clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

An homage to the best season in NBA history ...

There's really no debate. The 1987-88 NBA season was the best in league history.

Mike Powell

The Lakers and Celtics had the best records in their respective conferences.

A young, high-flying, and overpowering superstar from a Central Division team dominated the All-Star Game and was named the game's MVP.

The Eastern Conference had some young, talented teams but they didn't have the depth that their Western counterparts had and two sub-.500 Eastern Conference teams made the playoffs.

The Celtics found themselves in an epic, second-round, Game 7 dogfight in which they won in spite of the opposing team's superstar lighting them up for over 40 points in Boston. Then, in the next round, they went head-to-head against the Pistons.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were embroiled in a tough second-round matchup against the Utah Jazz and then had to face a tough Texas team on their way to the NBA Finals.

And the All-NBA Teams were chock-full of superstars at the peak of their respective careers.

Sounds like 2007-08, right?


1987-88: the best season in NBA history.

Regardless of how the season pans out, 2007-08 will be remembered as one of the best seasons in 20 years, but it still won't hold up to 1987-88.

First off, the league had only 23 teams that season as it was the last season before modern day expansion. Imagine taking all 450 or so players from today's NBA, cutting 100 of them, and spreading the rest of the players over 23 teams. How stacked would those teams be?

Second, check out the All-NBA Teams. The 1st Team featured Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon (known as "Akeem" back then). And the 2nd Team included Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Dominique Wilkins. That's 10 Hall of Famers - how would that team compare to the top-10 players today?

Third, the 1988 All-Star Weekend in Chicago was the best of all time. On Saturday night, we had Bird's finger-pointing-in-the-air-before-his-last-shot-went-down three point shootout win, followed by Jordan and Wilkins' epic slam dunk contest duel (which Nique was screwed out of by the judges favoring the hometown Jordan).

Then, on Sunday, one of the best All-Star Games ever broke out. First consider who made the All-Star Game. In the Eastern Conference, the All-Star starters were Jordan, Bird, Wilkins, Isiah Thomas and Moses Malone. That meant Barkley, Ewing, Kevin McHale, Brad Daugherty and Maurice Cheeks came off the bench. And in the West? The starters were Magic, Fat Lever, Olajuwon, Alex English and the Mailman. So you had Mark Aguirre, Drexler, Xavier McDaniel, Alvin Robertson and James the bench! It's safe to say that Chris Gatling and Jamaal Magloire wouldn't have made the cut that year. And the game itself was fantastic. The East won 138-133 and included a 40 point effort from MJ, 29 from Nique, 19 assists from Magic and 15 assists from Isiah. Wow.

Third, just look at the depth on the rosters of the top teams. We all know that the Lakers (62-20) had Magic, Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott, A.C. Green and Michael Cooper, while the Celtics (57-25) had Bird, McHale, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish and the Pistons (54-28) featured Isiah, Joe Dumars, Adrian Dantley, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Vinnie Johnson and Rick Mahorn. But look at who the other teams had, many of whom were in their prime:

Denver (54-28) had English (25 ppg), Lever (18.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7.8 apg, 2.7 spg - and people think Jason Kidd is good), Michael Adams (13.9 ppg and 6.1 apg), Jay Vincent (15.4 ppg) and Danny Schayes (13.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 54% FG).

Dallas (53-29) had Aguirre (25.1 ppg), Rolando Blackman (18.7 ppg), Derek Harper (17 ppg, 7.7 apg, 2 spg), Sam Perkins (14.2 ppg, 8 rpg), Roy Tarpley (13.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg), Detlef Schrempf (8.5 ppg) and James Donaldson (7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 56% FG).

Portland (53-29) had Drexler (27 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 5.8 apg, 2.5 spg), Jerome Kersey (19.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Kevin Duckworth (15.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Steve Johnson (15.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Terry Porter (14.9 ppg, 10.1 apg).

Atlanta (50-32) had Wilkins (30.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Doc Rivers (14.2 ppg, 9.3 apg, 1.8 spg) and Kevin Willis (11.6 rpg, 7.3 rpg) surrounded by eight solid role players.

Chicago (50-32) had MJ (35 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.9 apg, 3.2 spg, 53% FG), Charles Oakley (13.4 ppg) and a pair of rookies named Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.

Utah (47-35) had Malone (27.7 ppg, 12 rpg, 52% FG), Stockton (14.7 ppg, 13.8 apg, 3 spg), Thurl Bailey (19.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Darrell Griffith (11.3 ppg) and Mark Eaton (7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.7 bpg).

Houston (46-36) had Olajuwon (22.8 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.1 spg, 2.7 bpg) and five other players average at least 10 ppg (six if you included the injury-riddled Ralph Sampson).

Seattle (44-38) had the most lethal trio in the league with McDaniel (21.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Dale Ellis (25.8 ppg, 41.3 three-point %) and Tom Chambers (20.4 ppg, 6 rpg) to go along with role players like Derrick McKey, Nate McMillan and Sedale Threatt.

Cleveland (42-40) had Daugherty (18.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4.2 apg), Larry Nance (16.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg), Mark Price (16 ppg, 6 apg, 48.6 three-point %), Ron Harper (15.4 ppg) and John "Hot Rod" Williams and Dell Curry putting up at least 10 ppg apiece, too.

And Milwaukee (42-40) came to the party with Terry Cummings (21.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Jack Sikma (16.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Paul Pressey (13.1 ppg, 7 apg, 1.5 spg) to go along with an injury-riddled Ricky Pierce (16.4 ppg) and Sidney Moncrief (10.8 ppg).

Fourth, we witnessed arguably the greatest playoff matchups in NBA history. Four out of eight first round series went the distance. In the second round, it took the Celtics seven games to beat the Hawks - including the best playoff game ever when Bird's 20 fourth quarter points (34 for the game) bested Wilkins' 16 fourth quarter points (47 for the game). Meanwhile, it took the Lakers seven games to beat Malone and Stockton's Jazz. In the conference finals, it would take the Lakers yet another seven game series to beat the stacked Mavericks, while the Celtics succombed to the Bad Boy Pistons in six.

Capping this all off was the greatest NBA Finals that I've ever seen, with the Lakers beating the Pistons in seven games, including Isiah's heroic Game 6 perfomance on one leg (in which he scored 25 points in a single quarter) and "Big Game" James Worthy's Game 7 triple-double with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Games 6 and 7 were decided by a total of four points. Four! And they weren't putrid low-scoring affairs like the Bulls/Jazz Finals of the late 1990's. More offensive to me than MJ's blatant push off on Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals was that the final score was 87-86 and the Bulls only broke 90 twice in the entire series. Welcome to expansion era basketball, everyone!

Oh, and in 1987-88 the Coach of the Year was none other than the Nuggets Doug Moe. So that pretty much says it all right there.