The Real Pistons-Bulls Rivalry set straight


Before we crack open this new installation of the classic Detroit Pistons-Chicago Bulls rivalry from the late 80’s-early 90’s, it’s time to set the record straight. To get a few things off my chest. To let everyone know the real behind the fake.

Ever heard the saying, “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see?” Well, this applies because the 1987-91 Pistons are the most disrespected and underrated NBA team of all time and the Michael Jordan-led Bulls are obviously the most decorated, but gets more credit than they’re due.

Let’s get to the heart of this. Isiah Thomas, not only the greatest pure point guard of his era but one of the top-15 players of all time, didn’t get along with 23, as everyone knows. Dude was vilified beyond belief by those who watched the rivalry grow from competition to contention, hatred and personal vendettas.

“Zeke” led his team of proud champions off the court with seconds remaining in game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals with the Bulls about to go on a Jay-Z-like string of success. Like Mike’s 18-month hiatus and the ’95 playoffs, Jay-Z’s “Dynasty” album was the only hiccup, but back to the facts.


Zeke was called a sore loser who was unwilling to give props to the cat that was taking his top spot, who was elevating his game to the next level after years on end of getting his ass sent to the pavement.

The masses, for some reason, felt sympathy for the supremely-talented player in Jordan with the charman-tissue teammates instead of the gritty, from-the-dirt squad that relied upon using its brain, like the legendary Chuck D’s flows. And like Carlton Douglas, the Bad Boys were Public Enemy number one.

Like PE, if you understood the Pistons, you were one of the few. But if you did, you were behind them. If you weren’t, you said “fuck them” and they said it right back. No remorse, no convincing, take no prisoners and press. Like PE, the Pistons had a misunderstood emotional wreck that only got worse outside the fam atmosphere. Dennis Rodman and Flava Flav was both brothas from anotha something.

Hell, even the G.O.A.T. Ralph Wiley called the walk-off a “bitch move”. The networks didn’t like what the ‘D’ stood for, and this was well before John Mason began belting “Detroit Basketball” at the top of his lungs. Before these Pistons developed some kind of cult following, the original D-Town D-boys weren’t loved, outside of the 313 area.

Before media types and bandwagon jumpers wrote or claimed that what the Pistons did was unconscionable, did they look at what happened one day earlier, or three years prior?

I know, it’s been a long time, we shouldn’t have left you without the real facts to step to.

With his team up 3-0 and clearly having the upper hand on an injured team tired from battle scars of years passed and battles fought with opponents that most observers called “Shadow Boxing” (With D. Stern and the league office. It ain’t like no one has ever had problems with him since, right?), Jordan wanted to stick the last dagger in a fallen enemy.

He said his team was doin’ the NBA a favor, by bumping off the champs. He basically said the Pistons had no business wearing the crowns, despite the fact that every time his frail body hit the floor and he had red, white and blue standing over him, mercilessly, he desperately wanted to be them. To be tough. To be champions. So he dissed the Pistons, disobeying a non-spoken rule of being graceful in victory.

“The Bad Boys are bad for basketball.”

Funny how he wasn’t saying that when he was in the school of hard knocks, getting put on his ass at every drive to the basket. That coward-ass comment wasn’t made until the league put a PPO on anyone two feet from his highness.

Three years earlier, Pontiac Silverdome. The then-young Pistons had a 3-2 lead on the Boston Celtics and needed to put them away. With less than a minute remaining, the Celtics pulled that same “bitch move” that Wiley was talking about. Birdman, DJ, Ainge and the Chief all walked off the court before telling the Pistons, who endured far more heartbreak than the Bulls had. Only man that had the cojones to shake hands with the Pistons was Kevin McHale. Did anyone call the Celtics sore losers? Not to my knowledge. Did the Pistons disrespect the old guard? No record of it.

Now that I have your attention, I’m aiming for your heart. Isiah was president of the players association back then. What did this have to do with Mike? Mike’s agent, David Falk had his agent fees/commissions cut by the union. Who spearheaded the movement of the players keeping their money in their pocket? Isiah. It’s hard to say whether Falk played Jordan like a puppet, but it’s more fuel to an already-white-hot fire.

People could’ve played up the fact that Jordan’s new wife who was first his child’s mother had been with old-school Chi-town playas before him, like Reggie Theus. But the Bad Boys didn’t get personal; they kept it all on that 94 by 55 surface.

