The Detroit Pistons managed to dispatch Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls relatively easily in their first two postseason matchups. Detroit won the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals 4-1, and then followed that up with a 4-2 victory in the 1989 rematch. At that point, the Pistons stood atop the entire NBA, but they knew a challenger was coming.
The Bulls famously swept the Pistons 4-0 in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals, but as Joe Dumars tells it, the Pistons actually suspected that was coming a year earlier. In 1990, the Bulls pushed the Pistons to seven games, and may well have won the series were it not for Scottie Pippen’s migraine. At that point, as Dumars told Bomani Jones on ESPN’s “The Right Time” podcast, Detroit knew that Chicago was ready to take the next step.
“When we got to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1990, we won, but we knew they were coming back. We knew they’d be back the next year,” Dumars said. “By the time 1991 came around, most guys had grown up and (the Bulls) had gotten stronger and tougher and mentally, they didn’t fold when things didn’t go their way. You’re looking at it and going, ‘They’re growing up. These aren’t kids anymore.'”
There was obviously a mental element of “growing up,” but there was also a very real physical one. As Jordan detailed in “The Last Dance,” he added a significant amount of weight in the offseason leading up to his fourth series against the Pistons. That allowed him not only to withstand the physical punishment inflicted upon him by the Detroit Bad Boys, but actually dish out some of his own.
It led to the first of Chicago’s six championships, and is the natural process of evolution in the NBA. Whenever a team wins a championship, a new group of contenders rises to depose them. Chicago had to wait its turn, but once the Bulls were ready, they took down the Pistons once and for all.