“Michael Jordan Was a Star and Nobody Even Knew It”: Dennis Rodman and ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons Pushed Bulls Legend to the “Next Level”

Published 01/03/2023, 4:22 PM EST

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When Michael Jordan entered the league, he ensured that people noticed him. Jordan’s style of play was certainly unique and in his first year, he bagged the Rookie of the Year award. His talent, mindset, and basketball IQ were a phenomenon that the league was enamored by. However, for the first five years of his career, one team in particular troubled Jordan. While this team, the Detroit Pistons and their infamous Bad Boys, got under his skin, as Dennis Rodman puts it, His Airness decided to transform himself as a player to get over the obstacle on his path to greatness.

Led by the likes of Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman, the Bad Boy Pistons were ruthless. They danced their way through the court by being physically aggressive. To counter Jordan’s magic, the Pistons drew up a series of ‘Jordan rules’. The rules revolved around exploiting the six-time champion’s weak side and wear him down with intensely physical plays. In the words of John Salley, a Bad Boy Piston himself, the idea was to make Jordan play from the left side as on the right he was dominant. He once said, “Push him left! That’s your Jordan rule right there”.  In short, they made the six-time champion’s time on the court difficult.


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Dennis Rodman on Michael Jordan’s development, prompted by the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons

On the BTM Legend Corner podcast, Dennis Rodman commented on how the Detroit Pistons were instrumental in taking the six-time Finals MVP’s game to the ‘next level’. While referring to the years between 1985-1990, he said, “Michael Jordan was a star and nobody even knew it”. He added that during Jordan’s draft year, even the Chicago Bulls weren’t aware of the talent they had acquired.


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Rodman then mentioned that the NBA Legend grew as a player when he faced the Detroit Pistons. The seven-time rebounding champion added, “He has to admit it and say, ‘you know what guys, when I played the Detroit Pistons, they made me grow up and understand this game of basketball.'”


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According to The Worm, Jordan learnt that basketball isn’t only about making flawless plays. Basketball was about working hard in the gym, getting stronger and putting his entire mind into the game. Rodman believed that this was something the five-time MVP learnt from the Detroit Pistons.

How Michael Jordan handled the situation

In the Last Dance docuseries, Michael Jordan admitted to “hating” the Detroit Pistons. But it is hard to argue against the fact that they made him a better player. As Jordan revelead in a different interview, he was sick of getting physically beaten up on the court. So he changed his routine and gym regimen.


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The Hall of Famer worked on getting physically strong and was driven to beat the Bad Boy Pistons. He started working on his left side game and became dominant on both sides. Once all this was done, there was no stopping Jordan. Soon, in 1991, the Bulls beat the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, kickstarting the Chicago Bulls era.


Written by:

Shriya Rajachandra


One take at a time

Shriya Rajachandra is an NBA writer for EssentiallySports. She earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism, Psychology, and Communicative English. Shriya previously interned at The New Indian Express, but her favorite journalist, Marcus Thompson motivated her to start writing about basketball.
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Edited by:

Satagni Sikder