Michael Jordan is a guy who has never been afraid to say what he’s thinking, especially when it’s negative. Whether he’s criticizing his teammates, speaking out against some longstanding policy of the NBA, or just slamming a teammate for not hustling, MJ is a guy who isn’t afraid to tell you how it is. In 1991, as the Chicago Bulls were going up against the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, Jordan was asked about the comments he had made on the radio the day before, calling out his former teammate Mark Price for not hustling. Jordan was asked about the comments at his press conference, and all he had to say about it was, “Jerry Krause has a different point of view.”
The Bulls started the playoffs with a commanding lead over the Detroit Pistons, but Jerry Krause begat the Bulls’ fearless antagonist, Michael Jordan.
As the Chicago Bulls took on the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Playoffs in 1991, Michael Jordan’s relationship with head coach Jerry Krause took a turn for the worst. It all started during a practice session, where Jordan refused to repeat a certain sequence of plays. When Krause confronted the star player, Jordan gave a curt response, “I’m here to play basketball, not to listen to you.” Krause responded by pushing his player, who reacted by shoving the coach back. The altercation escalated as both players got in choke holds and were eventually pulled off by teammates. When the dust settled, Jordan and Krause had a discussion about their relationship. The star player told Krause that he is like a brother to him, but he was
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls just couldn’t get past the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980s and in 1990. Jordan & Co. came up short in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Bad Boys in 1989 and 1990 before finally breaking through in 1991. The Bulls were able to beat the Pistons at their own game, prompting Jordan to admit he should eat his words regarding Chicago GM Jerry Krause.
In 1991, Michael Jordan and the Bulls beat the Pistons for the first time.
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls leaps to shoot a basket against the Detroit Pistons at the Chicago Stadium during the 1991 NBA Playoffs in Chicago, Illinois, while Cliff Levingston #53 of the Bulls, Dennis Rodman #10 of the Pistons, and Isiah Thomas #11 of the Pistons look on. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Focus on Sport)
Jordan and the Bulls had come so close to reaching the NBA Finals that it had been excruciating. The Eastern Conference belonged to the Pistons. Next a seven-game loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics in 1987, the Pistons avenged themselves the following season, winning in six games.
The Bulls were nearly there over the following two seasons. In the EFC, they were defeated by Detroit in six games in 1989. The next season, they were defeated by the Pistons in seven games. The Bulls finally got over the hump in the 1991 conference finals, when they defeated the Pistons at their own game.
It was almost as though the Bulls had expressed their dissatisfaction with the situation. They weren’t bullied as much as they had been in the past by Detroit. There was no fear of being intimidated. They battled back, demonstrating to the Pistons that they, too, could play tough basketball without being upset by the Bad Boys’ antics.
“I believe it irritates them when we maintain our composure,” remarked Bulls player Horace Grant after his team swept the Pistons in the 1991 ECF, according to Sports Illustrated.
“We haven’t experienced anything like this before, and it’s a horrible feeling,” said Pistons guard Joe Dumars.
Michael Jordan said that he would backtrack on his comments against Jerry Krause.
Jordan and the Bulls’ frustration increased as they couldn’t get over the hump until 1991. Jordan had chastised Krause for not having enough talent around him. Krause developed the Bulls piece by piece until they became the best in the league.
Krause hit gold in 1987. He traded for Scottie Pippen and then took Grant with the 10th overall selection. Will Perdue and Bill Cartwright were added as centers in 1988. In 1989, he selected B.J. Armstrong.
The squad struggled early against the Pistons, but Jordan said that it was mental fortitude, not the defensive effort, that helped push them over the top in 1991.
“Our defense was nothing special,” Jordan said. “It’s simply that we’d never made the physical and emotional commitment to accomplish those things before,” says the author. We shattered them, scrambled them, and tore them apart. That’s what they’ve always done to us in the past.”
He then returned to his earlier remarks regarding Krause. He didn’t quite say sorry, but he came close.
Jordan replied, “I can rethink my comments.” “I can even eat them,” says the narrator.
In 1991, the Bulls put a stop to the Pistons’ dominance.
It wasn’t only that the Bulls were able to put a stop to the Pistons’ remarkable run. It was the way they did things. Detroit’s supremacy came to an end with a clean sweep, and they became an afterthought.
The Pistons players were stunned when Jordan and the Bulls humiliated them. In fact, Detroit players were left doubting themselves following Game 3 of the series.
Center Bill Laimbeer stated, “They’re taking away things that we’re accustomed to having work for us.”
Dennis Rodman, who would eventually depart and join the Bulls, remarked, “There is something lacking, but I don’t know what it is.”
It was a jarring conclusion to a fantastic Pistons season. It was just the beginning for Jordan and the Bulls.
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