The Last Dance has reminded us just how fierce the rivalry was between Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons. To this day, Jordan still hates Thomas and anyone who played for those “Bad Boy” Pistons teams and vice versa.
Former Pistons’ big man Bill Laimbeer despises Jordan so much he goes on numerous talk shows to bash the Bulls legend and claim that LeBron James is the better player. There is no love between the old Bulls and Pistons players and will likely remain that way forever.
It all started in Jordan’s rookie season believe it or not. In the 1985 All-Star game, Thomas, Magic Johnson, and George Gervin supposedly came up with a secret plan to embarrass Jordan. MJ shot just two of nine in the game and it’s now called the “Jordan Freezeout Game.”
George Andrews, a Chicago lawyer who repped both Thomas and Johnson during their playing days, says the veteran guys on the ’85 All-Star team were upset at Jordan because he was promoting Nike by wearing Nike warmups, which violated the NBA protocol. So, they used the game itself to teach the youngster a lesson.
How can Jordan call anyone from those “Bad Boys” teams a friend after they tried to kill him when he was driving to the lane? As we all learned in episodes 3 and 4 of The Last Dance, the Pistons implemented the “Jordan Rules,” a four-step plan to stop MJ at all costs.
Brendan Malone, a former Pistons coach, explained to America on Sunday what Detroit was trying to accomplish with the “Jordan Rules.” The Pistons didn’t want Jordan to go baseline and wanted the Bulls star to go left instead of right. Detroit was also going to trap MJ every time he got the ball in the post.
However, Jordan was so good he was still able to get to the basket. That’s when the fourth step of the “Jordan Rules” was put into place. The Pistons weren’t going to let Jordan “fly,” so before “His Airness” took off, Detroit would essentially knock him to the ground and beat him up, an aspect that was documented in The Last Dance.
Jordan was the best player in the world pretty much after his second season in the league. However, MJ and the Bulls couldn’t get the best of Zeke and the Pistons, especially in the playoffs. Jordan and the Bulls lost to the Pistons in the second round of the 1988 playoffs and then in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals series’ in 1989 and 1990.
The “Jordan Rules” forced MJ to hit the weights and get stronger. He put on about 15 pounds of muscle in the summer of 1990 and was ready to dish out pain to the Pistons instead of receiving it.
Jordan and the Bulls swept the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, finally getting past their arch-nemesis. In the three previous postseason matches, Jordan would always shake hands with the Pistons players after losing because he believed it was right to show good sportsmanship.
So, after the Bulls swept the Pistons in the ’91 playoffs, MJ was looking forward to getting that moment with Thomas. However, the Pistons walked off the court, walked right past the Bulls bench, and didn’t shake their hands. Jordan almost had a look of shock on his face. He couldn’t believe Thomas and Co. were going to act this salty.
Jordan and the Bulls wound up winning the 1991 Finals against Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers. Thomas and the Pistons never got back to the NBA Finals during the Jordan era while Chicago captured six titles.
After losing to Jordan, Thomas was looking forward to being teammates with him in the summer of 1992. Both superstars were set to be on the 1992 U.S.A. Olympics team.
However, MJ was ready to use this moment as his way of being petty following the Pistons’ decision not to shake the Bulls’ hands in the ’91 Eastern Conference Finals.
Thomas was infamously left off the 1992 Dream Team because Jordan would participate only if Zeke was not on the roster. U.S.A. basketball officials had no choice but to keep Jordan and not bring Thomas since MJ was the top player.
The rivalry between the Pistons and Bulls was so much fun to watch back in the day. With the new rules in today’s NBA, it’s doubtful we’ll ever see an intense rivalry like that ever again.
Thomas, a Chicago native, finished his Pistons career with averages of 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 9.3 assists. He was also a 12-time All-Star and the 1990 Finals MVP. However, Zeke is still one of the most hated players in NBA history because of his run with the “Bad Boy” Pistons. The Last Dance is only bringing that back to the forefront.