Kevin McHale: ‘You can see why the Pistons didn’t like the Bulls. The Bulls complained all the time’
Yes, the Pistons were sore losers when they walked off without shaking the Bulls’ hands at the end of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals.
But the Bulls – especially Michael Jordan – were also sore winners.
Jordan, via Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports:
Jordan, via Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune:
“First of all, you can see why the Pistons didn’t like the Bulls,” the Celtic legend told the Herald. “The Bulls complained all the time. That’s one thing that came across (in the documentary). Like, ‘This is not basketball. This is thuggery.’ All that stuff. I thought the Bulls really disrespected what the Pistons were able to do.
“But, hey, when you kill the king, you can talk (expletive).”
Larry Bird voiced a similar, though even more stringent, sentiment about not shaking hands after a playoff series. He definitely left the court without congratulating the Pistons after they eliminated Boston in 1988.*
*Even if the Celtics left the court before the game ended due to security concerns, they still passed Detroit’s bench en route to the locker room. Bird had ample opportunity to shake hands. He passed.
Ironically, McHale was instrumental in the whole Pistons-Bulls narrative taking shape.
As the Pistons finished off Boston in 1988, the telecast focused on McHale congratulating and high-fiving Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer. The story became “The Celtics shook hands with the Pistons,” not “Kevin McHale shook hands with the Pistons.”
A few years later, McHale’s sendoff for the Pistons was weaponized against them, as “proof” Boston treated them better than they treated Chicago. Yet, just like the Celtics in 1988, a few Pistons – including Joe Dumars and John Salley – shook hands with the Bulls in 1991. It just wasn’t enough to tilt the team-wide perception like McHale did for Boston.
Detroit happened to beat Chicago as the NBA was changing. As McHale said, the Pistons’ approach would’ve been common in the 80s. In the 90s and beyond, post-series embraces became the norm.
The Pistons probably should have adapted by the time they lost. But Jordan’s comments sure didn’t make Detroit eager to congratulate him.
This wasn’t a battle of good-vs.-evil, though it has been presented that way. These were two good, stubborn teams – one rising, one falling – that took plenty of cheap swipes at each other as they passed.