There was a novel published in 1967, entitled The Outsiders, in which myself and many other junior high-ers were mandated to read. The basic concept of the novel was that two rival groups of people, the Socs and the Greasers, were divided based on a socioeconomic status. Without delving into the synopsis, each group wanted something the other had and this made me think of an era in the NBA many of us are very aware of: the bad boys of Detroit. Specifically, the 1988-1989 Championship winning Detroit Pistons. The anti-hollywood team: the Detroit Pistons were very similar to the Greasers; misunderstood, pushed aside, slighted and perhaps undervalued, but in the end, they had the last laugh.
In 1981, the Detroit Pistons landed point guard Isiah Thomas, in ’82 they acquired Bill Laimbeer in a trade with the Cavs, and Vinnie Johnson from the Supersonics, in 1985, they selected Joe Dumars as the 18th overall pick, the same year they also acquired Rick Mahorn in a trade with the Bullets. It was after losing round one in that 1986 playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks, Pistons’ coach Chuck Daly along with team captain, Thomas, decided a new aggressive style of play would be the game plan to take the Eastern Conference by storm. To help aid this plan, during the 1986-87 season, Detroit drafted John Salley, 11th pick, Dennis Rodman, 27th pick, and received Adrian Dantley in a trade with the Utah Jazz.
That same year, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, the deepest they had went in the playoffs since moving from Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a 2-2 tied series and the Pistons had Game 5 within their grasp, when Larry Bird stole an inbounds pass and passed it to Larry Johnson for the game-winning layup. Detroit won game 6, but would lose to Boston in the final game. Motivated and not deterred by their loss in the ECF, the Pistons advanced to the 1988 NBA Finals, but would lose to Los Angeles, although they were poised to take the NBA title that year. They had a 3-2 game lead when they played game 6 in L.A., but due to a controversial phantom call, Abdul-Jabbar would clinch game 6 for the Lakers with a pair of free throws, tieing the series 3-3; the Pistons would falter in game 7 to Los Angeles.
Finally, we come to the season that features, arguably, one of the best NBA teams in the history of the NBA, the 1988-1989 Detroit Pistons. They would play in their new home, The Palace at Auburn Hills, and Detroit would finalize their roster by trading Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguirre, despite the loud discord from Pistons fans. Entering the 1988-99 NBA Season, the Bad Boys were hungry….salivating…..their mouths were watering for one thing and that one thing only: The Larry O’Brien Trophy.
They were ready for the battle.
But first, lets meet 5 of the baddest Bad Boys:
- Instigator, Rebounder, Defensive menace for Detroit
- Rebounding and defensive bully under Coach Daly
- 1990, 1991 Defensive Player of the Year
- 1989,1990 NBA All-First Defensive Team
- Ultimate Detroit Bad Boy
- Rough, dirty, fire, heart, will, determination
- One of the most hated players in the league
- played 685 consecutive games in the league
- 4-Time All-Star
- Leads All-Time rebounding in Detroit
- Perpetrator, along with Daly, of the hunger for that Chip
- Instrumental in bringing Aguirre to Detroit
- 1982 NBA All-Rookie team
- 1984. 1986 NBA All-Star MVP
- 1990 Finals MVP
- Defensive monster
- Among the leaders of blocked shots in Detroit
- He wasn’t gritty or dirty like Laimbeer or Rodman, but rather was used to reel the guys in.
- He was the grittiest of all the Bad Boys, on and off the court.
- Traded to Detroit in 1985
As aforementioned, Detriot did something bold, but it paid off for all those involved in the end – they traded fan favorite, Adrian Dantley, to Dallas for Mark Aguirre. Detroit would finish the 1989 NBA season with a 63-19 record and an astonishing 30-4 record afer Dantley was traded, but most importantly, they would start their road to O’Brien. Finally, it was these Bad Boys that would end the 80′s ‘hollywood-ish’ teams putting an end to the great Celtics and Lakers teams of that decade. They are well-known for their defensive and physical prowess, undoubtedly, but they could light it up, offensively.
The fact they weren’t just “mean,” but could score, defend – they were a spectacular body of work in the NBA – and it was because of this that so many hated them, but this was the same reason why so many secretly loved them as well. It was because of the first item, they were deemed #2 on SI.com’s 25 Most Hated Teams Of All Time, but it isn’t such a bad thing:
Worst thing about them? They were a great basketball team. For all their roughhousing, the Pistons could light up the scoreboard with anyone — Isiah Thomas flashing that sneaky grin as he beat you off the dribble, Joe Dumars locking up opponents and knocking down threes, Vinnie (Microwave) Johnson throwing in jumpers from everywhere. Fact is, the Pistons helped end two dynasties (Magic Johnson‘s Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics) and delayed the start of a third (Michael Jordan‘s Bulls).
I could easily “hate” on the Detroit Pistons, but truth be told, I LOVE, FANTISIZE, INDULGE, ABLAZED by that type of basketball. The grittiness, the edge, the defensive tenacity and the whole “we will do whatever it takes to get ours” mentality is what made them what they are: Champions and Geniuses.
They swept an injury-infested Lakers team for that O’Brien trophy, they shot an astounding 49.4 % from the field and averaged over 106 points per game. In the 4 game sweep of the Lakers, the Pistons averaged 109 points per game …………. that’s an NBA Finals Playoff series, folks. The Thomas, Dumars and Johnson trio averaged over 65 points and shot 55% during those 4 games.
NBA aficionados alike are aware of what happened during that miraculous 1989 NBA Finals; Detroit came, they saw, they conquered. They did what they HAD to do to snag that Larry O’Brien trophy and in the process they were cemented into the NBA history books.
“It’s toughness, swagger, commitment. It’s all there. They seem to be able to overcome anything. Nothing stops the train. It just keeps rolling.” – Former assistant coach Dick Versace
It was Jerry West that said, NBA died back in 1989-1990, and the Detroit Pistons, the Bad Boys of Motor City, were the essence of the NBA. They weren’t afraid to go body on body, they weren’t scared to throw down, they were the opposite of the classic Hollywood team (l.A., Boston) they were a fresh of breath air.
”We willed this championship. It was a test of wills, and we just wanted it more than anyone. It’s vindication for all the Bad Boy’ criticism.” – Bill Laimbeer
While, some questioned the “what-ifs” about the series – What if the Lakers had been healthy – it was answered in a way only that is right by the Bad Boys:
“You play against whatever the other team puts on the floor, and then you are supposed to beat them. I don’t want to hear anything about the poor Lakers. It’s our title. We won it like champs, and we are going to celebrate it like champs.” – Vinnie Johnson
They fought, tooth and nail, they were hungry for revenge, and in the end, no matter what obstacles were placed around them, they pushed them aside, and stood, proud and loud, with their O’Brien trophy.
Bad Boys by Gene Myers
10+ Various websites, books, articles.