The Pistons’ handshake snub of the Bulls after being swept in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals has been the talk of the town since the premiere of Episodes 3 and 4 of “The Last Dance.” In Episode 4, the Bulls’ contentious rivalry with the Pistons of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the tensions that still linger, were chronicled.
On Tuesday, Bill Cartwright joined Will Perdue and K.C. Johnson for a rollicking episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast to discuss the first three-peat, the rivalry with the Bad Boy Pistons, Phil Jackson and Tex Winter’s installation of the Triangle offense, Dennis Rodman and more.
Perdue spent the first seven seasons of his career (1988-1995) in Chicago, winning three titles along the way. Cartwright was a player with the Bulls from 1988-1994, an assistant coach from 1996-2001 (amassing six chips), then the team’s head coach from 2001-2004. Most of the memories are fond.
So, when asked if the Pistons’ walk-off still (or ever) bothered either of them, Cartwright and Perdue both let it roll off.
“Does it bother me that we swept them and they walked off the floor? Absolutely not,” Cartwright said. “I know some guys were bothered by it. I could really care less. Now, I felt like, you know, they had to walk off the floor. They were dead anyway, so why not? So for me it was fine.”
At that time, Cartwright was 33 and a 12-year vet of the league. Perdue was just 25 years old and in his third season. He said his perspective on the incident has evolved over time.
“I was still considerably young, as that was only my third year in the league. Still fighting for playing time,” Perdue said. “At the time, I kinda thought it was classless as far as, at least recognize the team that beat you. But later on, as I reflect on that, I thought about, I kinda understand where they were coming from because they just got their ass handed to them, and I can imagine that they were probably in denial, honestly.
“I know people say, 'Hey you guys swept them 4-0.' It wasn't like it was an easy four games. But yet we came out on top every single game. And I think part of that was denial, part of that was recognition that things were going to have to change because they're no longer the best team in the East. And, you know, as we know it's a copycat league, so all of a sudden, they're gonna have to adapt to us instead of vice versa.”
After winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990, the Pistons never ascended back to that mountaintop, and the Bulls dominated the NBA throughout the 1990s.
On the podcast, Cartwright and Perdue further break down the anatomy of those title teams and what made them special, for them and the NBA world, at large. Listen here: