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.