Before he became a champion, Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan struggled against Dennis Rodman and the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons beat the Bulls in the 1988, 1989, and 1990 playoffs and created the “Jordan Rules,” a four-step plan to prevent MJ from scoring.
Jordan got physically beaten up by Rodman and the Pistons. However, he never stopped being aggressive against them and didn’t allow the “Bad Boys” to block him from becoming arguably the greatest player in NBA history.
That’s why Rodman, who won two championships with the Pistons and three with the Bulls, can’t compare anyone to His Airness.
Dennis Rodman: “I could compare Michael Jordan to nobody”
In Episode 3 of ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries, Rodman said he can’t compare anyone to Jordan since the Bulls legend survived the beatings he took from the Pistons and still dominated the league.
“I could compare Michael Jordan to nobody because for him to survive that and still maintain that greatness, I mean it’s very unparalleled,” Rodman said.
Former Pistons coach Brendan Malone explained what the Jordan Rules were in The Last Dance. Detroit didn’t want Jordan to go baseline and wanted him to go left instead of right. The Pistons were also going to trap the MVP every time he got the ball in the post and knock him to the ground when he got into the paint.
The Jordan Rules forced Black Jesus to hit the weights and get stronger. He put on about 15 pounds of muscle in the summer of 1990 with the help of renowned trainer Tim Grover and was ready to dish out pain to the Pistons instead of receiving it.
Michael Jordan and Bulls finally beat Dennis Rodman and Pistons in 1991
The Bulls and Pistons squared off in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan was mentally and physically stronger after working with Grover and finally destroyed his arch-nemesis.
Chicago swept Detroit in the conference finals behind Jordan, who averaged 29.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 7.0 assists. The Bulls never reacted to any of the Pistons’ dirty fouls and remained focused on playing basketball. This was on full display in the fourth quarter of Game 4 when Rodman pushed Scottie Pippen to the ground and tried to hurt him on a drive to the hoop. Pippen didn’t retaliate, and Jordan loved it.
“When Pippen didn’t respond to that abuse, there was nothing they could do to beat us then,” Jordan said in The Last Dance.
The Bulls swept the Pistons to advance to their first NBA Finals. That should have been the main takeaway from the series. However, it wasn’t.
Pistons walked off the court
Before Game 4 ended, the Pistons walked off the court and didn’t shake hands with the Bulls. It was a poor display of sportsmanship from Rodman and Co., especially since Jordan and his teammates shook hands with the Pistons in 1988, 1989, and 1990.
After winning his fifth title in 1997, Jordan told SLAM Magazine that the Pistons’ decision to walk off the court was a typical move by them: “Typical. We figured the Bad Boys, their whole image. You know, we just felt …well, they didn’t have to shake my hand to know we just whipped they ass. Oh, it didn’t bother me because it didn’t surprise us at all, because of the camaraderie and the rivalry that we had against each other. I shook [Detroit’s] hands when they beat us. I hated to do it, but out of sportsmanship, you have to pay your respects. And if someone beats us, I’ll do the same.”
It’s pretty fascinating that Jordan and Pippen got along with Rodman on the Bulls and won three titles with the Worm after everything that happened between Chicago and Detroit. From the hard fouls to the walk-off, the Bulls and Pistons’ rivalry was intense and will likely always be mentioned when NBA history is discussed.