Born To Be Bad: The Detroit Pistons Of The Late ‘80s And Early ‘90s

Whenever we talk about NBA championship teams, we’d often think about the Bulls, the Celtics, or the Lakers. And why not? After all, these are three of the most iconic teams to ever win championships that helped define what the NBA is today.

The late ‘80s and early ‘90s NBA era was a great time to be a basketball fan. The league was dominated by legends Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Magic Johnson It was also when a young Michael Jordan was fast becoming the league’s premier player.

That was when rivalries were real, the most famous of which are the Celtics-Lakers and Bulls-Pistons feuds. There was absolutely no love between any rivalry at the time, especially between the Bulls and their nemesis, Detroit’s Bad Boys, the Pistons.

“Unofficial” Three-peat Champions

During the late ‘70s, the Pistons were not a formidable team until they acquired Isaiah Thomas from a draft. That’s when things started to turn around for them.

Then they added a few more high-caliber players to the squad over the next few seasons, and with the hiring of fiery Chuck Daly as the head coach, a championship team was born.

With a 20-year run of not setting foot in a conference semifinal, the energized Pistons were hungry and went on a rampage to destroy everything in their path. The team was made up of some of the roughest and baddest players ever to lace up and play the game.

They literally mauled their way to every victory to the dismay of the opposing team. They played a very physical game and pretty much set the tone for the league’s physical play at the time.

They eventually became one of the league’s most — if not the most – dominant team in the ‘80s. With an NBA championship within their grasp, they need to plow through one of the toughest and most dynamic teams around, the Showtime Lakers.

In 1988, they faced the Lakers in the NBA finals, but most fans felt that they were robbed of a championship because of the infamous Phantom Foul call against Bill Laimbeer. This foul call took place during the last few seconds of Game 6, where the Pistons were up by 1 in the game where they led the series 3-2. This call cost them the championship that year when the Lakers, led by James Worthy, won the seventh and final game of the series.

Sports news on TV, radio, and print all claimed the Pistons were robbed of a championship that year. Still, the Bad Boys just shrugged it off and came back stronger the following year, beating the Lakers and getting back-to-back championships in 1989 against the Lakers and in 1990 versus the Portland Trailblazers.

The Jordan Rules

Their two official (three, unofficially, if you count the 1988 championship series) set them up against a couple of tough teams, the two best in the league at the time. But they had their eyes set on one team, the one that threatened their dominance — Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

At that time, Jordan was already growing exponentially in his career and was well on his way to establishing himself as the legend that he is. But other than that, the Bulls had also already acquired Scottie Pippen, one of the best Bulls ever and among the top 50 players of all time.

The Bad Boys strategy was simple: stop Jordan from scoring and win the game.

This proved easier said than done, so they came up with a ploy to really prevent Jordan from scoring and send him a message. And The Jordan Rules were born.

Head coach Daly summarized the tactic this way: If Jordan was at the point, they doubled him and forced him to go left. If he was at left, they double-teamed him from the top. If he was at the right wing, they went on a slow double-team just to vary the look. If he was inside the paint, he was doubled by big guys. When he goes by any of the players, they had to nail him. They had to try to make as many painful contacts as they can get away with. They had to be ultra-physical with him to wear him down and exhaust him.

The baddest of the Bad Boys to ever face Jordan were: John Salley, Isaiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson, Joe Dumars (who Jordan admits to being the best one to have guarded him), Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, and Bill Laimbeer, who is the meanest of the bunch. And among the top ten players who had the most wins against Jordan throughout his entire career, these guys make up the top seven on the list.

Most people say that what they did was downright nasty and dirty. To them, they just did what they had to do to secure a win against their toughest adversary. And it worked. The Pistons defeated the Bulls in the 1990 ECF to advance to the Finals against the Blazers.

This strategy is what inspired other teams in the early 2000s to implement the Hack-a-Shaq against Laker Big Man Shaquille O’Neal to send him to the free-throw line being he had a meager free throw average.

When all is said and done, no matter how you feel about them, the Detroit Pistons — the Bad Boys from Detroit — were one of the most effective Jordan stoppers and one of the toughest competitors anyone has ever seen. They held their own and stood their ground against some of the league’s all-time best, and that is an accomplishment that history will never forget.

Meta title: The Baddest NBA Champions Ever To Lace Up And Step On The Court
meta desc: Whenever NBA championship teams are discussed, not much is said about the Bad Boy Pistons from Detroit who are arguably the toughest players of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

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