The NBA’s Best Decade? The 1990s

07.19.11 6 years ago 28 Comments
Michael Jordan

This is the second post in a three-part series we will be running today on the best decade in NBA history. Was it the 1980s? The 1990s? Or the 2000s? Can you make the arguments that one of the earlier decades was even better? Sure. But not likely. Can you make an argument that one of these three was the best ever? Of course. And that’s what we’re doing…

The 1990s. Known for long hair, increasingly long shorts, and some of the best basketball ever seen. The reason? It starts and ends with Michael Jordan. The best basketball player to play the game may have gotten his start in the ’80s, but he hit his prime and won all six of his championships in the ’90s. MJ, for better or worse, owned this decade. But there are other reasons why the ’90s have arguably the greatest collection of NBA players ever. They’re named Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Chris Webber and Gary Payton.

All hit their prime in the ’90s. Their stats portray sheer star power and numbers that can’t be matched. Sure, you could argue that today’s game is loaded with superstars. And that’s true. But these guys from the ’90s are simply the best. But why? What makes these guys the best? There’s no better word to describe them than domination.

The perfect example: the Dream Team. The team did include ’80’s legends Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Clyde Drexler, along with Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner. But most of the players on the team made their name in one decade — the ’90s. Robinson, Ewing, Pippen, Jordan, Malone, Stockton and Barkley all helped lead the team to the Olympic gold medal in dominating fashion. Every game was won by at least 30 points. The Dream Team set the tone for the decade. The theme of domination would only continue. Why? Jordan.

He is the backbone of the ’90s, without a doubt. If you’re starting a team, you want MJ. As for point guard? It’s hard to argue against Stockton, the No. 1 assist-man of all-time, who averaged 10.5 assists per game during his career. And up front? Olajuwon (11.1 rebounds per game), Robinson (10.6), Mourning (8.5) and Webber (9.8) aren’t too shabby. This roster is a team of pure scorers too. You have Malone (second all-time in career points), Ewing (16th), Barkley (18th) and Pippen (18,940 career points as MJ’s wing man). There’s a shooter extraordinaire in Miller (No. 2 all-time in three-pointers made) and a glove-like defender in Payton (fourth all-time in steals made…Stockton is first and Jordan second). All are Hall-of-Famers or should be inducted in the near future. These players have all-around accolades (arguably the best player ever, No. 1 man in assists, etc.) that are hard to top.

But if there’s one area that some players on this decade team fail in, it is championships. Ewing, Barkley, Stockton and Malone are arguably four of the best players never to get a ring. Webber and Miller never won it all either. Why? To start, Jordan had six of the decade’s 10 titles. So unless you were on the Bulls, chances are your ’90s title hopes were slim. Stockton and Malone found that out firsthand in both ’97 and ’98, losing in the Finals to MJ’s Bulls. Barkley’s Suns lost in the ’93 Finals. Ewing lost to MJ’s Bulls in the playoffs a number of times. Olajuwon probably only won two titles because he benefitted from Jordan’s break from basketball, winning back-to-back championships with the Rockets in ’94 and ’95. Robinson managed to win two (one of which came in the ’00s), while Mourning and Payton finally won it all at the tail end of their careers in ’06.

If you look at today’s great players, nearly all have titles: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen. And the same can be said of the pre-’90s decades: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas all have rings. The fact that half of the best players of the ’90s went title-less is a direct result of Jordan.

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