Celtics

Celtics

In the first round of the 1991 NBA Playoffs, the Chicago Bulls swept the Detroit Pistons at the beginning of their stretch as one of the NBA's most dominant teams. And their rivalry with the "Bad Boys" of Detroit took on another layer.

After the sweep, the Pistons refused to shake hands with the Bulls. They left the court with 7.9 seconds left on the clock knowing that they were beaten.

And evidently, the team's decision not to shake the hands of the Bulls was related to how they were treated after they beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs.

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When the Pistons defeated the Celtics 4-2 in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals, most of the Celtics left the floor. But there are differing narratives, or at least memories, of what happened.

"Detroit had a similar thing with Boston that we had with them. They had to overcome Boston. And they did," Bulls guard John Paxson said in ESPN's The Last Dance. "And I can still remember the first time that Detroit beat them. And I can remember seeing Kevin McHale come out to halfcourt and shaking hands and things like that."

But that's not how Isiah Thomas remembers everything going down. Thomas shook McHale's hand, but he felt that McHale was less of a willing participant.

"Adrian Dantley was shooting a free throw, and the Boston Celtics were walking off during the game," Thomas said. "And I grab McHale and then he stopped as he was walking off the floor. That's how they left the floor. And to us, that was okay."

 

Thomas would go on to say that the Pistons would've congratulated the Bulls by today's standards, but it wasn't the norm back then.

The tape would seem to back up Thomas' version of the story involving the Celtics. The Celtics definitely left the floor, but McHale stayed behind to shake Thomas' hand. Whether or not he would've done that had Thomas not grabbed him remains unclear, but at least via the footage, McHale looked happy to congratulate the Pistons.

But nonetheless, Michael Jordan didn't take too kindly to the Pistons' decision.

"Two years in a row we shook their hands when they beat us. There's a certain respect to the game that we paid to them," Jordan said. "That's sportsmanship, no matter how much it hurts."

Jordan has a right to be upset. And these types of actions surely wouldn't fly in today's NBA. But at the end of the day, as Jordan pointed out, the most important thing was that the Bulls beat the Pistons.

"We got past them. And that was better, in some ways, than winning a championship."