Horace Grant

Why Bulls-Pistons 1991 playoff walkoff remains iconic in Chicago sports history

USA Today

Why Bulls-Pistons 1991 playoff walkoff remains iconic in Chicago sports history

“Straight up bitches. That’s what they walked off like.”

Talk about a putback slam.

Horace Grant delivered one of the most powerful quotes of “The Last Dance” documentary.

The former Bulls power forward dunked all over the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons for walking off the floor in the waning moments of Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals.

Wednesday marks one of the most iconic anniversaries in Chicago sports history. On May 27, 1991, the Bulls beat the Pistons 115-94 en route to an emphatic series sweep. Just over two weeks later, they were NBA champions.

Up until “The Last Dance,” the most memorable takeaway from that Game 4 victory wasn’t necessarily a key play or a postgame quote. It was a number: 7.9.

That’s the amount of seconds that were left on the clock when Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and company ducked past the Bulls bench—without so much as a handshake— and eventually out of sight at the Palace in Auburn Hills.

It is one of the most iconic images in the Chicago sports canon. One could argue it belongs on a Bulls “Mount Rushmore” of images with, perhaps, Michael Jordan’s free throw line dunk in the 1988 Slam Dunk Content Or MJ weeping while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy after the ’91 Finals win over the Lakers. Or his final shot against the Jazz in 1998.

[MORE: Recounting the most memorable quotes from "The Last Dance"]

What transpired in suburban Detroit on that Memorial Day was more than just a victory or even a series sweep. It was a passing of the torch. Or, maybe, the Pistons’ torch was simply doused a’la the Wicked Witch of the West. Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and company caused the “Bad Boys” to melt under the lights of a national TV broadcast and ensuing media scrutiny. 

Many Chicago fans remember the brutal, sometimes bloody Bulls-Pistons games in the handful of years up until that Monday in Motown. The Bulls lost three consecutive playoff series against the Pistons, two of which came in the conference finals. The victory was not just a flag-planting in the ground. It was a relief.

And with that win, the Bulls took more of the Chicago sports spotlight. The Ditka-era Bears were fading. The Cubs were mediocre at best. The White Sox were on the rise but were still a few years away. The Blackhawks finished first in the Norris Division that year but were bounced quickly in the playoffs. The Bulls were THE story in town.

Imagine if the Pistons had won that ’91 playoff series. That would have made four consecutive playoff headaches courtesy of the Pistons. Do the Bulls rise up again? Do the Bulls even end up getting to the 1992 NBA Finals?

Be thankful for that day in Detroit.

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Kendrick Perkins: Michael Jordan ‘broke every player code’ in ‘Last Dance'

Kendrick Perkins: Michael Jordan ‘broke every player code’ in ‘Last Dance'

In the wake of “The Last Dance,” ex-teammates and compatriots of Michael Jordan have come out hard against the manner in which some of the events of the Bulls’ dynasty were portrayed in the documentary.

Horace Grant called it a lie that he was the lone source for “The Jordan Rules” (which Sam Smith, who authored the book, corroborated). Craig Hodges (along with Grant) called Jordan out for openly discussing the Bulls’ “Traveling Cocaine Circus” anecdote in Episode 1. Ron Harper insinuated that Jordan’s reputation as a tyrannical teammate was exaggerated.

Kendrick Perkins, while lacking any association with those Bulls teams, played 14 years in the NBA and took it upon himself to criticize the way the Jordan-sanctioned documentary characterized his teammates in a recent appearance on ESPN’s The Jump.


“When you look at ‘The Last Dance,’ the whole documentary, it made Michael Jordan look like a superhero, and it made everybody else look like a villain,” Perkins said. “Michael Jordan broke every player code imaginable… Some of the things he was saying with Scott Burrell, saying that he was in the club every night. Talking about what Horace Grant said about guys doing drugs, everyone except for him (Jordan). And then, ‘The Last Dance’ hurt Scottie Pippen. People today are looking at Scottie Pippen like a selfish individual.

“At the end of the day, ‘The Last Dance’ was to praise Mike — which it should have been — but you didn’t have to tear down other people to praise your greatness, because your greatness alone speaks volumes for itself.”

