We are nearly 15 years removed from the ’90s but it is still the most talked about era in NBA history. The 1990s was just a great all-around decade for modern culture and style. Whether it was watching Will Smith in the Fresh Prince, Biggie and Tupac going at it for rap supremacy, or MJ dominating the game, the ’90s impact on our society is still very present.
While some are going to argue the ’80s was the best decade for the NBA, featuring stars like Magic and Bird, the ’90s brought in an abundance of talent that have become Hall of Famers and some of the players that we have grown to love and idolize.
Here are the top ten reasons why the ’90s was the best era in NBA history.
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There were not as many friendships like we see in today’s NBA in the ’90s. (Think LeBron, ‘Melo, D-Wade.) In fact, there was some real bad blood between a lot of teams and players. Every marquee player in the ’90s wanted to win and that meant no type of association with anybody from any team. With so many fights and brawls, you could tell players really did not like each other.
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls set the tone with rivalries as they battled everyone in the Eastern Conference–the Pistons, Pacers and Knicks–in some brutal matchups. If you want to know how bad rivalries were just ask Isiah Thomas why he didn’t make the Dream Team roster in 1992.
Two years prior, before MJ finally won an NBA title, the Pistons wreaked havoc on the Bulls. It was just bad timing for Isiah when the Bulls finally overthrew them, then went on to win two championships in a row. At the end of that 1991 Eastern Conference Final series, Thomas told his teammates to leave the floor while there was still time on the clock. The Pistons walked passed Chicago’s bench without offering any handshakes or congratulations, a true form of disrespect and bad sportsmanship.
While MJ had his hand in the decision to leave Thomas off the team, Scottie Pippen was not afraid to sound off in the Dream Team documentary on NBA TV about why Isiah was left off the team, saying, “Isiah was the general, he would yap at his teammates and say ‘Kick them on their ass. Do whatever you have to do.’ No, I didn’t want him on the Dream Team, I despised how he played the game.”
The rest is history; Isiah became the biggest snub from the greatest team ever assembled.
The Bulls and Knicks matchups–during the playoffs and at Christmas–were always worth the watch. MJ and Pippen broke a lot of New Yorkers hearts in the ’90s and are the main reason why the Knicks had a tough time winning a championship. MJ’s great escape in the 1991 Playoffs is one of the greatest moves in NBA history and he made John Starks look foolish before dunking on Patrick Ewing.
However, the Knicks and Pacers matchups were probably the most entertaining rivalry in the ’90s. The teams played five playoff matchups and every one of them is a classic. Lifelong Knicks fan Spike Lee and Reggie Miller would go at it, which led to Spike getting the famous choke sign from Reggie. Every Knicks fan remembers “8 points in 9 seconds” and one of the biggest choke jobs in NBA history during the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Then the last true rivalry was the Heat and the Knicks. Both teams went at it for years. Former Knicks coach Pat Riley was the center of the rivalry after he left the team and went on to join the Heat. At the end of Game 4 in the 1998 Eastern Conference First Round, Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson fought but the two did not land any punches. It will always be remembered for Jeff Van Gundy holding onto the legs of Mourning to stop the fight.
By the early ’90s, the NBA was becoming extremely popular, which meant endorsements and elite clientele for brands such as Nike, Gatorade, Converse, McDonald’s, Reebok and Pepsi. We saw some of the best commercials in the ’90s from NBA stars, such as Michael Jordan’s advertisements for his Air Jordan sneakers. Michael Jordan revolutionized the opportunities for athletes, giving players the chance to become global superstars. Basketball commercials of this time provided entertainment, from the Lil’ Penny Nike commercials and the Larry Johnson “Grandmama” Converse commercials to the Nike Fun Police. The ’90s was the platform for athletes to start making serious money off the court.