Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls just couldn’t get past the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980s and in 1990. Jordan & Co. came up short in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Bad Boys in 1989 and 1990 before finally breaking through in 1991. The Bulls were able to beat the Pistons at their own game, prompting Jordan to admit he should eat his words regarding Chicago GM Jerry Krause.
Michael Jordan and the Bulls broke through against the Pistons in 1991
It had been painful for Jordan and the Bulls, who came ever so close to making the NBA Finals. The Pistons owned the Eastern Conference. After losing in seven games to the Boston Celtics in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons got their revenge against Boston the following season, winning in six games.
For the next two seasons, the Bulls were almost there. In 1989, they came up short to Detroit in the EFC, falling in six games. The next year, they lost to the Pistons in seven. Chicago couldn’t get over the hump until the Bulls beat the Pistons at their own game in the 1991 conference finals.
It was almost as if the Bulls had said they’ve had enough. They weren’t bullied by Detroit as they had been in the past. There was no intimidation. They fought back and showed the Pistons they, too, could play that physical brand of basketball without getting agitated by the antics of the Bad Boys.
“We’re not used to this,” said Pistons guard Joe Dumars, “and it’s a terrible feeling.”
Michael Jordan said he would eat his words about Jerry Krause
Frustration grew for Jordan and the Bulls, who just couldn’t get over the hump before 1991. Jordan had criticized Krause for not surrounding him with enough talent. Piece by piece, Krause built the Bulls to the point where they became top dog.
In 1987, Krause struck gold. He made a deal for Scottie Pippen and then drafted Grant with the 10th pick. In 1988, he added centers Will Perdue and bill Cartwright. He drafted B.J. Armstrong in 1989.
The team took its lumps against those Pistons early, but the Jordan said it was mental toughness, not the defensive effort most were talking about, that helped put them over the edge in 1991.
“There was nothing magical about our defense,” said Jordan. “It’s just that we had never made the physical and mental commitment to do those things before. We made them crumble, made them scramble, made them come apart. That’s always what they’ve done to us in the past.”
He then addressed his previous comments about Krause. He didn’t quite issue an apology, but it was close.
“I can reconsider my words,” said Jordan. “I can even eat them.”
The Bulls put an end to the Pistons’ domination in 1991
It wasn’t just that the Bulls ended the Pistons’ impressive run. It was how they did it. A clean sweep closed the chapter on Detroit’s dominance and made them an afterthought.
When Jordan and the Bulls embarrassed them, it left the Pistons players in disbelief. In fact, the series was over after Game 3 when Detroit players were left questioning themselves.
“They’re taking away things that we’re used to having work for us,” center Bill Laimbeer said.
“There is something missing, but I don’t know what it is,” said Dennis Rodman, who would later leave and join the Bulls.
It was an abrupt ending to a very successful Pistons run. For Jordan and the Bulls, it was only the beginning.