Toasting the Bad Boys

25th reunion gives Detroit a chance to celebrate one of its most beloved teams

Bad Boys
The Pistons won the first of back-to-back titles in 1989.
NBAE/Getty Images
When I remember the Bad Boys, I think about the incredible passion and tenacity they brought to the arena with them every night. This team actually made the fact that at first they didn’t get the proper amount of respect something that fueled that fire.

They knew how good they were but they also knew they weren’t the Celtics or the Lakers in the eyes of the national media. The longer they played together and the more they won together, they were able to prove that they were not just one of the toughest but one of the best teams of all time.

And they wear that Bad Boys moniker as a badge of honor. You say “Bad Boys,” you know what team you’re talking about. Whether you watched them play in person at the time or you’ve seen videos of their great games, you know exactly who we’re talking about here.

I’ve often said I think the decade of the ’80s in the NBA was as fine a decade as any pro sports league has ever had. There were so many great players and teams. The teams you think of when the ’80s are discussed are the Celtics, the Lakers and the Pistons. There was also a terrific Philadelphia 76ers team that won a title in 1983 and they should be ranked among the best teams of all-time, too.

But after the 76ers won, many people thought that the team that had Larry Bird and the team that had Magic Johnson were going to win every title available that decade. The Pistons knew they had a rough road to get themselves in contention for a championship and they blew through Michael Jordan and the Bulls on the way to taking out the Celtics and then beating the Lakers for their first championship.

There was no free pass to a championship, that’s for sure. Just because you were maybe a championship-caliber team didn’t mean you were going to win it. The Pistons felt as early as ’87 they had a championship-caliber team, but suddenly there were roadblocks, including the freakish collision between Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson in Game 7 that cost the Pistons the 1987 Eastern Conference finals.

Then, the next season, there was Isiah’s sprained ankle after his all-world performance in Game 6 – followed by the phantom foul call on Bill Laimbeer – that probably cost the Pistons another championship.

They came back again and persevered in 1989 and really flexed their muscles to win the first of back-to-back titles. They were right there knocking on the door. Some teams might have resigned themselves to the fact they were close but not close enough when they had those disappointments. These guys were as mentally tough as any group that ever played, in my opinion.

I’m sure there were easier times to win a title before the ’80s and I know there were easier times after the ’80s. The Pistons picked probably the most difficult time to try to be champions and they didn’t just try. They were back-to-back champions and clearly they could have three and even four straight with a few breaks in ’87 and ’88, when Mr. Davidson was in the locker room at the old Forum with champagne on ice waiting to be interviewed by CBS when Hugh Evans called the foul on big Bill Laimbeer.

If you look at some of the other teams who got close and aren’t even talked about now – like the Cleveland Cavs with Mark Price and Brad Daugherty and the Portland team that got to the Finals twice, once against the Pistons and once against the Bulls – they had rosters that in an average year would have certainly competed for championships and maybe won one.

If the Pistons had played in the ’90s, I think they wouldn’t have been tested anywhere near as much as in the ’80s and I think these guys were glad they got to go through what they went through. They can hold their head up and say, “We beat Larry Bird in Boston. We beat Magic, Kareem and the Lakers. We took care of Michael Jordan and the Bulls along the way.”

Nothing about their titles deserves an asterisk. They were legitimate titles won by one of the best teams that ever played the game.

You have to give a lot of credit to Bill Davidson for hiring Jack McCloskey, a very solid basketball man, and turning the keys over to him in terms of putting a championship-caliber roster together. He didn’t interfere with Jack. He let Jack make every basketball decision and he’s the one who put this roster together through drafts and terrific trades and he’s the one who hired Chuck Daly to coach the Bad Boys.

The players and what they’ve done in their careers, from Isiah on down, all of those accomplishments speak for themselves.

Chuck Daly – what can you say? He was a Hall of Fame coach and got the most out of his players. They respected him and liked him at the same time and would do whatever he asked them to do.

My hat’s off to Bill Davidson, who hired Jack, and Jack, who brought these guys together and hired Chuck to coach them. As I used to say when I would introduce Chuck after a number of star players at one function or another, somebody’s got to coach them. That was not just a flip comment, it really was from the heart. You could have the greatest roster in the world and if they’re not coached up and given direction and have leadership from a guy they respected and cared about, they wouldn’t have won championships. Chuck Daly really deserves a standing ovation.

I’m so glad Chuck’s daughter, Cydney, will be in town to take part in the anniversary celebration and I hope when the fans get a chance to cheer for her they bring the house down.

I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since all of this happened. The games were so big and the accomplishments so monumental in terms of my basketball career as a broadcaster, they’re truly unforgettable. Because of that, it seems like they just happened yesterday.

We don’t get too many opportunities to bring a team like that back to town. Hopefully, there will be a few more, but let’s enjoy this one for all it’s worth – the 25th anniversary of the Bad Boys. I think this team is one of the most beloved in Detroit sports history and they did a lot for the psyche of metro Detroit and the state of Michigan.

At a time when Michigan is in the process of bouncing back and Detroit is at the beginning of its comeback, I think it’s appropriate all of these guys are back in town. All of our chests will swell a little bit in pride. It’s going to be a wonderful reunion and let’s all enjoy it.