Longtime NBA reporter Jackie MacMullan, also on The Jump panel, elucidated how some former teammates of Jordan felt watching the documentary based on conversations she’s had.

“When they heard ‘The Last Dance,’ they were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s about our team,’” MacMullan said. “Well, no, it’s about one of the more compelling athletes who ever lived, it’s mostly about Michael. So I think some of them felt duped right from the get-go.

“Everybody’s truths are different… We could put five NBA players in a room and ask them to recount something that happened 20 years ago, and we’d get five different stories. That’s just how it works. Everybody remembers it a certain way relative to themselves, oftentimes. And I think that’s some of what we’re saying here.”

Jordan indeed had editorial control over the documentary, a condition necessary to gaining interview access to him and unlocking the behind-the-scenes footage captured by the NBA from the 1997-98 season. ESPN agreed to that trade-off, and to great success. The ramifications are on full display as the dust settles.

But, as The Jump host Rachel Nichols says at the end of the segment: “History is written by the victors, Michael Jordan was the ultimate victor.”

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Sam Smith: ‘Nonsense’ that Horace Grant was only source for ‘Jordan Rules’

Sam Smith: ‘Nonsense’ that Horace Grant was only source for ‘Jordan Rules’

In Episode 6 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the intra-organizational strife evoked by the publishing of “The Jordan Rules” was detailed. 

Michael Jordan, in a present-day interview, blamed then-teammate Horace Grant for leaking inside-the-locker-room information to Sam Smith, who authored the book. Grant countered that he never “divulged” anything to Smith, despite the two sharing a friendship. The documentary doesn’t get past the point of “he said, he said” on the matter, but it’s clear the book was a distraction to the Bulls at the time of its release.

Now, Smith is out to set the record straight. He was clear in an appearance on the Bonta, Steiny and Guru show on San Francisco’s 95.7 "The Game" Thursday that the idea Grant was his only source for the book is "nonsense." 

“I've been around that group since Michael arrived, and I knew Phil Jackson from the CBA in Albany. I've done a story on him when he was there," Smith said on the show. "(Bulls assistant) Johnny Bach was from Brooklyn. I knew him when he was coaching the Warriors in the 1980s. And so I knew all these people and had been around them.

“But it sort of brings me back to that era, because Horace was sort of a thorn with Michael, personally. He didn't take well to Michael sort of taunting some of the players who had fallen in line." 

RELATED: ‘Last Dance’: Horace Grant and Bulls teammates fire back at Michael Jordan

Smith said “The Jordan Rules” might have surprised people upon reading, given the book’s portrayal of Jordan's harsh personality. At the time, Jordan’s reputation — buoyed by marketing and advertising — was sterling, and his relationship with the media all positive.

"I always remembered I would joke with the players," Smith said, "Horace would have a game of 28 points, 16 rebounds, and the media would all crowd around him and ask him what he thought about Jordan's game. It was always like that with all the guys.

"Michael was so much quicker verbally than Horace. He would pick on him, get the last word, you know, much more articulate, as you've seen.”

Smith added that Grant and Scottie Pippen enjoyed an especially close friendship as teammates, one that endures to this day.

“Horace was a stubborn guy in his own right. He was very close with Scottie (Pippen). That was always Scottie's closest friend,” Smith said on the show. “And I think that's what all this is about. He's talking to Scottie. Scottie hasn't said anything publicly. Hasn't said a single thing about this and everything has been forced, if you will. I think he's defending Scottie. I think they still talk almost every day. This is probably partially coming from Scottie as far as a reaction to the things Horace is saying."

Grant has spoken out in vehement opposition of his portrayal in "The Last Dance" as the only source for “The Jordan Rules,” saying recently to David Kaplan on ESPN 1000 in Chicago earlier this week, that it was a lie. 

On the Bonta, Steiny and Guru show, Smith expanded on the key dynamics in the Bulls’ locker room at the time.

“Actually Michael should have liked Horace in that respect,” Smith said of Grant’s thorn-in-the-side nature, “because Horace challenged him, like Bill Cartwright did at one time — and Michael backed off — and Steve Kerr, and the famous fight and all. 

“Horace had come back at Michael and all that stuff was going on. But as you saw, Michael was not always easy to get along with."

A prescient point, indeed.


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