Remembering Bulls-Pistons 1991 walkoff 30 years later


Memorial Day 1991 produced perhaps the most iconic flashpoint of the Bulls and Detroit Pistons' fierce rivalry. Though not precisely the anniversary (that fell on May 27), Memorial Day 2021 marks just over 30 years since that night.

The Bulls had just completed a four-game sweep of their long-time nemeses in the Eastern Conference finals, finally vanquishing the team that ousted them in each of the previous two postseasons en route to titles. Making the occasion sweeter was the blowout nature of the contest — the Bulls won 115-94 — and the fact that it transpired on the Pistons' home floor. Fans chanted in support of the Los Angeles Lakers, who eventually fell to the Bulls in the NBA Finals, in the waning moments.

But what made it especially memorable was the way the Pistons left the court. During a stoppage with 7.9 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, multiple Detroit players (Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre most visibly) lived up to their "Bad Boy" moniker by scurrying to the locker room without shaking hands with the victorious Bulls, whose bench they walked past as they exited. 

"Straight up b------," Horace Grant said in The Last Dance. "That's what they walked off like."

Accounts slightly vary on the motivation behind the Pistons' move. In a 2013 appearance on NBA TV's Open Court, Thomas cited Jordan publicly disrespecting the Pistons during the series as an impetus, and it's true that Jordan called the Pistons "underserving champions" and "bad for basketball" between Games 3 and 4.

In an interview for The Last Dance, Thomas pointed to the 1980s Boston Celtics skipping the handshake line when the Pistons finally conquered them, saying that's how the "torch" was typically passed. (This explanation was dismissed by Jordan as "bulls---" in the documentary and refuted by former Celtics staffer Jon Jennings in an interview with the Boston Globe.)

Though Laimbeer maintains to this day he doesn't regret the gesture, which was decided upon in the moment as the clock wound down, Thomas has said multiple times that, given the years-long backlash, he would do things differently if he could go back.

But what's widely agreed upon is that the anecdote encapsulates not only a two-team rivalry, but an era of competition. To this day, there remains no love lost between the principles of those Bulls-Pistons matchups.

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