When push came to shove, bullied Bulls were better


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- There will be no statues of Michael Jordan built in Detroit.

There will be no songs written about his grace on a basketball court.

The Chicago Bulls have been the enemy too long.

They have buried the Pistons now, buried them and bad-mouthed them and gone on their way, back to Chicago, where they'll play the Los Angeles Lakers or the Portland Trail Blazers in a few days in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Pistons -- champions no more -- will watch, resting their aching bodies and wounded egos. The age of the Bad Boys is gone, done in by age and injury and a Bulls team that suddenly is more than Michael Jordan and 11 guys paid to stand around and watch The Airman levitate.

Once the inevitability of yesterday's 115-94 loss had been pounded into the 21,454 fans at the Palace, they began to chant: "Go L.A.! Go L.A.! Go L.A.!" disregarding traditional niceties that dictate Eastern Conference fans should support their conference champion. If the Pistons couldn't beat the Bulls, someone, they hoped, must.

Michael Jordan noticed.

He doesn't like the Pistons and the way they play. And he knows Pistons fans don't care much for him.

"That chant didn't surprise me," Jordan said after the Bulls had completed their sweep of the Pistons.

He had an average Michael Jordan sort of afternoon yesterday: 29 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal. But an average Michael Jordan afternoon is spectacular by anyone else's standards.

There is no need to build a statue to commemorate it. Or a song to celebrate it.

But if you can't appreciate it, you have no business at a xTC basketball game, taking up the seat of someone who understands the sport.

I know it is not fashionable in Detroit today to praise the work of Michael Jordan, the basketball player. But I can't help myself.

He is, simply, the best there is in the NBA.

He has been that for a couple of seasons, but it got him and the Bulls nowhere. He'd score 1,000 points, going off on a solo ballet from one end of the court to the other, doing things no other human would attempt, and still the Bulls would lose by two. He'd score 500 points and the Pistons would eliminate them in the Eastern Conference final.

This time he and coach Phil Jackson decided on a different strategy. Jordan would not score early. He would let somebody else do it; he would get the ball to Scottie Pippen or Horace Grant or Bill Cartwright, and only as the game wore on would he begin to go to the hoop.

It was a strategy whose time had come.

Pippen, Grant and Cartwright could not have done enough to make that strategy work a couple of years ago. But they have grown more confident as the Pistons have grown older, and this month it was exactly what the Bulls needed to beat the guys they call a bunch of bullies from Michigan.

Jackson said the victory was special because "this is a team that humiliated us and mocked us and beat us physically."

Jordan said it was special because "we wanted to go through Detroit . . . there can't be any tarnish now on what we do from here on in because we went through Detroit."

He had talked over the weekend about the Pistons' reputation, saying, "People I know are going to be happy when they're not the reigning champion anymore. We'll get back to the image of a clean game."

Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey objected to that, saying, "I was disappointed in what he said, if he said what he was quoted as saying. We have, on occasion, as every team has, been very aggressive . . . maybe when we had [Rick] Mahorn we were what they are saying, but not now."

But after the Bulls finished their sweep, Jordan had more things to say about the Pistons' style of play.

"Against the Pistons you had to watch your left, your right and your back . . . we hope this puts an end to that kind of basketball but we know it won't, because the Pistons are still going to be the Pistons. We don't initiate fights or try to hurt anybody, we outplayed that style of basketball."

You can say he is talking trash.

You can say it is the bias of a man who plays a different kind of game for a different team.

You can say they are our Pistons, win, lose or TKO.

Unfortunately, Dennis Rodman supplied evidence for Jordan's case in the first quarter, when he gave Pippen a fierce shove out-of-bounds, sending the Bulls forward tumbling into the folding chairs at the end of the court.

A few weeks ago, in the visitors locker room at Boston Garden, Rodman talked about regretting the negative things he had said there about Larry Bird during his rookie season, saying he was then "young and stupid."

What he did, in that moment of frustration yesterday, was another act of someone young and stupid. And it is too bad, too. He is a wonderful player, and the Pistons were wonderful and deserving champions.

They were the best basketball team in the world.

They are no more.

The best basketball team in the world might be the one with Michael Jordan.

That might be hard to swallow this morning.

But we're going to have to get used to it.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad