The former San Antonio Spurs point guard disagrees with the GOAT, Avery Johnson thinks the Spurs would’ve beaten the Bulls in ’99 and he’s right
A reoccurring theme throughout ‘The Last Dance’ was Michael Jordans‘ belief that as long as the Chicago Bulls were winning they had a right to keep the group together and keep fighting for championships. He was open about his belief that the Bulls would have won another title in 1999 if they had been able to keep the team together. One former San Antonio Spurs player feels differently.
As a member of the 1999 NBA Championship team, it’s no surprise that Avery Johnson would feel strongly about the Spurs chances. But he recently told Zach Gelb with CBS Sports Radio that even though the Bulls would’ve given them a challenge, the Spurs would have been up to the task of ending their title streak at three rings.
One point that Johnson was sure to highlight was the trade for Steve Kerr, saying that he hoped the Spurs still would have been able to make that deal. As Johnson said, he was constantly picking Kerr’s brain. Not only for generic veteran knowledge about how to be successful in the NBA, but also for more specific situations, asking him what the Bulls would’ve done in certain scenarios.
It’s easy to imagine Kerr as a not so secret weapon if the Spurs and Bulls had faced off in the Finals. Who better to feed the San Antonio coaches and players hints on how to best disrupt Jordan and Scottie Pippen than the guy who had just spent five years playing alongside them.
And even though the 1999 version of David Robinson was a slowed down iteration of the two-way destructive force we saw in the early ’90s, The Admiral and a young Tim Duncan would have given the Bulls matchup problems they simply wouldn’t have been ready for. Dennis Rodman would’ve been a defensive presence still, but he’s not enough to slow down the Twin Towers.
Johnson shared a similar sentiment in his interview with Gelb, expressing confidence in the Spurs wing defenders, believing that they would’ve been able to slow down MJ just enough and that the San Antonio bigs would’ve been dominant enough to give the Spurs the edge in a hard-fought series.
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“Even though Michael is incredible, unbelievable, the Bulls just wasn’t going to have an answer for Tim Duncan and David Robinson,” Johnson said. “I know Dennis [Rodman] was a good defender, but Dennis wouldn’t have been able to slow down Tim Duncan, and nobody on their roster could guard David. Mario Elie and Sean Elliott were incredible defenders. Just to make it tough on Michael, we had multiple guys that we could throw at him. So I just think it would have been a tough series, [but] I’m picking the Spurs in seven.”
Johnson would also go on to say that he wasn’t even sure if the Bulls would have made it out of the Eastern Conference. The New York Knicks, the Spurs eventual Finals opponent that year, as well as the Indiana Pacers were both strong teams that year. It’s impossible to say how those matchups would’ve gone.
Another element to consider would be Pippen’s presence on the team. If we’re operating under the assumption that the Bulls are keeping the gang together, they have to bring back Pippen, right? It can’t be just Jordan. And if they’re keeping Pippen, they’re probably keeping Kerr as well. That could have ultimately been what swung a potential Bulls-Spurs series. But we’re still rocking with Johnson and the Spurs in seven games.
Between Johnson coming to the 1999 title teams defense, Shaq putting an asterisk on that championship, and Doc Rivers rebutting of that asterisk, the San Antonio Spurs 1999 Championship is getting a lot of coverage as of late. We don’t mind a bit, looking back on rings is always a fun venture.