Scottie Pippen, who was all but in the fetal position during the previous two close-out games against the Pistons (a concussion in ’89, y’all remember the migraine in ’90) wanted to step out his box in game four. And Rodman put him back in his place.

Rodman, who everyone knew was having trouble with his wife, was walking to the bench. Pippen slyly whispered, “How’s the wife?” A few moments later, Pippen’s head was meeting the Plexiglas of the backboard and the rest of fragile body was at the knees of a courtside fan or photographer. If that comment wasn’t a “bitch move” if I ever saw one, then value systems need to be re-thought.

The Pistons were called everything but gun-toting criminals. Does anyone think that part of that classification was because they were from Detroit?

Boston, back then was just as nasty, but they were branded crafty veterans, not dirty ballplayers. But when your leader comes from the inner-city of the Chi and isn’t a hick from French Lick, titles change. And I’m not talking ‘bout the gold trophy a group of 12 gets in the middle of June. Sorry if you were expecting the traditional Bill Simmons Boston-ass kissing. Go to the worldwide leader for that.

So you know what? People point to the Dream Team and say it’s because of the walk-off that got Zeke eliminated from the squad when no one, except Magic or Bird, had a better resume. But everyone knows the influence Mike had on the team. Mike’s influence got John Stockton lit up for 44 and led to Karl Malone giving Isiah 40-something in stitches with an elbow. Funny how those two went ringless.

You can’t be mad at the Pistons for not walking off the court, not shaking hands. They followed the creed: Get no respect, give none back. It wasn’t gonna be no made-for-TV moment. If they couldn’t alter the final result, they was damn sure gonna give the crowd an alternate ending of their own choosing.

If Karma’s a bitch, then this series is the last chapter in this fucked-up story. Phil Jackson, who whined against the Bad Boys’ physical play in ’91 and discovered the tactic known as negotiating through the media, got his nine rings. But he also took a beatdown in the ’04 Finals from the new Pistons, forcing him to leave La-La land with his tail between his legs. Playoff series won since for the former Sitting Bull: 0. Who was on that
L.A. roster? Malone, the cheap-shot elbow thrower who thought he was getting his first ring. He was as useless as Jackson when on the final game, he was in street clothes, watching his dreams slip away. Shit, they were snatched from him.

Mike got his from Joe Dumars when he thought he got an established veteran in Jerry Stackhouse in a 2002 trade for a then-unproven Richard Hamilton. What he got was a former great scorer with creaky knees and gave away a future All-Star and a piece to a title puzzle.

All that’s left is for theMotor City to make Chi-town feel like a real second city once more. For the red, white and blue to make the red and black suffer. Trust, they know the feeling.


35 Responses to “The Real Pistons-Bulls Rivalry set straight”

  1. maxairington Says:

    Welcome. Wonderful take on that rivalry. I can still remember watching all of those games as a kid.

    Zeke did get a bad rap as a player and his subsequent career as an idiot (except for some moves in Toronto…) doesn’t do much to evoke fond memories of his playing days. It’s really too bad, he was an excellent player.

  2. There is something inherently punkish about hating on something JUST because it is successful.

    Not that any of us are immune from it. But dang…just the respect and Keep it moving.

  3. ChrisH Says:

    I am shocked Scottie would be so insensitive about Worm’s lady. I just wish Dennis would have talked about his hurt feelings so his teammates could have walked out right then. And the same with MJ and his remarks… they should have just forfeited game 4. It’s a good thing karma took care of that frail, six-ringed meanie with the Stackhouse trade.

  4. I guess that’s your attempt at sarcasm Chris. Not trying to get you to judge, just wanted you to have the full set of facts before coming to a conclusion. And yes, Karma is a bitch

  5. Again V, nice piece.

    Chew on this peeps. Isiah=Jerry Rice.

    Zeke was a beast. The put back dunk that is one of his more prominent highlights (similar to Iverson’s early in his career) was a ridiculous play.

    He’s simply one of the best. Would he receive the present ridiculous adulation Steve Gash is afforded?

  6. Very well said

  7. yv: Zeke and Co. equals PE? dude, give me a break. Yes, MJ is a (gasp!) huge jerk and his legend has been heavily airbrushed. This is a surprise to whom? I always respected the Bad Boys, even when I hated them, growing up in Chicago but this is just poorly written revisionist history. They got a raw deal from the media in some respects but mostly they got what they deserved. Your piece is apocryphyal, biased and dubious at best.

