Phil Jackson and his Chicago Bulls had a hard time trying to beat the 'Bad Boys' Detroit Pistons at the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s. They were the last obstacle for Michael Jordan and co. to finally win their first NBA championship.
After they got past Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and the rest of the squad, nobody could stop MJ and his incredible team. Their battles were something else and the Bulls started every season with the desire to get past the Pistons, that came out of nowhere to become the biggest force in the East, surprising the Boston Celtics, and winning two NBA titles, including a win over the Los Angeles Lakers of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
That team was a rough one for the Bulls and they had to work hard before finding the key to beat them and advance to that elusive NBA Finals. Phil Jackson recently joined the Curious Leader podcast, where he talked about those battles and what it took for his team to beat Chuck Daly's. Jackson explained that with all the tactics used by the Pistons, the Bulls were somehow scared of them until that hate they felt lifted them up and allowed them to beat the Pistons in 1991.
"Every time we got into the playoffs with the Detroit Pistons, it was about their intimidation. They would intimidate the team and retaliate. Retaliation never worked. Retaliation worked if someone got thrown out, if someone got into foul trouble, Scottie Pippen got a concussion, and all these things. They had the muscle, they had the beef, and they were applying it. They would bring the game to a certain point where it became so physical that you almost had to react. So we developed this hate; maybe even fear was apart of it. Michael was never fearful, but he was getting knocked out by 2 or 3 guys, and that was just part of their defense to knock him down."
As we saw on 'The Last Dance', Jordan hit the gym after their third straight loss to the Pistons, he worked on his body and built muscle to go against the Bad Boys and end that thing for good. The result? The Bulls had no mercy with them, sweeping them in the Eastern Conference Finals the next season, which started everything for them and their incredible first three-peat.
Those were memorable duels but the Bulls were going to beat Detroit eventually. It took one more year than necessary, they believed, but it was worth it, seeing all the success they had, following that 1991 ECF. As Magic Johnson said, the Pistons made Michael Jordan the best player in the world.