Skip to main content

Regardless of how you feel about the “Bad Boys,” especially after watching The Last Dance, what you have to remember is that they’re still human beings, people with feelings that hurt just like everyone else. And while the rest of the NBA may have hated the way they played the game, there was a brotherhood there, a bond maybe only they understood, a bond that led to consecutive titles in 1989 and 1990. That bond was on full display in the Detroit Pistons’ 1990 postseason run as Joe Dumars’ father fell ill and passed away just before tipoff of Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Isiah Thomas was the only player that knew and had to keep the heartbreaking secret from his backcourt running mate, as he’d promised to do, as Dumars went out and had one of the greatest games of his life.

When Joe Dumars’ father got sick, he only wanted to be told by his wife if he had passed

During the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals in which the Detroit Pistons knocked off Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls for the final time, Joe Dumars’ father, who shared the same name and for years suffered from diabetes and had his legs amputated because of it, was placed in intensive care and wasn’t given long to live. Death was imminent and the younger Dumars knew it. Joe Dumars was very close to his father and during the Pistons’ postseason run that year, he was constantly calling the hospital for updates and gave his wife, Debbie, specific instructions. The only person that was to tell him if his father had passed was her, no exceptions, but never before or during a game.

Isiah Thomas kept the secret as Joe Dumars played a phenomenal game

After knocking off the Bulls, the Pistons found themselves in a battle with the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Finals. The teams split the first two games of the series in Detroit, the second game being decided by just a single point. Game 3 was crucial and Joe Dumars knew it. The 1989 NBA Finals MVP was ready to go but he had no idea that about 90 minutes before tipoff, his wife had called head coach Chuck Daly to inform him that the elder Dumars had passed due to congestive heart failure. Daly then told the assistant coaches and just one Pistons player, Isiah Thomas, who had to promise not to tell Joe Dumars. And he didn’t.

Not knowing his father had passed just 90 minutes earlier, Joe Dumars went out and had a phenomenal game, scoring 33 points in the Pistons’ 121-106 victory, including an amazing shot that left Isiah Thomas in awe. Thomas, who said he had a difficult time even locking eyes with Dumars that day, later explained to Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press what he had witnessed that day.

“I knew something that would shatter his world.

“It really puts everything in perspective.

“There was this one shot today where Joe came down the lane, and he threw it up, real high, and it went way up and fell through. I looked at him and I said to myself, ‘Your father put that one in, Joe.’”

Isiah Thomas on Joe Dumars

This is the shot Isiah was referencing.


The Pistons rallied around their teammate and went on to win their second consecutive NBA title

With Game 3 in the books, Joe Dumars was finally told the news. As promised, his wife called him as soon the game had wrapped and his Pistons teammates and coaches rallied around him. Everyone on the team knew how close Dumars and his father were and they all felt they had lost a family member as well. Isiah Thomas was the one who went out and told the media. Vinnie Johnson, who had his best game of the playoffs that day with 21 points, chose not to speak with the media to be with his teammate. John Salley spoke on how the whole team was hurting because one of their own was hurting. Assistant coach Brendan Suhr, who had lost his father the previous year to the same disease, cried with Dumars and shared stories.

Love them or hate them, those Detroit Pistons were a family, a family that came together to rally around Joe Dumars when he needed it the most. The Pistons would go on to beat the Blazers in five games to win their second consecutive NBA title.