Chevette to Corvette No. 11: The 1990-91 Detroit Pistons



  • Actual record: 50-32
  • Pythagorean record: 50-32
  • Offensive Rating: 108.2 (12th of 27)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.6 (4th of 27)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coach: Chuck Daly


  • Lost NBA Eastern Conference Finals (4-0) versus Chicago Bulls
  • Won NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals (4-2) versus Boston Celtics
  • Won NBA Eastern Conference First Round (3-2) versus Atlanta Hawks


  • Points per game: Joe Dumars (20.4)
  • Rebounds per game: Dennis Rodman (8.1)
  • Assists per game: Isiah Thomas (9.3)
  • Steals per game: Isiah Thomas (1.6)
  • Blocks per game: John Salley (1.5)

Top player

Isiah Thomas

By now, injuries were starting to catch up with Thomas (he only played in 46 games), but this season still belonged to him. The Pistons were swept out of the Eastern Conference Finals by Michael Jordan’s Bulls, but Thomas, as was his custom, got the last word:

I could watch that incredulous look on MJ’s face all day as Thomas walks by the Chicago bench.

Key transaction

Drafted Lance Blanks with the 26th pick in the 1990 NBA Draft

Finding value while picking late in drafts is tough, so I’m not going to be too hard on the Pistons for missing on Lance Blanks. They needed fresh legs at point guard with Isiah Thomas aging, and Blanks had a standout college career. But unfortunately, the 1990 draft had quite a bit of talent that went after Blanks, including Elden Campbell, who went just one pick later. Other notables who went post-Blanks include Antonio Davis, Cedric Ceballos and Bimbo Coles. None of those four were franchise altering talents, but all became good, solid pros who would’ve helped.

Trend watch

The 50 win mark

The 1990-91 season was the last of five straight 50-win seasons. They wouldn’t win 50 again until 1996-97.

Why this season ranks No. 11

That moment in the Eastern Conference Finals — Thomas leading a walk-off rather than hanging around to shake hands with the Bulls — was a big one in my development as a basketball fan. Here’s what I wrote about it in my book (which would make a totally great Christmas gift, ahem):

"I was too young to fully grasp the complexity of who Isiah Thomas was when I watched him play. I was only capable of thing of him on one level: he was a superhero.What other conclusion could a young basketball fan in Detroit draw, other than Thomas was the toughest, most passionate winner in all of sports? Off the court, Thomas had the smile — Mark Jacobson of New York Magzine referred to it as his ‘Cheshire Cat Smile’ — that could draw anyone in, make them believe in him, believe that he would always assert control. He was a spokesman for Detroit Edison. Without him, I may have never known the dangers of electricity."

That moment, walking off the court, was the first time I witnessed my childhood hero face criticism. His move to walk off was undeniably petty, it opened him up to tsk tsks from many in the national media who were probably waiting for a reason to be critical, and for the first time, I saw pro athletes as human rather than the heroic figures watching them do amazing things on TV sometimes makes them seem like. But petty or not, the walkoff was a result of raw, human emotion. Ultra competitiveness, an unwillingness to humble yourself to a hated rival, those emotions drove Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and a handful of others to walk off the court. Although that moment signaled the end of the Bad Boys as title contenders, for me, that was the easiest time I’ve ever had connecting to a team. Who couldn’t understand the intense feelings those guys were experiencing in that moment?