The 2016 Golden State Warriors Versus The 1996 Chicago Bulls, A True Tale Of Time Travel

The real story of how the 1996 Chicago Bulls traveled through time to play the 2016 Golden State Warriors, from the men who lived it. Except Dickey Simpkins.
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Jud Buechler doesn’t remember which night exactly the NBA first approached him with the idea, but he remembers he was reading an old favorite: Xenophon. “Yeah, I was in my special chair reading Xenophon and the story of Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries stranded in Mesopotamia,” he told me. “You know, the one where they are literally fighting their way out of a place that might as well be Mars to them. It’s amazing.

“And then I got the call,” he continued. “And I thought it was some kind of joke. I don’t remember which part was more unbelievable, the fact that time travel was possible or that the Golden State Warriors had just won a championship. Probably the latter, actually. You kind of knew they’d figure time travel out eventually.”

Over the last few months I’ve managed to track down many of these time-hopping Bulls, and though there were slight variations, I heard the same story again and again. All received the same call on the same night, then  immediately began reaching out to one another, comparing notes, verifying that this had actually happened. Most were convinced an elaborate prank. “Man, I was like, no, I don’t have time for this shit,” Ron Harper recalls, “Time travel is in those vampire movies, man. The ones with the time-traveling vampires. Time travel ain’t real. But turns out I’m a basketball player, not a time travel scientist.”

In the subsequent days, as the team met again and again with NBA officials, scientists of the Kairos Project, and various low-level State Department officials, the reality began to sink in. The evidence was undeniable. At some point during the middle of the 21st century, man had crashed through the fourth dimension, and “Travelling” as it became known, was a reality, albeit a tightly regulated reality available only to the wealthy and in theory used only to advance humanity’s interests. This venture, in fact, would be a radical break from that model. However, in fairness, settling the question: “Who would win: the 1996 72-win Chicago Bulls or the 2016 73-win Golden State Warriors?” was, in some small way, advancing humanity’s interests.

“Scottie wanted to know if we were all still alive in the future,” Steve Kerr tells me over the phone, as we hash out details about meeting (at his insistence) at a nearby McDonald’s “They told him that was irrelevant. Come on, man.”

“Yeah, I asked if we were all still alive in the future,” Scottie Pippen confirms for me later. He is wearing a lime green turtleneck and sipping conservatively from a skull shaped goblet of cognac. He offers me a goblet, but I tell him I’m driving. He laughs like a demented banshee, then continues. “It’s a reasonable question, right? I mean, they’re asking us to travel through time and they can’t even tell me if I’m still alive. Sort of bullshit, but hey, the money was good. The money was very good.”

Was it all about the money?

“Oh no. These future people, they come in here, start talking all this shit, about the Golden State Warriors, about this Curry kid, and how they’re so dominant, and we were like, yeah yeah. Michael didn’t say a word, but I saw that look in his eyes. You know the look? Like he’s thinking about the My Lai Massacre or something. Michael is sitting there, and they’re showing us graphs and charts, and demonstrations and talking all this science shit, explaining paradoxes and black holes and event horizons and causality, and whatever, and Michael couldn’t give a shit. He just wanted to obliterate Curry. That’s when I knew we were going to do it. Whatever it was.”

Phil Jackson was less enthusiastic than the Kairos Project and the NBA had hoped for. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost,” Jackson told me. We were in his home office, and he hadn’t opened his eyes in at least ten minutes. “For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. And now you want to introduce time travel into the equation? Are we going to live out all the counter-factuals? If I have enough money to I get to buy front row tickets to watch the Roman Legions fight Tokugawa samurai? Tell me how much money that would cost. I’ll pay for that right now. But this is trickier. What if Michael blows out his knee? What happens? Do we change the future? Change the past? Create a parallel dimension? If you can’t answer those questions, then you shouldn’t be in control of this technology.”

There were rules that were not to be broken and NDA’s “up the ass,” as Dennis Rodman eloquently put it. Jason Caffey remembers initially balking. “They told us pretty quickly they were going to put us under. Something about making the journey safer. Apparently Travelling isn’t hopping into a DeLorean and hitting a button. So how do I know I’m not waking up with a Colombian necktie, you feel me? I didn’t want any part of that.”

Michael Jordan refused multiple requests to be interviewed for this piece.

“They arranged for us to play on neutral ground,” Steve Kerr tells me, shivering outside McDonalds, “At a military facility somewhere surrounded by mountains, I’m not sure. Looked maybe like Montana? Or what I imagine Montana looks like.”

Unique among the Bulls, Steve Kerr was taken aside by Project Kairos and warned to do no more socializing with the Golden State Warriors than necessary, and to simply ignore them if they behaved strangely around him. “Gotta admit, that freaked me out. I don’t like mysteries. I think they’re boring. If there’s a detective show on TV I walk out of the room. If it’s a CSI I walk all the way out of the house.”

