From left: Bill Davidson, John Salley, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer celebrate after Game 4 of the 1989 NBA Finals. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
Day 89 of our 100 Days of Hoops brings us to one of the more polarizing teams in NBA history – the Bad Boys. Few teams in sports history have garnered as much hate as the 1989 Detroit Pistons.
But the Pistons and their fans have taken pride in their overall disdain. Nobody hates a loser. Winning upsets some people. Winning with an attitude? People don’t usually like that. If the opposing players, fans and the media are rooting against you, chances are you’re doing something right.
They were, after all, bullies. No, better yet, they were the villain. A starting front court of Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer was an opponent’s worst nightmare. Detroit made their money on defense by shutting down penetration in the lane.
Multiple Pistons would collapse onto the ball handler, forcing him to pick up his dribble or take an off-balanced shot. If Mahorn or Laimbeer were caught out of position, Dennis Rodman slid inside from the wing.
Despite playing small forward, Rodman could deliver the physicality needed to defend larger forwards. He drew charges and dealt out punishing beatings alongside his vaunted front court.
Remember, flagrant fouls didn’t exist in those days. A cheap shot here or there would make a guard think twice the next time he attacked the basket. Every team did it, but the “dirty” label only seemed to apply to the Pistons.
While defense was their calling card, it should be noted that Chuck Daly’s 1989 club boasted some deadly scorers. Their back court consisted of two Hall of Fame guards in Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. The pair offered different skill sets that complemented each other.
Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas ride along Woodward Avenue during the 1989 championship parade in Detroit. (Lennox McLendon/Associated Press)
Thomas was a master with the basketball. He was one of the NBA’s best when it came to keeping his dribble alive. His quickness matched with his ability to score made him the ultimate threat.
Dumars’ success as an off the ball scorer made the duo nearly impossible to guard. The eventual 1989 Finals MVP would shoot 48 percent from beyond the arc that season. Thomas (18.2) and Dumars (17.2) combined for an average of 35.4 points per game in the same year. A balanced scoring attack up top drew the defense away from the basket, and opened up the floor.
They might have epitomized the word “bad”, but that Pistons team was no slouch. Detroit had the best record in the NBA that season, finishing 63-19. Their dominance would transition into the playoffs. The Pistons lost only two games (both to Chicago) during their 1989 championship run.
The Bad Boys were a lot of things.
Great? Without a doubt.
Love them or hate them, one thing is for certain. The Bad Boys left their mark (“bruise” would be more appropriate) on the league in an unapologetic fashion. A mixture of superb guard play, team defense and consistent rebounding willed a once-desolate franchise to NBA supremacy.