“Played to His Weaknesses”: Isiah Thomas Reveals How the Pistons Perfected ‘Jordan Rules’ Against Michael Jordan

November 19, 2020 10:30 pm

Michael Jordan emerged as an icon in the 90s, but he had to overcome fierce competition in order to establish himself as the best. Defenders during Jordan’s heyday were incredibly physical and the infamous ‘Jordan Rules’ were invented by the Detroit Pistons in the late 80s. Pistons’ former ‘Bad Boy’ Isiah Thomas recently explained what this was all about. 

There have been several explanations about the ‘Jordan Rules,’ including the infamous book written by Sam Smith in 1992. But nothing is quite like hearing things straight from Isiah Thomas’s mouth, who was at the heart of the Pistons team during their dominant era. 

The 2x NBA champion connected with his good friend and former rival Michael Cooper, where he was asked to detail the special set of rules that they had devised for Michael Jordan. To this, Isiah said, “We knew that he [Jordan] had a difficult time going left, so we would force him left, and then we would come and trap. And at that time he was a very reluctant passer. And sometimes he would force and take bad shots with two people on him.”

These rules worked well for a few years. The Pistons agonizingly overpowered the Bulls for three consecutive years in the East. Jordan was really tested from 1988 to 90, but he broke loose after that. 

Also Read: “Be Very Physical”: An Insight on How the Bad Boys Pistons Tackled Michael Jordan With Their Brutal Jordan Rules

How Phil Jackson helped Michael Jordan combat the ‘Jordan Rules’

Phil Jackson is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. A large part of his success came when he was coaching the Bulls as they went on to clinch double three-peats in eight years. When Jackson took charge in 1989, he noticed that MJ was losing the individual battle against the Pistons. Of course, his scoring averages didn’t dip a lot, but it hurt the collective efforts of the team. 

“When Phil Jackson came, he convinced him that he gotta start using his teammates,” Isiah told Cooper on the call. Though the Pistons focused on MJ’s weakness, it was still a team game. 

“When he did go to his teammates, they hadn’t shot the ball in so long. They were cold,” Isiah further added. But the ‘Bad Boys’ saw their success turn into a nightmare after Michael Jordan showed just how special he was. 

Chicago Bulls All-Star forward # 23 Michael Jordan file photos. (Photo by Tom Berg/WireImage)

“In terms of when he was going to the basket, we knew that he had a genetic gift… When he got up in the air, you couldn’t do nothing with that,” Isiah Thomas mentioned. Moreover, he also asserted that the Jordan Rules did not carry extra significance when compared to other teams and said:

“Same rules that y’all had, same rule that Boston had. When somebody goes to the basket, as opposed to letting him dunk or getting the shot off… you send him to the line and maybe you split one. We just played the percentages.”

Also Read: NBA Legend Isiah Thomas Credits Former Rival Michael Jordan For ‘Expanding the Boundaries’ of Basketball World

Is it wrong to glorify the Jordan Rules?

The Jordan Rules had indeed garnered everyone’s attention, especially after the release of ‘The Last Dance.’ It is quite common for players to devise a special plan for the best athlete on the rival team. Thus, Isiah Thomas feels the set of rules crafted for Jordan were common throughout the league. 

“Those really were the Jordan rules. But we had the Jordan rules, we had the Kareem rules, we had the Magic rules, we had the Bird rules, it just so happened that Sam Smith wrote a book on the Jordan rules so everybody happened to think that there was only the Jordan rules,” Isiah stated. 

It is no surprise that Magic and even Larry Bird had their own set of rules. It just so happened to be that a book on Jordan became incredibly famous due to the detailing it had, and how the words it used enhanced the physicality of the league. 

The entire 80s era was brutal. Players would often prepare for games like they were going for war, and that was the beauty of the game. Michael Jordan stood out with his athleticism and his craft. But the ‘Jordan Rules’ were just one among the special plans created for players like him. 

Also Read: “Great Teachers”: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas Reveals How the 80s Laker-Celtic Rivalry Benefitted His NBA Career

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