When Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls swept the Detroit Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, the main story should have been about the Bulls finally getting past the Pistons. Detroit beat Chicago in the 1988, 1989, and 1990 playoffs and had a stranglehold on Jordan, so MJ and Co. were ecstatic after destroying their arch-nemesis.
However, the Pistons stole the headlines after losing to the Bulls. Before Game 4 ended, they walked off the court with time still left on the clock and didn’t shake hands with Jordan and his teammates. The media demolished the “Bad Boys” for showing poor sportsmanship, and it’s widely believed Jordan lost whatever respect he had for Isiah Thomas after the walk-off.
Surprisingly, though, Jordan admitted he didn’t take the Pistons’ move personally in 2013.
Michael Jordan on Pistons: “Getcho a** whooped you can walk out of the building any way you want”
In 2013, Jordan told his good friend — Ahmad Rashad — that he didn’t take it personally when the Pistons walked off the floor and didn’t shake hands with the Bulls in 1991. The Chicago-Detroit rivalry was so fierce that His Airness didn’t expect anything less from the “Bad Boys.”
“Getcho a** whooped you can walk out of the building any way you want,” Jordan told Rashad. “The point is is that to us, it was gratifying. We beat them so bad they didn’t want to shake our hands. That, to me, was an accomplishment. What happened was we just got past that hump, and we never looked back.”
Jordan shook hands with the Pistons after the Bulls lost in 1988, 1989, and 1990, which is why he rolled his eyes in Episode 4 of ESPN’s The Last Dance series when Thomas said it was common for players not to shake hands with their opponent after losing.
Michael Jordan reacted to Isiah Thomas’ comment
When Jordan watched Thomas talk to The Last Dance director (Jason Hehir) about not shaking hands with the Bulls, he responded by saying he always displayed proper sportsmanship. Even though the Boston Celtics didn’t shake hands with the Pistons when they lost to Zeke and Co. for the first time, and the Detroit players were good with it, Jordan still found it ironic that Thomas said that’s how things were conducted at the time.
“All you gotta do is you go back to us losing in Game 7. I shook everybody’s hand. Two years in a row,” Jordan said in The Last Dance. “We shook their hands when they beat us. There’s a certain respect to the game that we paid to them. That’s sportsmanship, no matter how much it hurts, and believe me, it f****** hurt. But they didn’t have to shake our hands. We knew we whooped their a** already. We’d gotten past them. To me, that was better than, in some ways, winning a championship.”
Would Jordan have liked the Pistons to shake his hand? Probably. However, he wasn’t going to sulk his head over it. After all, he got what he really wanted by ending Detroit’s dynasty and creating his own.
Pistons reign ended; Bulls run began
The Pistons won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. However, after the Bulls swept them in the 1991 conference finals, they never returned to the Finals while Jordan played in Chicago.
From 1991 to 1998, the Bulls won six championships and three-peated twice. Jordan won all six Finals MVPs and averaged 33.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 35 Finals games. Superman never lost in the Finals and only trailed a series twice.
Jordan used all the physical beatings he took from the Pistons as motivation to become arguably the greatest player in NBA history. The five-time MVP and 10-time scoring champion may have needed the “Bad Boys” to beat him three years in a row in the playoffs to get the edge required to become a six-time champion and six-time Finals MVP.
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