Every NBA dynasty had its fiercest rivals. In the case of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, it was the Detroit Pistons. Living up to the notoriety of their mantra “Bad Boys,” the Pistons strong-armed the Bulls and eliminated the younger Chicago team in two consecutive conference finals duels.
But like any other rivalry, the tables have also turned in the epic Pistons vs. Bulls. In 1991, MJ and the Bulls finally got past Detroit in the playoffs, marking the beginning of the end of the “Bad Boys” era.
Close but not quite
Looking back at the historic NBA rivalry, Jordan knew an enormous amount of confidence was essential to get the job done and beat the Pistons. After years of getting thumped by “Bad Boys,” MJ and the Bulls gained enough confidence in their final visit to Detroit before the All-Star weekend in 1990. Chicago edged the Pistons at home, but Detroit still got the last laugh when they crossed paths again in the playoffs that year.
“We beat them in Detroit. We hadn’t beaten them in Detroit for about ten games, and once we did, it gave us confidence. We needed to know that we could beat them on their court. In the conference championship series the year before, we had defended our home court well. But we went up there and got stomped in Game 7,” Jordan recalled.
The Bad Boys sensed it
Having fallen short-handed once again, the Bulls were very eager to bounce back the following year. And the word determined seemed to be an understatement. Jordan hit the weight room and packed some muscles for an all-out war against the “Bad Boys.”
The Bulls won three of their five meetings with the Pistons in the regular season. They picked up where they left off in their third conference finals clash, but Detroit dominated the Bulls in that remarkable Game 7.
As Jordan said, they got “stomped” by the Pistons. It was true. However, the “Bad Boys” acknowledged what was quite evident at the time – Detroit did not beat some kids making their bones in a grown man’s league. Instead, they managed to secure a win over fellow grown men who would hit back at them the next year.
“When we got to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1990, we won, but we knew they were coming back,” former Pistons guard Joe Dumars said of the Bulls via CBS Sports. “We knew they’d be back the next year,” Dumars said. “By the time 1991 came around, most guys had grown up and (the Bulls) had gotten stronger and tougher and mentally, they didn’t fold when things didn’t go their way. You’re looking at it and going, ‘They’re growing up. These aren’t kids anymore.’”
As it turned out, Dumars was right. The Bulls swept the Pistons the following season en route to their first NBA championship. And the rest, as they say, is history.