  8. in some respects? They got butchered, disrespected in all aspects. Why is it biased? Because you’re from the CHI? Maybe but get this: when a story is so one-sided, the other side must be presented to give clarity and now, the waters are crystal

  9. preverbal Says:

    What a bunch of crap. The Pistons couldn’t win so they resorted to basically trying to beat Jordan up. Jordan correctly called them bad for basketball because they played like thugs. And what is with the studied “urban” syntax? I feels disrespected.

  10. […] I’d like to spend a little time on this painfully stupid revisionist history of the rivalry between the Bad Boys and the young Jordan Bulls. And for the record, I do think they’re an […]

  11. yv: The Bad Boys got everything they deserved. They built their legacy on a foundation of cheap shots, Laimbeer flops and whining. They were universally rooted against b/c their style of play was so ugly and boring as to be nearly unwatchable and also b/c aside from Dumars every key member of was widely loathed. I understand that it made up for a disparity in talent but it also lead to a decade and a half of fans suffering through 72-69 death matches and a great deal of plain awful basketball. They will always be remembered walking off that court and refusing to shake the Bulls’ hands; that was their defining moment.

    Your article is biased b/c not only do you cherrypick, distort and interpret as much as the mainstream media you’re deriding, but you then have the gall to present yours as the sole truth. Please stop presenting yourself as some kind of crusader for justice.

  12. What about the Bulls, Marcus? They built theirs on a watered-down league, David Stern and referees. How is that for biased? Answer me one question, who beat Magic, Michael and Larry more than they beat him? Isiah and his Pistons. I find it hard to believe that it could just be done on brawn and not a unbelievable amount of skill. It didn’t lead to 72-69 games, because those players could score. Credit Mike Fratello, Pat Riley’s mid-90’s Knicks for that as well as one-dimensional players who couldn’t score because they lacked a credible skill set. The only major Piston who lacked big-time scoring abilities? Dennis Rodman and even he had a 32-point game and a 20-20 game in the playoffs against your Bulls.

    Don’t be mad or discredit my story or its language because it correctly tells a story that has been too one-sided for far too long. Tell Phil Jax to actually give teams credit that beat his teams’ asses (90 Pistons, 95 Magic 04 Pistons) and not to discredit teams with a ring (99 Spurs).

    The rings were the defining moment; not the ending a the last truly great run in an era of great basketball.

  13. Who is this Marcus? The Bad Boy Pistons are honestly one of the 2 or 3 greatest teams of all time. They never got what they deserved which is respect. The Boston Celtics of the 80’s created a highly respected dynasty that was founded on opportunistic fast breaking, friendly officiating, and a heavy dose of physicality. They are still never referred to as thugs. Magic Johnson a Michigan native like myself, led the Showtime Lakers to dynastic success as well using a free wheeling style that was pleasing to the eyes however they were not above throwin bows in the name of winning. Again, all we hear about is the fast breaking and they are not referred to as thugs either. The Pistons broke up both Dynasty’s while keeping that chump Jordan in check. Hell, in 88 Detroit took out Jordan’s Bulls, Larry’s Celtics and if not for a phantom foul on Kareem (one of the few times Laimbeer hadn’t touched him) they would’ve gotten the Lakers too. In the same year. No Seattle’s, No UTah’s, No Phoenix’s on the Piston resume. Only legendary teams did the Pistons handle. Even Portland wasn’t a one year wonder as they were back in the finals in 92 after there Piston defeat in 90. The Dream Team is not even a memory for me. Isiah wasn’t on it after being an 11 time All Star starter and 2 time champion. Give me a damn break. And while you idiots try to act like 87-91 didn’t happen no squad ever could’ve guarded Isiah, Joe and Vinnie, kept Rodman and Salley off the glass, stopped Buddah’s fadeaway or punked Bill and Rick. You guys kill me with the revisionist crap. Revise these facts, The Bulls were an NBA/NBC creation that benefitted from a great team getting old, favorable whistles and eventually the migration of one the great team players to there side along with the erosion of the game. THOSE ARE THE FACTS.

