Before their invincible 90’s (yes, Shaq, we know Orlando was the last team to beat the MJ Bulls in the playoffs), the Chicago Bulls had their nemesis in the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons beat the Bulls three times in the ’88, ’89, and ’90 Playoffs, developing a rivalry as fierce as any in the NBA.
The 80s are known as “The Bad Boys” era in Detroit. The Pistons played a very physical brand of basketball; many would say dirty. As a point of reference, the only player Larry Bird won’t talk to or shake hands with to this day is Bill Laimbeer. Here’s what Jordan said about them after finally beating them in the ’91 Eastern Conference Finals.
“You see two different styles with us and them. The dirty play and the flagrant fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct. Hopefully, that will be eliminated from the game. I think we play clean basketball. We don’t go out and try to hurt people and dirty up the game. You never lose respect for the champions. But I haven’t agreed with the methods they used. I think people are happy the game will get back to a clean game [with a Bulls triumph] and away from the ‘Bad Boy’ image.”
IIn those '91 Playoffs, the Bulls took a commanding 2 - 0 lead, defending home court. The game went back to Detroit with some extra baggage. In the second game in Chicago, Mark Aguirre and Scottie Pippen got into it a little bit. Nothing special, particularly taking into account that we're talking about the Pistons here. Nevertheless, things escalated, and Aguirre suggested they finish it on the parking lot.
“His comment was, ‘We don’t have to do this on the court, we can go out to the parking lot after the game’ and I said ‘Cool.’ But, we never made it there…at least he didn’t.”
It’s hard to imagine something like this happening in today’s NBA. Imagine Carmelo and KG talking about the “honey nut cheerios” incident after the game and it being a segment on the broadcast the next time they played against each other. We may miss a more physical competitive approach at times, but the league had many fistfights and dirty plays back then – something MJ himself said shouldn’t be a part of the game.