The Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons were engaged in an intense rivalry during the late 1980s through the first few years of the 1990s. That saw the bulk of that tension center on the Pistons’ approach to defending Michael Jordan, which wound being much different than any other player. That created the stir that they had a personalized method toward playing against the Hall of Famer. However, within time, Jordan figured out how to break through Pistons’ defensive strategy against him.
What were the “Jordan Rules”?
One of the first roadblocks to Jordan‘s success in the playoffs was the Pistons, who had caused him plenty of trouble in the late 1980s.
Detroit had earned the reputation of being a rowdy and dirty team at times that earned them the nickname “Bad Boys.” That had included the way they game planned against Jordan during that span that saw them rile up the Bulls star guard.
Although many of the Pistons during that time, and many to this day deny it, their approach to defending the Hall of Famer was different. They made it an emphasis to make it quite difficult physically when Jordan attempted to drive to the basket.
That saw them be as physical as possible with him even when he didn’t have the ball in his hands. The Pistons would attempt to try to guard him into a specific direction so that he would be met with a second defender on his way to the rim.
The second Detroit player would often with the optical look like they were going to make a play on the basketball, but instead used their body to run through Jordan. That had a draining effect on him physically and was implemented because they believed he was the only player that could beat them.
How Michael Jordan got past the “Jordan Rules”
The Pistons had successfully employed this strategy over the first three meetings against Jordan in the playoffs to end the 1980s.
However, the Bulls star finally made some headway past that strategy in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals series that led to a four-game sweep. As Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher detailed, it was a change in the approach that Jordan had that helped him finally break through the “Jordan Rules.”
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 an unorthodox tactic to have a 6’6″, 198-pound shooting guard play that way, but it was possible because of the Bulls’ equal-opportunity Triangle offense, which was predicated on interchangeable players reading the defense and collectively recognizing its weak spot.
It was a completely different game plan, but it worked as it lessened the physical wear and tear that Jordan experienced. There was a more thought-out process that saw him utilize the Triangle Offense to his advantage to find the best opportunity to score.
What also helped was that the Bulls had also put together a stronger cast of players with the likes of Horace Grant, an emerging star forward in Scottie Pippen. Chicago was better prepared that time around in what turned out to be the last meeting between both sides in the playoffs.
Pistons Helped Shape Michael Jordan’s career
For as much disdain that Jordan had toward the Pistons, they played a pivotal part in helping define his career.
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 he got passed them, it was led to a significant amount of success.
Jordan’s career went to another plateau that earned him the reputation of being arguably the greatest player in NBA history. His drive and passion for the game were the primary factors, but his tough times against the Pistons were a part in pushing him to greater heights.