Before he became a six-time champion and six-time Finals MVP, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan struggled to get past Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, and the Detroit Pistons. The “Bad Boys” physically beat up MJ and the Bulls in three consecutive playoff series in 1988, 1989, and 1990 and had an intense rivalry with their central division foe.
However, despite the Bulls and Pistons both hating each other, Jordan earned significant praise from Laimbeer and Rodman, the two guys who inflicted the most pain on him when he drove to the basket.
Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman praised Michael Jordan
In NBA Entertainment’s Michael Jordan’s Playground, which came out in 1990, Laimbeer and Rodman paid homage to Jordan despite the Pistons having the Bulls’ number. Both big men knew His Airness was the most challenging test for their defense.
“Playing against Michael Jordan is the ultimate test for our defense,” Laimbeer said. Added Rodman: “If you can defense Jordan, you can defense anything in the league, anything in the world.”
During his first stint with the Bulls from 1984-85 to 1992-93, Jordan won seven consecutive scoring titles from 1986-87 to 992-93. He also won three MVPs and one Defensive Player of the Year Award to go along with his three championships and three Finals MVPs.
However, Black Jesus struggled against the Pistons when it mattered most.
Michael Jordan went 1-3 against the Pistons in the playoffs
Jordan played 22 games against the Pistons in the playoffs. He had a 10-12 record and averaged 30.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists.
The Bulls lost to the Pistons in the postseason in 1988, 1989, and 1990. Laimbeer and Rodman punished Jordan whenever he got near the basket. According to former Pistons coach Brendan Malone, knocking Superman to the ground was part of the Jordan Rules.
“On the wings, we’re going to push him to the elbow, and we’re not going to let him drive to the baseline,” Malone said in ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries when asked about the Jordan Rules. “No. 2, when he’s on top, we’re going to influence him to his left. When he got the ball in the low post, we were going to trap him from the top.”
When director Jason Hehir asked Malone, “What happens when he does make it baseline?” Malone said, “That’s when Laimbeer and Mahorn would go up and knock him to the ground.” Rodman added: “Chuck Daly said, ‘This is the Jordan rule: Every time he goes to the f***in’ basket, put him on the ground. When he comes to the basket, he ain’t gonna dunk.’ We’re going to hit you, and you’re going to be in the ground. We tried to physically hurt Michael.”
It’s incredible Jordan survived all the hits he took from the Pistons and was brave enough to keep driving to the basket. After Chicago lost the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals to Detroit in seven games, the UNC product got together with trainer Tim Grover and changed his body.
Bulls superstar added muscle in the summer of 1990
In the summer of 1990, Jordan worked with Grover and added muscle to his body. As a team, the Bulls focused on becoming mentally and physically tougher than the Pistons, and whatever steps they took before the 1990-91 season worked.
Chicago and Detroit met in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. Behind Jordan, the Bulls swept the Pistons to advance to their first NBA Finals. Before Game 4 ended, Laimbeer told his teammates they weren’t going to shake hands with the Bulls. The Pistons walked off the court with time still left on the clock.
Jordan and Rodman wound up becoming teammates on the Bulls in 1995-96 and won three championships together. Meanwhile, it is widely believed that Laimbeer and Jordan still aren’t friends to this day.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference
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