Originally published Jan. 19, 1992.
A reporter from a national publication was in the Bulls locker room before their game Thursday night in Cleveland fishing for some juicy quotes on Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas. The Bulls weren’t biting.
Scottie Pippen, who only a month ago said he didn’t want to be on the Olympic team if Thomas was selected, repeated his desire to play in the Olympics regardless of Thomas’ situation.
Michael Jordan, who has been at odds with Thomas since the Detroit star took part in a freeze-out of the then-rookie Bulls star at his first All-Star game, marveled at Thomas’ feistiness, desire and competitive spirit.
When it comes to the Pistons, clearly the Bulls want to stay above the fray.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, on the other hand, does not. Appearing on a cable television show, Reinsdorf called Pistons center Bill Laimbeer a “thug” and repeated some of the things Jordan said last year about the Pistons’ style of basketball being bad for the game.
The Bulls likely will have difficulty avoiding confrontation this morning when they visit the Palace of Auburn Hills to meet the Pistons in a national television showdown.
“There’s bound to be some kind of altercation,” Horace Grant said. “It’s one of the biggest rivalries in professional basketball.”
Indeed. The last time the Bulls were in the Palace, it was for a playoff sweep of the one-time Bad Boys. Detroit, led by ringleaders Thomas and Laimbeer, led the Palace crowd in cheers of “Go L.A., Go L.A.” as the final game of the series wound down. Then most of the Pistons headed for an early shower without bothering to congratulate the Bulls, effectively spitting on a time-honored tradition called sportsmanship.
“That will never be forgotten, that’s for sure,” Bulls coach Phil Jackson said.
“We know that’s always going to stick in the back of our minds no matter what,” Grant said.
But there is a big difference going into Detroit this season. The Bulls are the world champions. The Bulls are the best team in basketball. The Bulls expect to win.
“We feel if we go out and play well we can beat them,” Pippen said. “We want to beat everyone, no matter where we play them. That’s our main goal . . . win . . . win . . . win. We just want to win everything we can.”
The Bulls have done just that. They boast an eight-game winning streak, boast a 14-3 road record and lead the NBA with a 32-5 mark. The Bulls are everything that the Pistons once were.
“It’s like looking at Cindy Crawford,” Detroit coach Chuck Daly said. “All you can do is just say: `You’re going to get old some day, too.’ “
The Pistons were made obsolete by the Bulls with last season’s playoff sweep. That streak was continued in the teams’ first meeting this season at the Stadium, a 110-93 Bulls’ rout that Detroit observers called the end of the Pistons.
But Detroit has refused to go gently, instead rallying from a sub-.500 start to a 22-16 mark through Thursday’s action. The Pistons have won 12 of 14 games.
“We’ve gotten better, but I’d rather be where they are,” Daly said. “I don’t think there is anybody in the league close to their category. If they get any better we’ll have to find them a league of their own because nobody can play with them.”ie Johnson.
“We don’t have enough scorers,” said Daly, whose team leads NBA defense, limiting opponents to 97.3 points per game.
Daly said he knows what the Bulls are going through as they continue to improve and run through the rest of the NBA.
“They are on such a roll,” Daly said. “When you’re there, you just keep making more demands of yourself. You get greedy for more wins. It’s a helluva lot of fun. That’s as good as it gets.”