Season Review: 1988-89

Take a look back at the 1988-89 NBA season, in which the Pistons emerged as NBA champions.


Although two new teams began play in Charlotte and Miami, some things remained the same.

Michael Jordan won his third straight scoring crown. Magic Johnson won his second Most Valuable Player Award. And the Detroit Pistons played the best team defense in the NBA. But the team’s hierarchy sensed that the elusive team chemistry wasn’t quite what it should be, so three days after the All-Star Game, the Pistons traded Adrian Dantley and a No. 1 draft pick for forward Mark Aguirre of the Dallas Mavericks. The trade seemed like a gamble, but the Pistons responded to the trade and finished the regular season with a league-best 63-19 record.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were determined to send their captain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, into retirement with three straight titles. Abdul-Jabbar had announced that this season, his 20th, would be his last. The 42-year-old center was a six-time MVP, had become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader and played on six title teams.

When the Lakers swept through the first three rounds of the playoffs, it seemed the fairy tale ending was in place. But Byron Scott pulled his hamstring prior to Game 1 of The Finals, and Johnson also suffered a hamstring injury during Game 2. The Pistons, who lost in Game 7 of the 1987 Finals, outplayed what was left of the Lakers and swept L.A. to claim Detroit’s first NBA crown.

The Pistons defeat the Lakers for the franchise's first NBA title.

The title run wouldn’t have been possible without, Joe Dumars, one of the best-kept secrets in the NBA prior to the 1988-89 season. The long shadow cast by All-Stars Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer was large enough to obscure Dumars’ solid contributions. When Aguirre was acquired, it merely put another All-Star between the spotlight and Dumars.

But his fine play on both ends of the court in the NBA Finals once and for all ended his anonymity as he was named Finals MVP. Next to the flashy Thomas and bombastic Laimbeer, Dumars knew he was viewed as a straight arrow.

“I can understand that people want to see the fancy stuff,” Dumars said. “But believe me, we’ve got enough fancy stuff on the Detroit Pistons where I don’t have to be fancy.”


Eastern Conference first round

New York defeated Philadelphia (3-0)

Detroit defeated Boston (3-0)

Chicago defeated Cleveland (3-2)

Milwaukee defeated Atlanta (3-2)

Western Conference first round

Los Angeles Lakers defeated Portland (3-0)

Golden State defeated Utah (3-0)

Phoenix defeated Denver (3-0)

Seattle defeated Houston (3-1)

Eastern Conference semifinals

Chicago defeated New York (4-2)

Detroit defeated Milwaukee (4-0)

Western Conference semifinals

Phoenix defeated Golden State (4-1)

Los Angeles Lakers defeated Seattle (4-0)

Eastern Conference finals

Detroit defeated Chicago (4-2)

Western Conference finals

Los Angeles Lakers defeated Phoenix (4-0)

NBA Finals

Detroit defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-0)


Points — Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (32.5)

Assists — John Stockton, Utah Jazz (13.6)

Rebounds — Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets (13.5)

Steals — John Stockton, Utah Jazz (3.2)

Blocks — Manute Bol, Golden State Warriors (4.3)

FG % — Dennis Rodman, Detroit Pistons (59.5)

FT % — Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers (91.1)

3PT % — Jon Sundvold, Miami Heat (52.2)


Most Valuable Player — Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers

Rookie of the Year — Mitch Richmond, Golden State Warriors

Defensive Player of the Year — Mark Eaton, Utah Jazz

Most Improved Player — Kevin Johnson, Phoenix Suns

Sixth Man of the Year — Eddie Johnson, Phoenix Suns

Coach of the Year — Cotton Fitzsimmons, Phoenix Suns

All-Star Game MVP — Karl Malone, Utah Jazz

Finals MVP — Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons