When most NBA fans think of the 1980s, they think of the amazing battles between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. They certainly are not wrong for that being top of mind. But the forgotten part of the decade is the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” teams of the late 1980s. They won back-to-back NBA championships and dominated the league defensively for many years. Yet, they have been somewhat overlooked historically.
NBA Hall of Fame point guard and Detroit Pistons great Isiah Thomas sat down with Channing Frye for a YouTube episode of “Full-Bodied.” During the interview, Thomas shared his thoughts on exactly how under appreciated his team was and still is. He also gave some bold takes that would make Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird raise their eyebrows:
“All them people that they say are the best to ever do it, my teams beat all them.”@IsiahThomas talked about his ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons teams with @channingfrye on an all-new ‘Full-Bodied’ 👀 https://t.co/N0wzkgGfw6
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 22, 2021
During the interview, Frye talked about some of the great teams that Thomas and the Pistons beat. Frye tried pointing out they beat three of the top 10, to which Thomas dug in:
“All of them, all of them. All them people that they say are the best to ever do it, my teams beat all them …. We were probably the best defensive team to ever play in the NBA. … The highest scoring game ever in the NBA is held by who, the Detroit Pistons at 186 points.”
The facts of the era back up his claims. Thomas and the Pistons beat Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals, ending an era. Bird and that Celtics team never made it back to the NBA Finals. However, the Pistons then lost to Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
The following season, Detroit beat Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, then got revenge on the Lakers, sweeping them for their first NBA title. The year after that, Thomas and the Pistons once again took down Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference Finals. They would win their second consecutive championship against Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Those Pistons are known for their defense, but they could also score. Led by Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, the Pistons of the late 1980s were among the highest scoring teams in the league as well.
They dominated on both ends of the floor, ranking in the top 10 in many offensive and defensive statistics all-time. Yet, they are only remembered for fouling people hard.
Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn and John Salley were the key players that comprised the “Bad Boys.” You can make a very strong argument that the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s were among the three or four greatest teams to ever play basketball.