March 21, 2013 by Ian Goldstein
Think of the greatest television sitcom of the 1990s. Would it be fair to guess that one name comes to mind, personified by a guy who inflects his voice and constantly asks: “what is the deal with this”? and “did you ever notice that”?
When you think of the greatest NBA franchise of the 1990s do you see a red-faced, white-horned, angry adult male of the Bos Taurus species?
So we realize that Seinfeld and the Chicago Bulls were the best of their respective fields in the 1990s, possibly of all-time. But why is this relevant?
Because they’re actually identical twins, separated at birth, both growing up to be the unstoppable force and the immovable object.
Here are the Top 10 reasons why Seinfeld and the 1990’s Bulls are uncannily similar:
10. Big Shoes to Fill
Television in the 1980s was dominated by Cheers. It averaged 15 million viewers in its 11-year-run, won 28 Emmy Awards and was nominated 117 times.
NBA in the 1980s was under the reign of Magic’s Showtime Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics. They won eight out of the ten NBA finals in the decade and cemented the legacy of almost every starter on either team.
Cheers and The Los Angeles Lakers & Boston Celtics passed the torches, acknowledging that their time had expired. George wanted to be paid like Ted Danson and Michael Jordan was picking up the NBA style of play quickly. Both Seinfeld and the Chicago Bulls eventually found their form, and supremely ruled sports and television in the 1990s.
9. No Hair
This one is individually specific—Michael Jordan and George Costanza were bald.
Michael Jordan made being bald cool. After Jordan, NBA stars like Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter embraced the look. Subsequently following Jordan’s lead across the sports world were Andre Agassi, the Hasselbeck brothers, Kevin Youkilis, and Albert Pujols. Lebron will embrace it soon.
Kojak was probably the coolest bald guy on television, but look at the upsurge of leading men after George Costanza that were bald and one of the lead characters on a TV show:
Television and the NBA are constantly building upon themselves, grabbing from the past and creating for the future. Some initiatives last and others fade away. They’re both in a state of perpetual evolution.
The triangle offense wasn’t fully utilized in the NBA until Phil Jackson and assistant coach Tex Winter brought it to the ‘90s Bulls. Jackson became head coach, replacing Doug Collins and, using this brand of play, Winter and Jackson won six titles. It was a system that worked to the advantage of the individual, but also served the notion of the team. The triangle offense is a perplexing concept that I doubt I would do any justice by explaining here, but when it works, it wins championships.
Seinfeld brought to television what the triangle offense brought to the NBA: something that viewers and participants couldn’t understand. It was a bizarre concept—that audiences could watch people standing around video stores discussing non-sense and be entertained. But it worked. This was the Seinfeld offense, people conversing about where to find the best public restrooms in the city. It was an offense that highlighted the individual character’s humor, but also assisted the rest of the cast. The show about nothing was fresh; these characters weren’t likable, redeemable, or morally cognizant. There was no lesson at the end of each episode and the show didn’t ask for emotional investment.
The triangle offense requires players without the ball to be on the move just as much as the player with the ball, there’s constant motion and preferably any player can pass or shoot at any time. This leads into the next reason:
7. Great Role Players
The stars of Seinfeld and The Chicago Bulls shined, but the memorable episodes and the championship seasons were clinched with the aid of a great supporting cast.
Craig Hodges is not a basketball legend, but he was a three point specialist who currently has more rings than Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley combined. He is a two-time NBA champion, playing for the ’91 and ’92 Bulls. The same goes for Steve Kerr, a five-time NBA champion, winning three titles with the Bulls—one of which (1997) was because of his game-winning shot in game 6 against the Utah Jazz. John Paxson ,Tony Kukoc, Horace Grant, and B.J. Armstrong were all key contributors to the Bulls’ dynasty.
Newman, Banya, Frank & Estelle Costanza, Susan, Morty and Helen Seinfeld, George Steinbrenner. The list continues, but these recurring characters were as good to the show as the best Bulls’ role players. At some points these cast members were as memorable as the stars and without them the show wouldn’t have been nearly as great.
6. Ratings, Awards, and Acclaim.
The Bulls won six NBA championships. Michael Jordan won five MVP awards and people usually rank the 1996 Chicago Bulls, who finished with a record 72 wins and 10 losses, as one of the best teams that’s ever played. Jordan agrees.
Seinfeld finished first in the ratings twice, won 10 Emmy awards, three golden globes, and is consistently ranked as the greatest sitcom ever. In 2009, TV Guide listed the 100 greatest episodes of television and “The Contest” was #1.
5. The Oddball
Cosmo Kramer = Dennis Rodman
These guys were strange from the start, but at first it was subtle. Their oddball tendencies grew as their lives moved on.
Dynasties and canonical shows need the oddballs, though, for the viewers to question, to love, and to be entertained.
4. Failed Comebacks for the Stars
To make this clear:
Jerry Seinfeld = Michael Jordan
They were both born in Brooklyn. They climbed the ranks in the ‘80s and became household names in the ‘90s.
