The Worst Boys

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November 23, 2012 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Unlike the MLB in the 80s (which sucked), the 80s for the NBA was a time of great change and unprecedented triumph.  Games were now being televised live instead of on tape delay as had been done in the 70s and the rise of Magic and Larry gave everyone a reason to watch.  The biggest of Boston and L.A. were thriving, New York had just been handed Patrick Ewing on a silver platter, and Michael Jordan was on his way to becoming God.  And yet somewhere between the pretty glitz of the “Showtime” Lakers, the blue collar pride of the Celtics, and the ascencion of Michael Jordan lies a diamond in the rough: the Bad Boys from Detroit.

Nowhere near as flashy as Magic and his crew, and way more physical than Larry Bird and his squad, Isiah Thomas led the Detroit Pistons on a campaign to pulverize the NBA.  Going back to back in 1988-89, and 1989-90, the Bad Boys reigned between Magic Johnson and before the ascencion of God in the form of Michael Jordan.  They were relentless, violent, and completely unapologetic about it.  In the same way that Spurs have been overlooked in favor of the Lakers over the past 10 years, the Bad Boys are caught in the shadows of two highly respected players and their dynasties: Magic Johnson and the Lakers, and Michael Jordan and the Bulls.  The Piston’s short reign of two years pales in comparison to the Lakers five championships in nine years and the Bulls multiple three-peats.  But, the Bad Boys had their moment in the sun, it’s just that no one outside of Detroit wants to remember it at all, let only with any fondness.

Unlike the Houston Rockets of 1993-1995 which we forget because their championships are voided due to the absence of Michael Jordan in those seasons, the Pistons of the late 80s-early 90s are ignored for two reasons: 1) as I said they had too short a reign bookended by superior reigns and 2) everyone outside of Detroit HATED them.[1]  The only reason why I’m so enamored by them is because I never saw them play; I never had the chance to hate them.  With all respect to their accomplishments, I look at them with amusement.  Why do can’t I help but laugh every time I think about one of the most intimidating rosters every assembled?  Because not only could a team like this not exist in the present NBA, it wouldn’t be allowed to exist.

For those unfamiliar, the four most important figures of the Bad Boys era Detroit Pistons and their role on the team is as follows:

Isiah Thomas The dictator of the group.  He’s the guy who would rarely get his hands dirty, but would orchestrate fights and outbreaks by getting other players to do his bidding (i.e. freezing out Jordan at the 1985 All-Star game, and spreading rumors about Magic Johnson).  He knows what he’s doing and there is malicious intent.  Think the Kingpin from Spider-Man meets the U.S. foreign policy with Latin America.
Bill Laimbeer A street fighter who accidently took a wrong turn and wound up at the Palace.  At one time the most hated man in the NBA.  If Thomas is the dictator, then Laimbeer is the bloodthirsty general who is fascinated by his own capacity for violence.  Think Mike Tyson with the brain of Ivan the Terrible.
Dennis Rodman The enforcer.  You can’t really blame him because he is just doing what everyone tells him to do.  All Isiah Thomas has to do is point him at someone and Rodman will take him down.  He’s a dog chasing cars.  Think more of a hedonistic Hulk.
Chuck Daly The embodiment of the ends justifying the means.  If it works don’t fix it.  The only man alive, who could control this team, is inevitably the man who comes up with the Jordan Rules[2].

A physically forceful and intimidating team like this can’t exist anymore, and it’s a shame.  I would love to both hate and be amused at the same time by one team.  The best thing about them is that they were all different.  As I’ve illustrated, Thomas was the sinister mastermind, Laimbeer was the most violent and brutish, Rodman was the muscle/cannon fodder, Chuck Daly although being the coach,  encouraged this behavior if it meant winning and by extension being larger than life (a personal goal of his), and then there was Joe Dumars, the nice guy of the group.  He was the guy who didn’t have to participate in the fray but was still respected on the court and in the locker room because he was so good.  A team like this needed the good guy to counterbalance all the roughness of the rest of the team.

All the fights, the freeze out of Jordan, refusing to shake hands after being swept by the Bulls in 1991 and all the off court antics have overshadowed a team that literally fought their way to two consecutive championships.  A team that had a winning post season record against Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan can’t be half bad.  They ended the supremacy of both the Lakers, and Celtics and halted the ascencion of Michael Jordan by a few years.  Make no mistake I have no love for the Bad Boys, but I don’t hate them half as much as I probably should.  Being born after their glory days, I’m just left wondering how a team like that could’ve been as good as they actually were.


[1] Had the Knicks won the 1994 finals of course I wouldn’t count that as a voided championship.

[2] The Jordan Rules were a set of defensive parameters employed by the Pistons every time Michael Jordan touched the ball.  It was the idea that every time Jordan got the ball, three or four Pistons would go over and beat the shit out of him and force him to pass it away.

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