Scottie Pippen is on his second cognac. His smile floats across his face like driftwood along the River Styx. “They drugged us, we conked out, and when we woke up all groggy we were in the year 2016. At least that’s what told us. So, there we were, making history, or fucking with history at least, and we all spent the next hour throwing up.”

“It was terrible,” Jud Buechler confirms, “They told us there would be some nausea, but this was out of control. Ruined my favorite polo.”

“Yeah. Fuck, that was bad. I threw up all over myself, and Kukoc too,” Dennis Rodman laughs, while trying on different rings. “Toni was cool about it. Hey kids, don’t travel through time, it messes your body up worse than Steel Reserve! I’m gonna do my own t-shirt line, by the way.”

“We slept the whole day,” Scottie Pippen recalls, gazing wistfully at his cognac before gurgling it like special mouthwash, “And when we woke up we just started talking to anyone we could find. Asking people about the future. Who’s the president in 2016, do hoverboards exist, you know stuff like that.”

Not everyone had been lucky enough to just face nausea. Ron Harper shakes his head ponderously, “Dickey [Simpkins]...oh, Dickey. Dickey went completely bananas.”

What do you mean, “bananas”?

“I mean he went bananas!” No elaboration was forthcoming.

“Dickey wasn’t where he was supposed to be,” Steve Kerr attempts to explain, “I don’t really know how else to put it. You had to be there I guess.”

Rodman has his own theory, which he tells me after an expansive and predatory yawn, “Dickey’s body went with us to the future. His mind stayed in the present. Dude was bananas.”

How is he now?

Rodman changes the subject.

The Bulls got their first glance at the Golden State Warriors the following morning at shootaround.

Kerr laughs, “It dawned on us all at once, that hey, that’s Dell Curry’s kid! The best player in the game is Dell Curry’s kid? I thought that was hilarious, though Michael did that thing he does to people sometimes, you know the thing where he pretends to shake someone’s hand and then pulls away and pretends to be rubbing his head.”

“All these guys were crowding Michael asking for his autograph like he was the guy from R.E.M. or Ethan Hawke or something,” Pippen recalls, switching to brandy, “The only guy who wanted to talk to me was...Igloo-dala? The guy with the underbite. He seemed cool.”

Fraternizing was limited. Each Warrior had signed stacks of documents expressly forbidding them from revealing anything about the “future,” but that proved to be impossible. In short order, various Bulls found themselves being educated about: the election of America’s first black President, the existence of Kanye West, ISIS, Instagram, Twitter, how good the second season of “Fargo” is, the deaths of Steve Jobs, Bob Hope, and Johnny Cash, how much better video games are in the future, and how some Americans like soccer now. Scottie Pippen again tried to procure information about whether they were all still alive in 2016, but the Warriors weren’t sure. “I think so?” he remembers Klay Thompson responding.

“Klay was definitely on drugs,” Steve Kerr says, ordering two 20-piece Chicken McNuggets. “Didn’t say a word and then starts talking about why are we even doing this, shouldn’t we be killing Hitler when he was a baby?”

Jordan remained aloof, shooting jumpers on his own. Phil Jackson remembers the scene, Michael and his pre-game routine, which was not to be interrupted upon pain of death. “You know, a lot of people probably don’t know this, because he’s such a charmer and does the cartoons and all that, but there was a real anger inside him, and it gave him strength. Such is his charm, I suppose.”

Ron Harper recalls wanting very badly to go home. “This was wrong. Air felt wrong. Ground felt wrong. Scared the shit out of me, to be honest. I started freaking out right before tip-off. I thought, what if something goes wrong? What if we can’t get back to our time? What if we get stuck in limbo? What if I never see my family again? I mean, damn.”

Other than the Warriors and their coaching staff and some mysterious men in suits, the only other known witnesses of the game was Golden State’s delightful sideline reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. Gold-Onwunde reportedly became trapped in conversation with multiple Bulls, who according to some accounts, put on a display of flexing their muscles and attempting increasingly “wacky” trick shots. When Dennis Rodman asked for Gold-Onwude’s phone-number so he could maybe take her to a Pearl Jam concert someday, Draymond Green apparently took offense and it looked as though a scrum might break out. Minor shoving ensued, and some taunting fit for small but worldly babies. Gold-Owunde diffused the situation herself by executing a hilarious impression of various Mike Myers characters from the ’90s.

“It was very funny,” Steve Kerr whispered to me, shoving a handful of freshly made McDonald’s fries into his mouth like some kind of hedonistic despot, “She seems like a nice gal. Very friendly.”

The game was the next afternoon.

The rules were established by a referee that Scottie Pippen remembers as “fat” or “phat.” The physical defense of the ’90s would be permitted, and the shortened three-point line of the 1995-96 season would also be sanctioned. The Golden State Warriors and the Chicago Bulls, two of the best teams in NBA history, had finally come face to face, and yet so few were there to see it. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody witnessed this basketball game, was there ever a tree?

