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The Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons experienced an intense rivalry from the late ’80s into the ’90s. A bulk of that tension centered on the Pistons’ approach to defending Michael Jordan.

The media eventually caught wind of the Pistons’ personalized method of playing against the Hall of Famer. However, within time, Jordan figured out how to break through Detroit’s defensive strategy against him. Here’s the story of the Bad Boys’ “Jordan Rules”:

What were the ‘Jordan Rules’?

The Pistons were one of the first roadblocks to Jordan’s playoff success. Detroit caused him plenty of trouble in the late ’80s as the rowdy team earned the nickname “Bad Boys.” This rowdiness included how they game-planned against Jordan, which riled up the Bulls’ star guard.

The Pistons’ approach to defending the Hall of Famer differed from other opponents, although several players still deny it. They aimed to make it physically difficult for Jordan to drive to the basket.

The Pistons were as physical as possible with him, even when he didn’t have the ball in his hands. They tried to guard him in a specific direction so a second defender would meet him on his way to the rim. This physically drained Jordan, and they implemented it because they believed he was the only player who could beat them.

How Michael Jordan got past the ‘Jordan Rules’

The Pistons successfully employed this strategy during their first three meetings against Jordan in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit beat the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 and went on to win the finals.

However, the Bulls star finally made headway against the “Jordan Rules” during the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals series — a rematch that led to a four-game sweep for Chicago. As Bleacher Report detailed, it was a change in Jordan’s approach that helped him finally break through:

After losing in seven games to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan decided it was time to stop running headlong into a wall of Detroit big men—and, instead, make himself into a big man.

Rather than drive from the perimeter and then take flight, leaving himself vulnerable to Detroit’s punishing tactics, he worked on catching the ball where he was a scoring threat without taking a dribble: on the low block near the basket.

It was a completely different game plan. But it worked as it lessened the physical wear and tear on Jordan. This strategy saw him utilize the Bulls’ equal-opportunity Triangle offense. This involved “interchangeable players reading the defense and collectively recognizing its weak spot.”

The Bulls had also put together a stronger cast of players, including Horace Grant and emerging star forward Scottie Pippen. Chicago was better prepared in what turned out to be the last meeting between the Pistons and Bulls in the playoffs.

The Detroit Pistons helped shape Jordan’s NBA career

For as much disdain Jordan had toward the Pistons, they played a pivotal part in helping define his NBA career.


Michael Jordan Once Showed Up at Schlitz Malt Liquor Summer League, Summoned Isiah Thomas, and the Pistons Great Stole the Show

Yes, the improved cast of players around him made a significant difference. But the matchups against the Pistons took his game to the next level. There were some dirty and challenging moments against Detroit, but once His Airness got past them, he was able to take his legacy to the next level.