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Michael Jordan claimed in 1992 that Kevin McHale and the Boston Celtics of the 1980s helped his Chicago Bulls teams learn how to win and exude confidence. McHale can’t deny the ’90s Bulls dominated like few teams in history, but he probably doesn’t believe Chicago borrowed any semblance of the Celtics’ mindset.

McHale had an interesting reaction to ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries, in which he essentially labeled the Bulls prima donnas. The rant also included a surprising endorsement of the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, a team that snatched the torch from McHale and the C’s in the late 1980s.

The Boston Celtics developed a rivalry with the “Bad Boy” Pistons

Kevin McHale and the Boston Celtics dominated the Eastern Conference for most of the 1980s. Still, a hungry Detroit Pistons team nipped at their heels at the end of the decade and embraced a style of play to match Boston’s physicality.

It made for excellent theater.

The Celtics beat the Pistons in the conference semifinals in 1985. Two years later, Boston narrowly got past a Detroit team that appeared destined to snatch the crown, winning in seven games. All the while, a sense of dislike emerged between the two franchises.

Larry Bird threw a basketball at Pistons center Bill Laimbeer’s head during Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals after Laimbeer pulled him down by the neck. The incident also included legendary Celtics announcer Johnny Most lashing out at Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, and the rest of the Pistons.

Although the rivalry all but ended when Detroit finally got past Boston in 1988, some of the individual animosities that arose persisted for years. But McHale, whose congratulatory gesture for Thomas made for a passing of the torch moment, has the utmost respect for those Pistons teams.

In fact, the Hall of Fame power forward went out of his way to laud the Bad Boys while chastising Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Kevin McHale said Michael Jordan’s Bulls “complained all the time” and sided with the Pistons

L-R: Boston Celtics legend Kevin McHale calls an NBA game in February 2020; Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan drives on Detroit Pistons great Joe Dumars during an NBA game in 1989
Kevin McHale (L) and Michael Jordan (R) | Left to Right: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images and Focus on Sport via Getty Images

While watching The Last Dance, Kevin McHale couldn’t help but notice all the Piston-bashing coming from Michael Jordan and his former Bulls teammates. He took issue with the mentality.

McHale told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald (h/t Bleacher Report) that the docuseries, to him, shed light on why the Pistons felt disrespected by the whiny Bulls. He did, however, acknowledge that the Bulls ultimately had the right to run their mouths after finally conquering the Bad Boys.

“First of all, you can see why the Pistons didn’t like the Bulls. The Bulls complained all the time. That’s one thing that came across (in the documentary). Like, ‘This is not basketball. This is thuggery.’ All that stuff. I thought the Bulls really disrespected what the Pistons were able to do. But, hey, when you kill the king, you can talk [expletive].”

–Kevin McHale on the Bulls-Pistons rivalry

Thomas and other members of the Pistons routinely stated they indeed felt disrespected by the Bulls and the rest of the NBA. Jordan, Phil Jackson, and other members of the Bulls organization even took shots at Detroit with a 3-0 lead during the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, prompting Rodman to suggest that MJ buy the team.

Aside from the whininess, McHale pointed to another contrast between his Celtics and Jordan’s Bulls. He felt that Detroit’s physicality did more to raise Boston’s level of play. He alluded to the Celtics welcoming that style of ball.

“We actually liked playing like that. We didn’t have any problem with the Pistons, really, until we got all beat up [with injuries]. But their physicality never bothered us. I thought their physicality made us play better.”

–McHale on Detroit’s style of play

The Celtics legend might have stretched the truth a little bit. There’s a reason Bird and Laimbeer still don’t like one another, and roughhousing has everything to do with it.

Regardless, it’s not a surprise that McHale feels this way. He had a “tough guy” persona during his playing days. Just ask Kurt Rambis.

McHale believed the NBA went soft


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Michael Jordan and the Bulls took on the role of “good guys” in vanquishing the Bad Boys. However, at the end of his playing career, McHale implied that the Bulls ushered in a Hollywood-like era.

In 1993, McHale claimed that even with peak MH, Chicago never could have 3-peated in his era. He also said the 1985-86 Bulls could beat any of those Bulls teams.

The Celtics legend doesn’t appear to hold Jordan’s Bulls in the same regard as other peers and basketball historians. The Last Dance seemed to reinforce long-held feelings, and even elicited praise for one of Boston’s biggest rivals.