If time heals all wounds, then Michael Jordan needs a little bit more to get past his feelings on the Detroit Pistons squad that served as a thorn in his side for years. Episodes three and four of The Last Dance spend a bunch of time on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ quest for a first championship, and as such, a ton of time is spent on the Bad Boys-era Detroit Pistons, which relished the chance to bully Jordan’s teams physically and mentally.
“We knew how important to the NBA it was to get Michael to go to the next level,” former Pistons big man John Salley said during the doc. “The blueprint was Larry [Bird], Magic [Johnson], now Michael. And all of a sudden, there was this little team in Detroit who just messed up the whole story. We loved that.”
“We knew Michael Jordan was the greatest player, and we tried to use it as a rallying cry to come together,” Isiah Thomas said. “We had to do everything from a physicality standpoint to stop him.”
Naturally, a main focus in all of this were the legendary Jordan Rules. Salley and Thomas gave the most basic definition: Detroit tried its hardest to keep Jordan on the ground, with Thomas saying that “when he was in the air, we had no shot.” Former Pistons assistant Brendan Malone dove in a little deeper.
“This is what the Jordan Rules were,” Malone said. “On the wings, we’re going to push him to the elbow and we’re not gonna let him drive to the baseline. Number two, when he’s on top, we’re gonna influence him to his left. When he got the ball in the low post, we’re gonna trap him from the top. That’s the Jordan Rules, and it was that simple.”
Of course, there were times when Jordan was going to beat these rules, because he was simply that good. Malone was asked what happened when Jordan was able to drive baseline, which for Jordan usually meant he was going to score.
“That’s when [Bill] Laimbeer and [Rick] Mahorn would go up and knock him down to the ground,” Malone said.
“I compare Michael Jordan to nobody, because for him to survive that and still maintain that greatness, it’s unparalleled,” then-Pistons enforcer Dennis Rodman said.
Jordan still had his big games, but for years, they were never enough to get past Detroit. Chicago fell to the Pistons in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, then lost to them in the conference finals each of the next two years. The team eventually cleared the hurdle in 1991, sweeping Detroit in the conference finals en route to their first championship.
Still, everything that occurred between the two sides still sits poorly with Jordan, who gave an incredibly Michael Jordan response to a question about the Bad Boys.
“Oh, I hated them,” Jordan said. “That hate carries even to this day. They made it personal, they physically beat the sh*t out of us.”