Former NBA star Detlef Schrempf shared candid insights on the iconic mid-90s battles between the Seattle Supersonics and the Chicago Bulls. Schrempf, who significantly boosted the prowess of the Supersonics after he arrived in Seattle, exposed the on-court discrepancies they felt, especially while facing the legendary Michael Jordan in Chicago.
Schrempf reflected on the 1995-96 season, a golden period for the Supersonics marked by the outstanding leadership of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, and the excellent shooting accuracy of Hersey Hawkins. As the team got closer to the championship, the presence of Jordan and his Bulls became an undeniable hurdle.
Schrempf wasn’t shy about his opinions about the refereeing patterns favoring Jordan, particularly during home games in Chicago.
“You always felt that you have a disadvantage. If there was a call, you always knew it was gonna go for Michael Jordan,” In an interview with NBA Europe in 2021, Schrempf said. “So I was like, ‘Hey, you know we’re not gonna get those calls, especially in Chicago, so you have to play well to win.’ And that’s just the way with, you know, everywhere.”
According to Schrempf, because of this bias the Sonics had to be on top of their game to secure a victory, a sentiment that was shared across the league during that time.
Detlef Schrempf’s assignment on Michael Jordan, a crucial decision in the 1996 Finals
The dynamics of the Supersonics-Bulls rivalry get even more complex when we bring Shawn Kemp’s perspective into the picture. Kemp once pointed fingers directly at Schrempf for the initial strategy deployed by then-coach George Karl during the 1996 NBA Finals.
Kemp noted Karl’s assignment of Schrempf to guard Jordan as a critical mistake because it allowed the Bulls to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Later, Payton took over the defensive duties on Jordan and the Sonics managed to claim two successive wins which provided a ray of hope that unfortunately faded when the Bulls won the championship in Game 6.
“Michael said Gary wasn’t giving him good defense. That’s a joke. We had Michael rattled, but that’s MJ; he’ll never let you know,” Kemp said. “Gary was injured, but George Karl made the worst decision putting Detlef Schrempf on MJ in the finals.”
However, despite the regrets and the blame game, both Kemp and Schrempf respect the explosive energy and the intense competition that marked their matchups against the Bulls.
“It was a great time,” Schrempf said. “it was, you know, big show, full arenas, loud, it was just a great time.”
The period is still remembered as a golden era, filled with fast-paced basketball, loud crowds, and the pure thrill of playing against one of the greatest teams in NBA history.