The Bad Boy Pistons are one of the most important NBA teams in history. They formulated a roughneck style of basketball, caring less about sportsmanship and more about getting under the opponents’ skin. The Pistons were also the one thing standing between Michael Jordan and his first championship in several years. However, one thing that separates them is the strange way they stayed motivated away from the court.
The Bad Boys and basketball
The Detroit Pistons were a bottom-of-the-barrel franchise heading into the ’80s, reports Newsweek. But when they drafted Isiah Thomas in 1981, they changed almost immediately. Thomas was believed to be the franchise’s future, and the team brought in other talents like Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer to help give him support. With Chuck Daly at the helm, the Pistons rebranded as tough guys.
While the Bad Boy era didn’t start right away, this was the beginning of it. Throughout the years, the team stacked more talent on to its team. They snagged Dennis Rodman out of the draft and brought in John Salley to help them down low. For added shooting, they signed Joe Dumars. This core became the identity of the Pistons as they launched into contention.
The impact of the team cannot go understated. They were not the first team to get by on grit and grind, but they were among the first to do so as audaciously as they did. They literally fought for every rebound, basket, block, steal, and defensive stop for 48 minutes. When Michael Jordan became the team’s biggest threat, they came up with The Jordan Rules, which was meant to stop the budding superstar by any means necessary.
Jordan eventually overcame the Pistons as the ’80s gave way to the ’90s, but their impact can still be felt across the league. To get to where they were, however, the team employed some questionable strategies.
The Pistons were known for camaraderie, but sometimes that camaraderie led to strange practices. The Pistons found a rival in Cleveland and took it to a personal level. They fist-fought, trash-talked, and did what they needed to secure the mental edge. According to former Cavaliers GM Wayne Embry, this included one particularly jarring ritual, as SB Nation reports:
“We knew where your car was parked on the ramp in Cleveland,” Thomas told him. “And after the game, one of our guys spit on your car. And then we stopped for a second. If one of our guys was going to do something, we were all going to do something. So, all of our guys spit on your car. Everybody had to.”
Laimbeer later confirmed the story to him.
In a different conversation with Laimbeer, he told me that after every game in the [Richfield] Coliseum, as a sign of unity, each of the Pistons would spit on my car, which they passed en route to their bus. He stepped away from me as he told the story, not quite sure how I would react, and he seemed genuinely surprised when I said, “Good for them. It probably needed to be washed anyway.”
Like it or not, this was the feistiness that propelled the team to its Championship glory. Perhaps it gives the current crop of Pistons something to look up to — especially after a strange offseason.
Can the Pistons regain their glory?
The Pistons kept that Bad Boy image up long after the original players left. When Dumars became the general manager, he built the 2004 Championship team with similar goals in mind. Years after, the team is struggling for an identity. The team has messed up many of its draft picks in recent years and is currently led by an aging Blake Griffin, a hobbled Derrick Rose, and after the current offseason, a lot of big men.
The team has wallowed in mediocrity and struggled to gain a new identity. While spitting on cars isn’t the right move to build a team, the camaraderie shared by the past generation could teach them a thing or two about what they need to do going forward.