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  • Oyl Miller


More Detroit beef

It’s funny how this Detroit versus MJ rift is getting dragged back into pop culture. To fans who lived during that era, this is nothing new. But it is interesting hearing from all sides a couple of decades later and seeing how much hate still festers. It’s dramatic sure, but after all this time it feels so petty. Detroit got theirs and then the Bulls figured out how to win. That’s history. I guess it shows you how intensely it stoked Jordan’s competitive spirit. It’s almost like he still seems himself as a victim of the Piston’s bullying. Even though he got the last laugh. And you’ve gotta love how Isaiah Thomas doesn’t give an inch. He just sits there smiling and saying “things were different then.”

It’s also funny how we learn that Jordan would get on his teammates for showing any signs that the Piston’s antics were getting to them. But here he is, going on and on about how much what they did bothered him. It seems like Mike could throw far more shade if he played the “Detroit who?” card. But that’s not how the melodrama of this series goes down. It fans the flames of a decades long feud. Horace Grant still seems particularly snippy about those battles with the Pistons. To be honest, it’s kind of off putting to hear the 6-time champion Bulls and undisputed owners of the 1990’s carrying on about the Pistons. Maybe it was a filmmaking call to crank the drama up this much. It’s just kind of like, we get it.

I do think Jordan has a fair point about sportsmanship. It was a low blow for the Pistons not to shake hands at the end of that series. But that’s who they were. They were like method actors. Living up to their Bad Boys moniker. But you know how much it had to hurt Jordan in the three years before, coming up to Thomas and the others, in the face of defeat and giving them a quick shout out. That would be enough to sway me, because you know how hard that must have been for Jordan. Year-after-year. A three-peat of failures at the hands of the same smug villains. But I do agree with Thomas, that it was a different era then. It’s not like today when all the players grow up playing traveling ball since they were 11. Back then, the money was less and the void was filled with pride and ego. Those were the table stakes. These days, even the 6th man might be making some sweet 8-figure deal. Who cares about an early exit when it also means early summer vacation. This wasn’t the case in the eighties or early nineties. You were playing for keeps. Playing to be remembered or forgotten. The money came later. Because these characters made the game so damn compelling.

1991 Finals: Magic versus Michael

Lifelong Blazermaniac here. This chapter of the story is hard to watch. It should have been Portland facing the Bulls in their first NBA Finals. Cue the avalanche of NBA conspiracy theories. But I remember the pain of watching the one-sided refereeing as the Blazers played the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers. It nearly went 7 games, but you could feel the whole country outside of Portland, and the world beyond, hoping for the marquee Magic versus Michael final. Michael versus Clyde Drexler would have to wait.

The Lakers weren’t even that great of a team at this stage in Magic’s twilight. Pippen easily found a way to shut him down by picking the legendary point guard up in full court coverage early in the game. Magic and his Lakers were knocked off balance and never really recovered. The league just needed the torch to be passed. Jordan was crowned king and a first time champion.

Original Jordan crying meme

The image of Jordan clutching the Larry O’Brien trophy, being consoled by his father, with tears streaming down his face—was an informative moment as a young sports fan. I’d gown more used to straight up meathead celebrations of NFL titans hoisting trophies and spraying Champagne with frat boy verve. Or baseball players shouting cliches about going to Disneyland. So, it was eerie and revealing as hell to have the postgame camera drift into the Bulls lockerroom and find the world’s most cutthroat competitor at his most vulnerable. Air Jordan had been reduced to a puddle after his achievement. 

I think this was one of my earliest indications that sport could mean something more. It could be something deeply personal and important. It wasn’t just playing a game. Or racking up wins and losses. There was something deeper going on here. And to see a hero like Jordan expressing this side of himself uncontrollably validated a single-minded pursuit of excellence in sports. There was something meaningful waiting at the end of the dark days and late nights of training. There was enlightenment or transcendence or something that my young mind couldn’t quite figure out. But I couldn’t take my eyes off of Jordan and what he was doing. His narrative locked in after that first championship. His quest for greatness became the defining narrative of the 90s. The whole world was along for the roller coaster.

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