Everyone agrees that Luke Walton’s Warriors won the tip, but after that things get murky. Details of the game have been lost in the ether, and the partisan subjectivity of those who played in the game. It feels as if the Bulls don’t want to dwell on it. They grunt and shrug before finally offering scant details.

“Michael saw that the Curry kid was switched onto him at one point, and man, he just abused that poor little bastard in the post. Backed him down, turnaround jumper and then he screamed ‘You can’t guard me, wild boy!’ or something like that. I almost felt bad for him,” Jason Caffey told me, before frowning, “But then I didn’t.”

“We had a pretty good first quarter,” Steve Kerr confides, as we eat Chicken McNuggets together in the gossamer rainfall under cover of a gazebo, “Michael scored twenty points or so. Rest of us were cold as ice. We blamed the time travel, obviously.”

The Chicago Bulls largely managed to neutralize Steph Curry. Playing him tight and physical, Curry was unable to find an offensive rhythm. He finished the game with a pedestrian fourteen points, but distributed the wealth like a hardwood Karl Marx (Grantland Footnote: We know this makes no sense). Draymond Green and Klay Thompson both made five threes apiece off Curry dishes, and even some Bulls begrudgingly admitted to me that the Warriors simply ran them out of the gym. Chicago only took six threes total and that was ultimately the difference. Michael was reportedly the only Bull to have anything going offensively and thus it was a depressing night for the “good guys.” The Warriors ultimately prevailed, 121 to 103. Andrew Bogut punched both Bill Wennington and Luc Longley, although Longley allowed that the punch from his fellow Aussie was “all in good fun.”

“Who cares? Okay, so we lost. We lost to the Raptors too. I’m like, get me the fuck out of the future,” Ron Harper divulged to me, as we consumed Chicago style hot dogs outside a Home Depot. “This was pointless. Totally pointless. We travelled through time! And they’re telling us that didn’t affect our performance. Like hell!”

He spills French’s mustard all over his shirt with each wild and reckless bites, but I don’t mention it. He doesn’t care anyway. “I honestly just hope Dickey’s okay. That shit wasn’t good for him.”

What do you mean it wasn’t good for him, I ask forcefully, tired of this quirky dissimulation.

Harper buys another hot dog from a kindly vendor before responding. “You can’t print this,” he warns, as relish flies from his mouth, “We swore never to talk about it.”

I promise him it will remain between us.

“Mo Speights,” Harper near spits the name, “It was Speights.”

“Okay, so...Speights convinced Dickey that in the year 2000, Michael was going to murder him, like you know, actually literally murder him” Steve Kerr confirms, “Speights took Dickey aside and told him ‘Yon Michael hath a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.’ Dickey didn’t like that, but I mean, obviously just a weird joke, right?”

“Except this Speights guy wouldn’t let up,” Ron Harper confides, “He followed Dickey around everywhere. All the attention was on Michael and Scottie, but Speights only had eyes for Dickey. He cornered him by a broken vending machine and gave him all these fake newspaper clippings of his grave, and shots of Michael in jail, all kinds of balderdash. ‘He’s coming for you, bro. You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face.’ I mean, what the hell?”

Steve Kerr closes his brash eyes with an inspiring concentration, remembering, “Later on Boring Boy [Harrison Barnes], told me it was all something called ‘photo-shops’, but the damage was done. Dickey was just a drooling mumbling mess.”

So, he wasn’t damaged by the actual process of Travelling?

“Oh no, he definitely got messed up by that. But that Speights thing, that happened too.”

Would you do it again, I ask the Bulls.

“No,” Scottie Pippen intones like a thunderclap that lives within a feather, sipping cognac again. “I mean, just look at Dickey. Bananas.”

“No,” Steve Kerr says, drenching his last Chicken McNugget in barbecue sauce and dropping it into his gaping maw. It crunched, wanly.

“No,” Jason Caffey informs me, “I got nothing from it. Oh, now I know the word ‘Instagram.’ Cool.”

“Naw, man,” Dennis Rodman says, strutting around his mansion wearing chainmail and Hunter S. Thompson aviators, “Nothing is worth that much throwing up. Nothing.”

“You know,” Jud Buechler says, “I don’t know. It’s kind of awesome to say you’ve travelled through time. But in the end, we were like those Greek soldiers that Xenophon wrote about. That wasn’t our world. And we had to fight like hell to escape.”

Fucking Xenophon, I mutter serenely into the beige rotary phone. Jud laughs and says, “I always wondered why they never made a movie about that story. People would love that movie.”

“They did make a movie about it,” I tell him. “It’s a modern day adaptation, but it’s based on Xenophon’s story.”

“They did?”

“Yes. It’s called The Warriors.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah. No shit.”

He starts to say something else, but I’m hungry, so I hang up.

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