  14. yv: I don’t want to continue wasting both of our time, as we’re obviously just not going to agree, so this will be my last post on your piece. Your piece didn’t make me mad; I just think you’re assuming that your version is correct and you’re willing to distort history nearly as much as crafters of Jordan’s legacy to make it fit into your thinking. However, if you want to believe in a version of history wherein the Pistons were the deeply misunderstood team of the basketball-hip, intelligent fan that never received the respect they deserved, then more power to you. Really the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

    Two final things. Riley certainly deserves a portion of the blame for the hack/grab/flop defense but the Bad Boys were its’ originators, whether they were one-dimensional or not. Any other interpretation of that is absolutely incorrect. And no one will ever, ever convince me Isaih and his boys walking off the court without shaking hands was anything but a completely classless maneuver that many remember as well as, if not better than, their two championships.

    Finally, if you’re a Pistons fan (though I gather by your writing that you were more of a Bad Boys supporter than a traditional Detroit supporter) then congratulations on this year’s team.

  15. Ben Felton Says:

    Classless Zeke gives a preview of the classless moves to come. Just completely classless. Wiley hit the nail on the head… complete bitch move.

    What a joke he is.

  16. Ben Felton Says:


    The Bulls were the greatest team in history. Period. NBC didn’t do it… They took all challengers and disposed of them in a tough, tough, tough era of basketball. For six years in the free-agency era.

    They disposed of (in many cases, multiple times:

    – Zeke an co.
    – Price/Nance/Daugherty and the Cavs
    – Ewing/Starks/X/Oak and the Knicks
    – Penny/Shaq/Anderson/d3 and the Magic
    – Reggie/Jacskon/Smits and the Pacers (the hardest they were pushed)
    – Zo and the Heat
    – A GREAT 93 PHX team with Charles, Marjele, KJ
    – A Good 92 Blazers team with Clyde, Porter, Robinson,
    – A Good 91 Lakers team with Magic, Worthy, Scott, Perkins
    – GREAT 97/98 Jazz teams with Stockton, Malone, Hornacek..
    – Payton/Kemp/Detlef in the 96 finals.

    72 wins in 96… You just knew watching those games that there was no way in the world the bulls were going to lose to any of them. look at those names on that list. those are some of the best players in history, and the bulls just smacked them all down.

  17. The tone of your article is pretty ironic. You paint the Bulls as sissies and the Pistons as warriors. Yet, it’s the “mentally-tough” Pistons that get rattled by MJ’s comments. And it’s Rodman that goes after Pippen for something that he says.

    In the end, the Pistons left the court without shaking hands because MJ hurt their feelings? LOL! That’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, what did they do when opposing crowds heckled them?

    IMO, the Pistons were just sore losers. Plain and simple. And they have nobody to blame but themselves that everyone views them that way.

  18. Ben, I’ll grant you that the 96 Bulls were a great team, but come on, only two of the eleven teams you mention had players who had won championships. The tired old Pistons and the Tired old Lakers. The rest of that bunch pretty much went ringless. Look, I have been a Piston fan since I was ten years old, and I grew up watching that group of players struggle and fail many times before they finally got by the Celtics and the Lakers who had a strangle hold on the NBA.

    You can’t take anything away from the Bad Boys, because they truly earned everything they achieved. They also represented team basketball at it’s best. If you like the one man show and his side kick, fine, but give me the Detroit Pistons of that era and the Pistons of the current era any day.

  19. “You can’t take anything away from the Bad Boys, because they truly earned everything they achieved.”
    What does this even mean? That the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls didn’t earn everything they achieved?

    “They also represented team basketball at it’s best.”
    So did the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls.

    “If you like the one man show and his side kick, fine, but give me the Detroit Pistons of that era and the Pistons of the current era any day.”
    Spoken like a biased Pistons fan. In that era, the Bulls won 6 rings, the Lakers 5 and the Celts 3. It’s nice that you’d rather have your 2 rings, but I don’t believe you one bit. And, I hate to tell you, but MJ and Pippen didn’t win championships alone. MJ only started winning rings when he learned how to delegate and involve his teammates more.

  20. Hey Dog, look at who I was responding to. It wasn’t you. Read my post again stupid.

  21. Uh, I don’t care who you were responding to. If you say something retarded, you get called out. That’s the way it works, sparky.

  22. Nothing “retarded” about what I said, but you’re still stupid. Of course I’m a biased Piston fan, I said I have been watching since I was ten. My main point was the eleven teams he mentioned were not great teams for the most part, and the Pistons earned what they got by beating truly great teams with some of the greatest players ever. Really, it’s all about opinion anyway and that’s my opinion. Stick it.

