In the late ‘80s, when the Celtics/Lakers rivalry was in its dying years, new enmity was taking root. The Pistons were about to come hard on the Bulls; Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan formed one of the greatest rivalries the NBA had ever seen.
The year 1988 marked the meeting of the ‘Bad Boys’ and the ‘Jordan Era’. The Pistons were known for their physical play and great defense. They proved to be too good to handle for the Bulls. But an infamous incident in the 1991 EC Finals laid the groundwork for the tension between them and made their antagonism memorable.
How did Isiah Thomas defend his side?
During the NBA 1991 EC Finals, the Bulls whitewashed the Pistons 4-0. The series showed Pistons in a very bad light since they left the court in Game 4 without shaking hands with their opponents. Fans and media bashed them for the gesture. But what was the reality? Isiah Thomas himself opened up in an interview to reveal it.
He expressed, “Here’s the difference. When the Celtics walked off, we as the Pistons, we never made a big deal. Celtics walking off, not shaking our hands, they were champions and they deserve… (trails off)
“We were thankful & grateful for the lessons that they taught. We never sat around and said, ‘Ooo!’ McHale and I are still good friends even today.”
He was relating it to the times when Larry Bird’s Celtics didn’t shake the hands with Pistons in EC Finals in 1987. Not many people talk about the Pistons never making a huge deal out of it.
The Pistons legend blamed Michael Jordan for the uproar
Isiah further added, “When we were getting ready to beat them, and we knew we had the better team and they were going down, we wasn’t the day before talking about how they were bad… Now, Jordan, before they swept us, he has this big press conference where he annihilates our team- and the one thing that hit us hard is when he called us undeserving champions.”
Prior to 1991, the Pistons had beaten the Bulls thrice in the playoffs, their scores being 4-1, 4-2, 4-3 from 1988 to 1990. Coach Chuck Daly had devised “Jordan Rules” to tame the NBA MVP. It worked well for them, but the MJ of 1991 proved too good for the rules.
Isiah rested his case by revealing, “When we walked off and Laimbeer said I’m not shaking their hands, this is how we roll, we rolled as a team… None of us knew that the camera would be on you and this is supposed to be a passing of the torch and that is some BS… to make one team or one player look bad & another one look good.”
So do you still think the Pistons were wrong at what they did? Help us know your views in the comments section.