It got so vicious that the term “The Jordan Rules” became a thing (and a book).
The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons were the primary enforcers — literally — of The Jordan Rules. The late 1980s and early ’90s Milwaukee Bucks often take a backseat to Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, and Bill Laimbeer, but perhaps they shouldn’t.
At that point, Milwaukee’s talent level lagged far behind that of MJ and the Bulls. The Bucks’ only hope was to outmuscle Chicago.
During one postseason game in 1990, Milwaukee tried its best to use that strategy to take down Jordan, but the Bulls gave as good as they got.
The game got so physical the teams combined for almost 70 fouls, six technicals, and nearly 100 free throws. According to one author, it was so intense that it marked the beginning of the end of that era of NBA basketball.
Michael Jordan was subjected to The Jordan Rules during his early Chicago Bulls days
The Pistons knocked Chicago out of three straight postseasons in 1988, ’89, and ’90. They did it by essentially beating up Michael Jordan on a basketball court.
MJ did his thing and put up numbers, but they made him pay.
Even before His Airness truly dominated the league, he was next to impossible to stop. That’s when the Pistons came up with The Jordan Rules — beat the crap out of MJ at every opportunity.
Dumars and Rodman shadowed Mike individually, but players like Laimbeer, John Salley, and Rick Mahorn waited in the paint to clobber Jordan whenever he got near the rim.
It was a true testament to MJ’s dominance that the Pistons had to resort to trying to slow him down in that manner. (Detroit didn’t call it dirty, but it was straddling the line with one-and-a-half feet on the dirty side).
But the Pistons weren’t the only team that desperate to slow Mike down.
Jordan’s Bulls battled the Bucks in a playoff game that had 68 total fouls, six techs, and almost 100 free throws
Sam Smith was the author of a book about MJ and the Bulls, aptly titled The Jordan Rules.
Smith wrote a 2015 story on the Milwaukee-Chicago rivalry on NBA.com. The two cities remain rivals in every sport. Bucks-Bulls is still a thing. Brewers-Cubs.
There’s a reason why Packers-Bears is the most legendary rivalry in NFL history.
In 1990, the Bucks had begun to transition away from the Paul Pressey, Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief team and into what would become a decade of mediocrity.
So at a definite talent disadvantage to a budding squad with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and John Paxson, Milwaukee decided to experiment with The Jordan Rules.
The final contest of the four-game series between the two teams that saw the Bulls win 3-1 will go down in history as a basketball game but essentially was an all-out brawl.
To hear Smith tell it, Milwaukee’s Greg Anderson body slammed Jordan in Game 2, and Paxson took an elbow to the face in Game 3. Anderson was eventually ejected in Game 4 for another elbow that nearly caused a melee.
The Bulls’ Will Perdue didn’t play a single minute in the first three games but came off the bench in Game 4 and knocked out Alvin Robertson. Chicago head coach Phil Jackson credited Perdue for “igniting everything” and called the game “trench warfare.”
The Bulls’ Ed Nealy fouled out. Pippen, Grant, and Bill Cartwright finished the night with four fouls.
Milwaukee’s foul column in the scorebook looked worse.
Anderson fouled out, and Robertson, Jack Sikma, and Fred Roberts each finished the game with five infractions. Ricky Pierce had four.
But none of it mattered. The Bulls won 110-86 and Jordan finished with 25 points, six rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. He was 9-of-13 from the free-throw line.
He averaged almost 37 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in the series.
Chicago eventually lost to Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. For the last time.
The game marked the start of a new era of NBA basketball
“(It) was the game many say truly opened the eyes of NBA officials,” Smith wrote.
“It was from that game in something of a culmination of the late 1980’s Bad Boys era that finally awoke the NBA to the increasing violence in the NBA.
“It was that game (against Milwaukee) with multiple near brawls that finally awoke the NBA rules makers.”
Eventually, stricter rules came down from the league office, games were called tighter, and then hand-checking was removed entirely.
The league changed after watching Jordan get pummelled. And according to Smith, it was a game against the Bucks, which featured 68 fouls, six technicals, and 96 free throws, that did it.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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