Avery Johnson: 1999 Spurs Would Have Beaten Jordan's Bulls

The former San Antonio guard says the Spurs were deep enough, and talented enough, to deny Jordan a seventh ring

Zach Gelb
May 20, 2020 - 8:58 am
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With Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls taking center stage in The Last Dance, many fans and analysts wonder what would have happened if Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause didn’t break up the team. What if Jordan would have gotten a chance to run it back?

Well, at least one CBS Sports Radio host believes that Jordan’s Bulls would have beaten Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals.

Former Spurs guard Avery Johnson, however, isn’t so sure about that. 

“Well, I hope that we can still trade for Steve Kerr,” Johnson said on The Zach Gelb Show, laughing, when asked if the ’99 Spurs could have beaten Jordan’s Bulls. “I used to always pick his brain [about] the Bulls: What did they do in this situation? How did they respond? So Steve, even though I played most of the minutes, he was one of our really, really secret weapons in terms of him teaching us about a championship culture. I’m going to assume Steve plays with us.”

Kerr’s championship DNA may have rubbed off on Johnson, who hit the series-winning jump shot against the New York Knicks in Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals.

Johnson believes his Spurs were deep enough, and talented enough, to deny Jordan a seventh ring.

“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.”

Jordan never played in an NBA Finals Game 7. In fact, he didn’t play in many Game 7s, period. That’s how dominant he was in his prime.

“The Bulls didn’t have that many Game 7s,” Johnson said. “They had one against Reggie Miller and the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. But we were an unbelievable defensive team. Obviously the game was played in the low-90s, high-80s. That was our tempo. We made it tough. Obviously when we beat the Knicks in the Finals with Allan Houston and [Latrell] Sprewell, no, those guys aren’t Jordan, but those guys were [really good] wing players that we had to slow down and contain. We had some really good defenders, we had a lot of rim protection with David and Tim, [and] we had a young guy in his head-coaching tenure, Gregg Popovich, that could match wits with anybody. Again, we will never see it, but I like our chances.”

Even if Jordan and Rodman returned to the Bulls in 1999, it’s possible that Scottie Pippen’s relationship with management would have been untenable. After all, Pippen demanded a trade during the 1997-98 season.

Without Pippen, the Bulls might not have even won the East.

“I don’t know if they would have gotten to the Finals,” Johnson said. “The Knicks were still competitive. Obviously we beat them in the Finals. Indiana [was really good]. I think it would have been tough. They never won a championship without Scottie Pippen. So if Scottie’s not there, then that gives an opportunity for teams to potentially knock off the Bulls, especially in a seven-game series.”