, Gary Payton, Seattle would win the next two games to push the series to 3-2. During those two games, Payton yammered at MJ constantly, and you could just feel the Oakland playground funk coming out.
At the time, I remember it being nice to see someone, anyone, stand up to Jordan during the 95-96 season. After having the ball stripped by Nick Anderson in the Eastern Conference Final’s the year before, MJ brought a court on set that summer for the filming of Space Jam. He patented the turn-around that added years and titles to his legacy, and spawned countless imitations. No one touched MJ and the Bulls the next season when they won 72, but Payton didn’t care. It took Sam Cassell level balls (something else Kobe stole) for Payton to talk that much shit to MJ in the NBA Finals after going down 3-0. That was just Payton though. He talked shit and backed it up averaging around 20-10-5 for the next two Seattle victories.
But, it was not to be, as MJ and the Bulls would end Seattle’s only Finals appearance with Kemp, Payton, and coach George Karl, in game 6 with a 87-75 win at home.
Doesn’t change the competitiveness, drive and talent Payton showed when they were down 3-0 and facing a sweep. You can see it in the picture above as he’s about to add the expletive “FUCK” to his aside with the GOAT. He didn’t win the series, but he stood up to the one guy no one else wanted to take on, and he almost beat him.