  23. The Pistons are a very good team that helped transition the league between the aging franchises of the Celts/Lakers and the upstart Bulls. They were never on the same level as those GREAT teams.

  24. What lack of respect. Go back to 87 and 88. The Pistons were a nose hair away from beating the defending champion Celtics in game seven of the ECF in 87 ,and then the folowing year were a phantom call away from beating the defending champion Lakers in six. Both series they lost by three points in game seven on the road. They easily could have had three championships in a row and four straight trips to the finals. Don’t give me that “never on the same level” crap.

  25. DTigers Says:

    I’m a big of a fan of the Pistons as anyone but you can’t claim the Bulls benefited by beating an aging team and not point out the fact that the Celtics and Lakers were declining in the late 80s when Detroit finally won…Larry’s and Magic’s teams never won again after losing to Zeke also,don’t use a double standard on the Bulls,give them their due.
    I thought it was a bad move to not shake their hands after losing then and still do today.
    Zeke is from Chicago if you’re gonna point out that Magic is from Michigan by the way,for whatever thats worth.

  26. Wow. I can’t believe I wasted my time reading, and am now wasting my time commenting on that.

    I think personally, you’re the polar opposite of the people you claim to have washed the love for the Pistons away. It’s not as if there were not people who felt as strongly about it as you did, but you also are a vehement (and a bit whiny) polar opposite…you’re not going to make a strong point by being so outwardly vicious.

  27. This entire article is ridiculous. First of all, it’s just a bunch of jealous words and thoughts from one of the many victims of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. The Pistons and Isiah Thomas in particular, had always had a contentious relationship with Michael Jordan. I know. I was very good friends with Isiah’s brother, Rat. Isiah was hugely jealous of the fact that MJ was so adored in Isiah’s hometown, Chicago. That was part of the reason for the so-called “freeze out” of Jordan in Jordan’s rookie year at the All-Star Game. This article wants to give the impression that Jordan’s reputation isn’t earned. That’s the most ridiculous thing about the article. If anything, Mike should be even more highly thought of. The man single handedly took the NBA into the highest heights of popularity that it ever enjoyed. I will say that reading this article was enjoyable. It gave me great satisfaction to know that Detroit fans are so bitter about the beating they took way back then. It was sweet then and the words that I read here just gave me another taste of that treat from so long ago.

  28. I love it J-Dog…. “Pistons earned what they got by beating truly great teams with some of the greatest players ever” – yes, they beat the Lakers and Blazers 1-2…. the same teams the Bulls beat back-to-back in the Finals after sweeping the Pistons. Winning 4 more championships isn’t earning their respect…. please.

    Also, what a dumbass argument to say that 2 of the 11 teams the Bulls beat won championship. No shit, because the Bulls won 6 in 8 years.

    Just a cry baby article because good prevailed over evil. Isiah leading his team off the court before the game was over in the sweep showed their true colors.

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  32. 7 years later, and this article is still a giant steaming pile of donkey shit. The 30 for 30 on the “Bad Boys” showed that they are still as arrogant, bitter and dooshy as ever. They were a very good team that was turned into a champion by a league complicit in their thuggery. If Stern put the hammer down (like he should’ve) on their dirty, they win ZERO titles.

    It was pretty funny seeing Mahorn cry, though. After being one of the dirtiest players of the 80s, he cried like a bitch when he was drafted by the Timberwolves.

  33. Just watched the 30 for 30 on them…

    Pistons fans whine about Jordan’s comments before Game 4 of the ECF in 91 because they are true. They were a very good team, but they played without respect of their opponent or the game. They were a blip on the radar between the Lakers & Celtics dynasties of the 80’s and the Bulls dynasty of the 90’s.

    They get overlooked because their accomplishments are nothing compared to what came directly before and after them, and their garbage style of basketball isn’t praise worthy.

    • jbsptfn Says:

      Why do people stick up for the Bulls and MJ? So many stupid people brainwashed by the media.

      The 90’s Fools were a result of circumstance more than anything else. The Celtics declined after Bias died (people forget that the Celtics started 29-4 in 90-91 until Bird got hurt). The Lakers lost Magic to HIV. The Pistons got older. And, the Blazers didn’t get Sabonis until 1995 because of injuries and politics.

  34. It’s clear the author of this pathetic article was severely skullfucked as a toddler. He rips on HOF coach PJ, who won another 2 rings with the same Lakers organization that he left with his tail between his legs. Get a fucking clue, you douchebag!

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