With the NBA season starting right around the corner, this week’s 30 for 30 Reaction piece focuses on the good ole days of basketball. “Bad Boys” follows the rise of the villainous Detroit Piston in the 80s and the eventual demise of the team.
As per usual the official short ESPN summary of the doc is as follows: “The Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s and early ’90s seemed willing to do anything to win. That characteristic made them loved — and hated. It earned them the title: Bad Boys.”
There are a lot of reasons why I love this documentary, but mainly it’s because basketball was fun back in the 80s and 90s to watch. The game as much more physical, which some would argue ruined the game of basketball, but I think that it made the game better. Guys like Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn were unbelievable defensively. Laimbeer was able to get into his opponents heads so far that they would be more concerned about where he was then on focusing on the game, which is true mental domination. So Laimbeer was able to dominate physically on the court with his playing style but also mentally by getting into their heads.
The Pistons were seen as the Bad Boys of the NBA simply because of their physical playing style. Sure, they might have gotten away with a few fouls here and there, but they were only using the current rules of the game to their advantage. If you watch clips from the golden era of basketball you’ll see a much more involved game. Nowadays with guys like Steph Curry and LeBron James, both who have a great basketball sense about the game, is fun but back in those days there was a lot more action making the game exciting. It wasn’t about which player could score the most threes, it was about which team had the better overall playing style and it relied on the whole team.
This documentary so highlights the importance of each player having a role and playing their role well. The Pistons were so successful because instead of being a team with one superstar, they were role players who knew exactly what they needed to do to win. Which is why it was so sweet when they finally conquered the NBA giants of Larry Bird and the Celtics and Magic Johnson and the Lakers.
As someone who grew up in the Chicago area in the 90s when Michael Jordan and the Bulls were dominating with winning 6 championships, it’s interesting to see how teams were able to handle Jordan. It seems fitting in a sense that Isiah Thomas, who hails from the West side of Chicago, was the one to finally figure out the Jordan Rules to finally beat MJ. And yes I am saying that Thomas figured it out because he was from Chicago, Thomas was the pride of Chicago before Jordan showed up and nothing motivates someone more than the fear of losing their spotlight and validation.
Another key part of the doc was the knowledge that Dennis Rodman wasn’t always crazy. When Rodman came to the Pistons, John Salley was actually the crazy one. Can you imagine that there once was a time when Rodman was just a scary good defensive basketball player? His acting out also came after his team had fallen apart and he lost the father figure in his head coach. Rodman also shows that in professional sports enemies are quickly forgotten because Rodman hated MJ and Scottie Pippen, until he went to play with them in Chicago and win three more NBA Championships.
While it’s fun watching Steph Curry hitting three pointer after three pointer and watching teams like the Spurs playing “boring fundamental basketball” that wins them championships, basketball will never be as fun to watch as it was in the 80s and 90s.