The Real Story of the Ugly Walk Off by Bad Boys Piston on Micheal Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1991

Published 04/26/2020, 9:04 PM EDT

Some of the intriguing anecdotes in the NBA remain untold stories of the past. Moreover, there are various versions to it from different players and coaches. One of the prominent incidents for the Detroit Pistons was the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals against their rivals, Chicago Bulls. The ‘walk-off’ game was left as a scar of defeat and jealousy on the Bad Boys Piston for a long time. In an interview, John Salley opened up about the background tale of that day. While he had a hesitant smirk on his face when the question was bombarded on him, he did justice with its details.


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15 seconds were remaining for the buzzer when the Pistons walked off the court leaving behind an embarrassing scoreboard reading 112-94. They were up against Michael Jordan and co. Pistons had lost the Eastern Conference Finals 4-0 and couldn’t make it to their third consecutive championship.


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1988 NBA playoffs against the Celtics was the ignition point

The viewers witnessed it but John Salley reflected on the back story of it. “Bill Laimbeer says let’s hand them the torch like it was handed to us.” Well, the reference to what Bill told Salley at that time dates back to the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals.

The Detroit Pistons were defeating Boston Celtics 4-2 and before the buzzer, Celtics players walked off the court. Adrian Dantley was on the foul line, Celtics players start moving out and rest is history. “All of a sudden all the Celtics start walking through us as the guys are on the foul line,” John described. The 1988 Celtics including Larry Bird left the court at that very moment. “We’re just watching these guys walk off while AD is taking a foul shot.” John added, “Out of the blue, Kevin McHale looks at Isiah and says, ‘Bring the trophy back to the East’ and gives him a five and walks through.”

John Salley didn’t wish to walk-off

This is what ignited the 1991 walk-off game and that’s what the Pistons replicated three years down the line. But the fact that John didn’t want to leave was interesting. “This is how I am. I will kill you from the start to the double zeroes. Then I have to go back and become human. A lot of people can’t transfer that.”

Isiah Thomas also went back and hugged Jack McCloskey, Pistons General Manager before leaving. The repercussions to this moment were like a dagger in the teams’ reputation over the years. In a post-match interview, Michael Jordan referred to them as ‘classless’ and it was hyped all over.

Numerous NBA incidents don’t have an explanation to date of what happened on the court. Despite what we as viewers are watching, it’s some other angle that the players have at times.

What triggered the Bad Boys Piston to walk-off?

Bulls had already lost multiple finals to Piston, but 1991 was their year at last. With victories in sight, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson started calling out Pistons for their behavior, thus increasing the tension even more.

“You never lose respect for the champions. But I haven`t agreed with the methods they used,” Michael Jordan said. “I think people are happy the game will get back to a clean game (with a Bulls triumph) and away from the `Bad Boy` image. ‘

“I don`t think people want that kind of basketball. I think they want to push that type of basketball out. We may not have liked Boston because they won, but they were a good, sound basketball team.

“Detroit`s been very successful with their style and other teams tried to copy it because they were successful, and that`s not good for the game.”

Isiah Thomas Opens Up


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While being the core of the Bad Boys Piston, Isiah was himself involved with the walk off along with Bill Lambier. However, years later, he admitted that it wasn’t the best thing to do.

“Was it unsportsmanlike? Yes,” Thomas told the NBA on TNT crew. “Was it the wrong thing to do? Yes. But at that time is that the way we felt? Yeah, it was a very emotional response and, you know, for me to sit and say now that we didn’t really mean it, that we didn’t really feel that way, that’d be a lie.”



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