Michael Jordan had to surpass some obstacles to take his Bulls to the promised land. They were close to making the Finals before the 1990/91 season, but playing in the hard-fought Eastern Conference back then damaged their plans to become an NBA champion earlier.
Their most hated rival was the Detroit Pistons, who eliminated Jordan in three straight postseasons before he finally took over the East and win it all. Three decades have passed until that moment, but for Jordan, things are still fresh and the bad blood between him and the Pistons remains to these days.
"Oh, I hated them," Jordan said in Episode 3 of the ESPN docuseries aired on Sunday. "And that hate carries even to this day."
"They made it personal," Jordan said. "They physically beat the s--- out of us."
It all started when the Pistons defeated Jordan and Chicago in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1988, in six games in the conference finals in 1989 and in seven games in the conference finals in 1990.
They said 'enough' in 1991, when Chicago swept Detroit in the Conference Finals, ending the Pistons back-to-back championship reign. That was an infamous moment given the Pistons' decision to walk off the court without shaking hands with their rivals. Isiah Thomas tried to explain he felt ok with that decision, noting that the Boston Celtics did the same in 1988.
"To us, that was OK," Thomas said, looking back on the Celtics. "Knowing what we know now and the aftermath that took place, I think all of us would have stopped and said congratulations like they do now."
"'Hey, congratulations.' 'Love you, man.' 'Love you.' 'Hey, congratulations,'" Thomas said sarcastically. "I mean, we would have did it. Of course we would have done it. But during that period of time, that's just not how [the mantle] was passed. When you lost, you left the floor. That's it."
Jordan watched that explanation and it's fair to say he wasn't impressed. As a matter of fact, he called it 'BS', claiming the reaction of people that have changed Thomas' stance on that matter.
"Whatever he says now, you know it wasn't his true actions then," Jordan said. "He's had time enough to think about it -- or the reaction of the public that's kind of changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want. There's no way you're going to convince me he wasn't an a--hole."
He then pointed out that the Bulls had paid their respects to the Pistons in prior years.
"All you have to do, go back to us losing in Game 7 [in 1990]," Jordan said. "I shook everybody's hands. Two years in a row, we shook their hands when they beat us. There's a certain respect to the game that we pay to them. That's sportsmanship, no matter how much it hurts. And believe me, it f---ing hurt."
MJ added that beating the Pistons felt great for him, even more than winning a championship. When they finally beat the Bad Boys, he continued to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 5 games in the Finals, catching his first of sixth titles.
"But they didn't have to shake our hands," Jordan said of the Pistons. "We knew we whipped their ass already, we'd gotten past them, and that, to me, that was better in some ways than winning a championship."
That should tell you all the bad blood between both squads. It's been over 30 years since that happened, but for MJ, the hate hasn't faded. He still remembers, he still doesn't like the Bad Boys Pistons.