In the late 80s and early 90s, you would have been hard pressed to find too many people who hated Michael Jordan. He sold everything from underwear to dollar-store cologne, and his face was plastered across magazines and on the television year-round. Yes, everyone loved Michael and the Bulls... unless you were from the Detroit area, in which case he was the Devil: responsible for plagues, ex-girlfriends (is that redundant?) and, generally, all that is evil.
Rivalries like this simply do not exist anymore, which leaves me yearning for the good old days. To celebrate Detroit's once strong rivalry with the Bulls, I asked several of my fellow bloggers and a handful of DBB readers what their most lasting memory was of this feud. The following are their answers:
Something that often comes to mind when thinking of the Pistons-Bulls rivalry is easy for me to remember because I can hold it in my hand and look at it. The cover of the November 6, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated shows Joe Dumars posed with a photo cutout of Michael Jordan. The cutout is about a foot-and-a-half shorter than Dumars, allowing him to put his hand on Jordan's head and keep him away at arm's length. Dumars is smiling, standing in a casual pose, as if to say "I don't know how I do it." And that really summed up the Jordan-Dumars match-up. Dumars didn't really "stop" Jordan, but he somehow managed to prevent him from completely dominating the game. He seemed to be the one opposing guard in the NBA that could do so.
What was most surprising about the image, however, is how unlike Dumars it seemed to be. He was Humble Joe. Quiet Joe. He wasn't a boaster or trash-talker. And even if he was, who would dare risk tempting the wrath of Jordan by implying (even jokingly) that he could be stopped? Photoshop hadn't been released yet, so Dumars was very likely aware of the picture that was being taken. Wasn't he worried that this would be seen as taunting the last guy in the NBA you'd want to provoke?
But to me, this cover symbolizes just how good the Bad Boys were. Even their least brash player couldn't help showing his confidence. If Jordan got mad, so what? It didn't matter if he and the Bulls used the picture as bulletin board material. The Pistons knew they were going to beat the Bulls. If Jordan wanted to explode for 60 points, that was fine because one man couldn't defeat them. And when the season ended, they were right. The Pistons won the 1989-90 Eastern Conference championship in seven games.
From TheMicrowave, DBB reader and PistonsForum.com proprietor:
1. Oakley vs. Mahorn. A Virginia rivalry for who was the baddest man, the best enforcer. Oak patterned himself after 'Horn, and the early Pistons/Bulls series (87~88) contained this subplot. The apprentice trying to defeat his mentor.
2. The Dantley Trade. I remember Michael Jordan saying that without Dantley, the Pistons had no go-to scorer. We all loved "The Teacher", and the trade saw many fans turn against Isiah Thomas, as he was scapegoated for bringing in Mark Aguirre. The arrival of Aguirre ceded playing time to Dennis Rodman, whose ability to limit Scottie Pippen and roam so aggressively on defense was key to suppressing the Bulls for another season.
3. Jordan calling the Pistons "dirty". MJ was struggling to define himself as a winner, to establish personality for the entire Chicago franchise. Taking the easiest route, he attacked the Pistons' character in a way that had last been done by Red Auerbach, as part of sour grapes for the Pistons overcoming the Celtics. Jordan's emerging star power, coupled with the arrogance of the Pistons gave weight to his critique, even if it went too far at times.
"Outside of Detroit," Jordan said, "I think people will be happy they're not the reigning champions anymore. It'll mean that we're getting back to a clean game and getting the Bad Boy image away from the game. People don't want this kind of basketball: the dirty play, the flagrant foul, the unsportsmanlike conduct. It's bad for basketball. People want to see that type of basketball out. I think because the Pistons have been so successful, other teams have tried to do it, and I don't think it's been good for the game."
I'm a bit on the young side of having vivid memories about the basketball portion of the Bulls-Pistons rivalry. I'm not even sure if I knew what basketball is at its inception. But if you want the one memory that is most vivid, that really sticks in my craw, it's that there were w-a-a-a-a-y too many Bulls fans in northwest Michigan in the late 80s/early 90s. I mean, even my best friend was a Bulls fan, telling me how great Michael Jordan was all the time. I thought that was just plain wrong.
I was always glad when the Pistons beat the Bulls, just to keeps his mouth shut for awhile.
My memories of the Pistons vs. Bulls "rivalry" from the late 80's to early 90's can all be summed up in the poster I still have from the 1990 season that has pictures of 8 Pistons and their nicknames (if they had one). You've got Mr. Dumars (Joey D), Isiah Thomas (Zeke), John Salley (The Spider) on there among others. One picture sticks out the most and it's Bill Laimbeer's picture of him going up to block a Pippen layup attempt with both arms about to slam down on Pippen's head and arms.
For years I coulda swore I saw razors surgically implanted on Bill Cartwright's elbows, because I knew that if any of my boys got caught with one they'd be bleeding. I was a relatively new basketball fan in '89 at the start of the whole "rivalry", because I was only 8 years old. Dumars quickly became my favorite player because while Jordan and Pippen would dunk and yell at the top of their lungs like they just accomplished something, Dumars would come down the court and bury a jumper and get back on defense and act like he'd done it before. Isiah was by far the mouth of the team, but he backed up his mouth and he had plenty of help with Laimbeer, Mahorn and Rodman behind him to back him up as well.
So while all that is nice, you asked about my "favorite" memory. To narrow it down to just one is asking a little bit much, but if I had to I'd say that my favorite memory from back then was during the 1989 ECF. I believe Jordan broke out with a typical Jordan night in Game 3 (I think he had 46 points), but as I was able to scan through the tape I noticed how chippy our boys got with Jordan when he didn't have the ball. I saw headlocks being thrown by Laimbeer, forearm shoves by Rodman and Mahorn, and great defense by Dumars. He may have scored 46 that night, but he they weren't easy. I think on the tape I heard Dick Stockton and a very young Skeletor (aka Hubie Brown)...
Thanks to everyone who responded -- I'll be posting another batch of these later in the week, including some from fans on the other side of Lake Michigan. In the meantime, what's your lasting memory? Share it with us in the comments.