Detroit Pistons Bad Boys - Disrespected Champions
The Detroit Pistons "Bad Boys": Disrespected Instead Of Celebrated
One of the most challenging things to do in sports is to win a title, let alone winning it back-to-back
Here is more of a perspective. Try likening the journey of a team on a path to winning the championship, to climbing and eventually reaching the top of a mountain.
It is a long, hard, difficult, challenging, struggle, but well worth it all once the team is crowned as the league’s best. In the NBA, many teams have won the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. With winning, comes a certain amount of respect, prestige, and celebration of the team’s accomplishments, usually.
The Detroit Pistons, specifically, the self-proclaimed “Bad Boys” era, won back-to-back titles, yet are hardly mentioned in the same breath as past and current champions.
Why not? Statistically “The Bad Boys” were in the top 10 in many offensive and defensive categories. Critics and detractors of those championship teams for their “tough” style of play have created a narrative that disrespects and under celebrates one of the NBA’s greatest champions of all time.
It is time for a new story to be written. This is the celebration and truth about the Detroit “Bad Boys” Pistons.
Who were the BAD BOYS!?
The Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” was composed mainly of Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, and Joe Dumars.
Other players would play key roles coming off of the bench, but the team was labelled as “too physical” mainly because of these players.
Each of those individuals brought toughness and a championship spirit in their own way, but collectively, they appeared unbeatable at times. Rodman, Laimbeer, and Thomas, quickly became the poster boys of the “Bad Boys”.
Rodman relentlessly chased down every loose ball, grabbed every rebound, and blocked any and every shot that he could, all so that the team could win.
Dennis Rodman’s defense and ability to play all 5 positions on the court made him an immeasurable asset to that squad. It is no coincidence that he won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice (1990, 1991). Rodman’s outstanding rebounding abilities and defensive instincts were key contributors to the Pistons’ back to back titles.
Trust me, Rodman wasn’t always just about the crazy pink nails, tattoos and piercings. He may have lived life fast, but he was one hell of a player and there isn’t a former teammate out there who would disagree.
Bill Laimbeer was the main catalyst for why the team earned their reputation as dirty, or too rough. A label that Laimbeer wore proudly.
At nearly 13 points and 10 rebounds per game, Laimbeer should have been remembered as one of the team’s best players, but instead is often referred to as the leader of the “dirtiest” team in basketball.
True, Laimbeer handed out hard, aggressive fouls, when necessary, but also consider that during that time, the NBA rules allowed for many of Laimbeer’s tactics.
At most, a flagrant foul, would result in a controversial play involving Laimbeer, but when the team needed a key basket, a big-time three-pointer, Laimbeer came through for the team.
Isiah Thomas has been improperly crowned as the “Bad Boys’” leader, a fact that Thomas embraced, even though Laimbeer was the driving force behind the team’s gang-like persona.
Thomas had a quiet demeanour, superb basketball-handling skills, a high basketball IQ, and a killer smile that could light up any arena. Do not let the images of that smile from that era fool you. “Zeke”, as he was affectionately known to teammates and friends, was an assassin on the court.
Hugs before the game, elbows, knees, and overall physical defence, were what opponents of the Bad Boys’ guard came to expect on a nightly basis. And that is exactly what they got.
Isiah Thomas was the 1990 NBA Finals MVP, a 2-time All-NBA First Team selection, a 12-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA All-Star MVP, NBA Assists Leader (1985), and ranked 9th all-time in assists total (9061).
Climbing the Mountain!
The analogy earlier of climbing a mountain and all of the struggles perfectly captures how the Pistons got their rings.
Within the Eastern Conference, the “Bad Boys” had to first overcome the reign of the Boston Celtics. In 1987, the Pistons narrowly were eliminated after a costly turnover against the Celtics. The team promptly came back the following season and ousted their conference nemesis in 6 games, earning the team’s first berth in an NBA Finals since arriving in Detroit.
After dispatching the Celtics, the Pistons would have to face the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Thomas’ best friend, Magic Johnson. The Pistons lost to the Lakers, despite taking a 3-2 series lead into game 7 in Los Angeles, on foul shots for a controversial call, later called the “phantom foul” call.
The Detroit Pistons Bad Boys become NBA Champions
The next season, the “Bad Boys” juggernaut rolled over everyone whom they faced, winning a team-record 63 regular-season games. In the 1988/1989 Playoffs, en route to the first of back-to-back championships, Detroit swept the Lakers 4-0.
In their repeat season, the defensive-minded “Bad Boys”, fresh off of Dennis Rodman’s winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, won their second title in a row after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in 6 games.
Vinnie Johnson, who was nicknamed “The Microwave”, for his ability to come off of the bench and deliver points quickly, in a short amount of playing time, delivered the fatal blow with 0.07 seconds remaining on the game clock.
That game-winner earned Johnson a new nickname, “007”, after the film character James Bond. Isiah Thomas was named the NBA Finals MVP.
During their championship years, there was hardly anyone better than the Pistons on defense. For example, in 1990, according to Reference.com, Detroit was first in the NBA in opponents’ field-goal percentage, first in assists, first in blocked shots, second in steals, and third overall in total rebounds. How does a team that litters its path to championship glory, not get mentioned in the same breath as the other all-time greats?
The Pistons Fall From Grace!
After being swept 4-0 in a 7-game series versus their hated rivals, the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls, Thomas was branded as the ring-leader of the “Bad Boys”. After the end of that game, a line of Pistons walked off the court unceremoniously without shaking hands, led by Thomas.
The decision to do this was unfairly laid at Thomas’ feet. During a documentary, Laimbeer took full responsibility for the whole thing.
As a result of the team’s style of play, Thomas’ perceived involvement in the rough stuff, and the unsportsmanlike conduct of the team after losing in the 1991 NBA Playoffs, Thomas was left off of the greatest basketball team ever assembled, the 1992 USA Basketball “Dream Team”.
With all of the above stats about Zeke, arguably one of the greatest point guards ever, he was kept off of one world’s greatest basketball teams ever, simply because other players in the league did not like him. Behaviour that mirrors that of high school children, prevented the international basketball community from being treated to the show that was Isiah Thomas.
The “Bad Boys” era was over.
Injuries and losing sparked trades and even the retirement of some players from those championship teams. All that is left, is an ESPN documentary, which quite accurately portrays the truth about that Detroit Pistons team and the retired jerseys of the team’s best players.
Better than just Bad Boys
The Detroit Pistons, aka “The Bad Boys”, were winners of back-to-back NBA championships, were composed of 3 members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and were led by the 9th all-time NBA assists leader in Isiah Thomas. Winning an NBA title, especially twice in a row, is no easy feat, and the limited number of teams that have done so in NBA history, need to be celebrated.
Moving forward, if you are truly a fan of the sport of basketball, include “The Bad Boys” in your recognition of the league’s greatest champions.