“The Last Dance” documentary on Michael Jordan referenced the “Jordan Rules” multiple times. The “Jordan Rules” were a specific set of rules the Detroit Pistons conjured up to stop Air Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs. In addition, sportswriter Sam Smith titled a searing tell-all book published in 1992 “The Jordan Rules.”
Smith, a beat writer with the Chicago Tribune, chronicled a behind-the-scenes book about the Bulls’ first championship during the 1990-91 season. The Bulls ignited their dynasty with their first title victory by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals.
The Jordan Rules
1. No dunks. Ever.
2. Force MJ to the elbow and away from the baseline.
3. If on the block, double team from up top.
4. When Jordan shoots, knock him down.
Phil Jackson and Jordan prevented the Detroit Pistons from securing the first three-peat in the NBA since the Boston Celtics won eight straight titles in the 1960s. But it took the Bulls four times before they overcame the so-called “Jordan Rules” to dethrone the Pistons.
Bad Boys and the Jordan Rules
At the start of the 1990s, Jordan had become the Pistons’ biggest threat to ending their supremacy in the Eastern Conference, which they had to wrestle away tooth and nail from the Boston Celtics.
The Pistons had developed their Bad Boys image through fear, intimidation, and straight-up brutality. When you played the Pistons, your body felt it a week later. Even if you won the game, stars played a physical price.
Before the Bulls mastered Tex Winter’s triangle offense, Jordan had become a one-man wrecking crew. Pistons’ assistant coach Brendan Malone referred to “The Jordan Rules” as their basic defensive scheme.
There’s always been a saying, “You cannot stop Michael Jordan, you can only hope to contain him.”
The Bad Boy Pistons slowed Air Jordan down with a specific set of rules to contain him.
“On the wings we were going to push him to the elbow, and we’re not going to let him drive to the baseline,” said Malone in ‘The Last Dance.’ “Number 2, when he’s on top, we’re going to influence him to his left. When he got the ball in the low post, we were going to trap him from the top. That’s the ‘Jordan Rules,’ and it was that simple.”
If Jordan got by defenders and took a shot, the Bad Boys stepped in. Either Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Rock Mahorn, or John Salley would knock Jordan down with a hard foul. Back in those days, you could really mug a guy going to the basket. These days, those moves would warrant a technical foul and the offender would probably get tossed from the game.
Beating the Jordan Rules
Early in his career, Jordan and the Bulls struggled to defeat the Pistons in the later stages of the playoffs.
In the 1988 NBA Playoffs, the Pistons easily dispatched the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games.
During the 1989 playoffs, the Pistons knocked out the Bulls in six games in the Eastern Finals. The Pistons would advance to the NBA Finals and win the NBA championship.
In the 1990 playoffs, the Bulls forced a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the Pistons prevailed 93-74 and knocked Jordan and the Bulls out of the playoffs for a third consecutive season. The Pistons advanced to the NBA Finals and won their second-straight title.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson convinced the team, especially Jordan, to embrace the triangle offense philosophy in order to take the scoring burden off Jordan’s shoulders.
Jordan helped his own cause by bulking up in the weight room. A stronger and more-determined Jordan didn’t have to take on the Pistons by himself either. With a legitimate supporting cast behind him, the Bulls finally slayed the Bad Boys to become the big dog in the Eastern Conference.
In 1991, Jordan and the Bulls swept the Pistons 4-0 in the Eastern Finals to finally get over the hump.