If you took either of these men away from their team/show it would collapse. Yes, you still would have a playoff contender and an Emmy nominated sitcom, but not a winner—not an ensemble that would take you all the way. Jerry Seinfeld moved the characters forward. He furthered plots by convincing the other characters to make decisions. It was his show.
The same goes for Jordan. He was the variable. The Bulls still made the playoffs without him, but they didn’t win the championship. Jordan’s first retirement opened the floodgates for Ewing, Olajuwon, Malone, Stockton, Barkley and Miller to step forward and see if they could win a title.
Both Seinfeld and Jordan haven’t succeeded in the NBA or on Television after their ‘90s stardom. Yes, they’re working, and no I’m not saying they could or even should try to top what they did in the ‘90s. That would be impossible. But they never came close. Jordan was limited physically as a 40-year-old player; he was never expected to make a real comeback after 1998. He played for the Washington Wizards from 2001-2003; there was hype, but ultimately disappointment. As an owner of the Charlotte Bobcats his record has been dismal and aside from strange Hanes commercials and Air Jordan’s anything involving the sport of basketball is a lose situation for him.
Seinfeld hasn’t tried a new sitcom, but Bee Movie is his Washington Wizards—a good effort, but forgettable and unfortunate. The Marriage Ref is his Charlotte Bobcats.
It was exciting to think: “Hey, Jordan’s playing again!” and “Jerry Seinfeld is on TV again!” But both didn’t work, the hype overshadowed the performances. They can bask in the glory that is the rest of their lives, but success post-dominance is unlikely.
The Spring of 1998 was bittersweet for both Seinfeld and the Chicago Bulls. They ended their runs as leaders. Seinfeld ended on May 14, 1998 and finished #1 in the ratings for that year. The Bulls beat the Jazz 4-2 in the finals and in finale fashion—Jordan made the game-winning shot.
The Seinfeld finale is divisive, but the numbers tell us people were watching. By that standard it was a success. And in the finale we got to see the great role players come back, reminding us just how good that show was.
I won’t say it’s better than anything they make in Hollywood; most things are. But Jordan’s last shot was glorious enough to end a film in the perfect way and wrap the career of the greatest that ever played the game.
2. The Behind-The-Scenes Leader
Larry David = Phil Jackson.
Larry David started his career as a stand-up comic and soon made the big leagues, writing for SNL and performing on SNL’s strange cousin, Fridays. But his potential wasn’t being utilized. Finally he got the right position—as showrunner and head writer for Seinfeld. He left the show in 1996, after seven years working on the show. He didn’t want to embark on the physical toll of doing another season. David had hoped that everybody else on the show would feel similarly, but the show went on without him.
Larry David’s new venture, Curb Your Enthusiasm, premiered in 1999. It was not only innovative in its use of improvisation, but it had no laugh track. We forget that a single camera show was not normal in 1999. Now with 30 Rock, Arrested Development Community, Louie, Modern Family, The Office, and Parks and Rec regarded as some of the greatest television shows of all time, it’s becoming the standard. Larry David left Seinfeld and came back with a show arguably better.
Phil Jackson won two championships (’70 and ’73) as a player with the New York Knicks. But he wasn’t great. He was a decent reserve, but he was not Hall of Fame material. His potential, like David, was not being realized. He was destined to be on the sidelines, directing his players. Jackson was hired as an assistant coach for the Bulls in 1987 and ascended to head coach two years later. He won six championships with the Bulls and five with the Lakers. The Lakers is his Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Phil Jackson has a .704 career winning percentage. Larry David has had two critically acclaimed, Emmy winning shows he helped create. Both men found what suited them after mediocrity and now both are considered the greatest in their professions.
1. Complete Domination of 1990’s Culture and Future Impact
From the beginning of the decade until its end The Chicago Bulls and Seinfeld came from nowhere, and ultimately dominated.
The Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships, had merchandise sold around the world and at one point had an effect on the ‘90s economy. The impact of those Bulls are still relevant. Not only in the NBA , where Derrick Rose attempts to usher in a new era of Bulls dynasty, but in all of pop culture, especially with Dennis Rodman and Kim Jung Un’s friendship growing each day.
Everyone talks about Seinfeld. People remember The Soup Nazi, Moops, Art Vandelay, The Chinese Restaurant bottle episode (Cartwright!) and of course, “The Contest.” The show even invented a holiday, with a pole that still stands. It’s is still being analyzed and dissected.
People will be discussing Seinfeld as long as sitcoms exist.
The Chicago Bulls and the rise of Michael Jordan had too much of an impact to forget.
Pre-1990’s, playing for the Chicago Bulls was the equivalent of starring in Bosom Buddies. It was new and had a potential star in it, but it wasn’t going far. During the 1990’s playing for them was like starring in Seinfeld; there were a few stars, but more importantly they worked as a collective. The ensemble was led by the best coaches and writers, and eventually became one of the greatest additions to Television and Sports, so far as to redefine the entire business.
- Wayne Knight was in Space Jam. I think this list just imploded.