Detroit Pistons: 15 players who defined the Bad Boys era

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Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Detroit Pistons

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Bad Boys were one of the most identifiable dynasties in NBA history. Which players from the Detroit Pistons’ past best defined the era?

The greatest NBA teams are often defined by their biggest stars. We talk about the Jordan Bulls, Russell’s Celtics, or the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. But it is only a few select teams across any sport that transcend in popularity and identity to having an instantly recognizable name. Showtime. Greatest Show on Turf. And of course, The Bad Boys.

The Detroit Pistons organization was around since early in the NBA’s history, and saw some early success making it as far as the Finals. But by the time 1981 rolled around the Pistons were on a 20-year streak of not making it to the conference semifinals, let alone the NBA Finals. Then, things began to change with the drafting of point guard Isiah Thomas in the 1981 NBA Draft out of Indiana University.

Over the next few seasons, the core of the team was assembled, including bruising big man Bill Laimbeer and fiery head coach Chuck Daly. This was a team forged by fire, ascending slowly up the ladder and always winning the rematch.

The Atlanta Hawks knocked them out in 1986, and Detroit beat them in 1987 in five. Then, the Boston Celtics. Then, the Los Angeles Lakers. This team was always getting better until they reached the top.

1987-88 was when this team was truly dominant for the first time. They tweaked their rotation and galvanized their identity as the toughest guys on the block. To beat these Pistons, you must be tougher and stronger physically and mentally. Thus the Bad Boys were named.

In 1988, they beat Larry Bird’s Celtics, and never again would Bird make the NBA Finals. After losing in the NBA Finals to Magic Johnson and the Lakers, they came back and swept them with a suffocating defense in 1989. During that postseason run, not a single team cracked 100 points on Detroit.

In 1990 the Bad Boys ruled the league, holding down Michael Jordan long enough to claim a second title and a secure place in the annals of NBA History. The mountaintop between Magic v. Larry in the 1980s and Jordan’s dominance in the 1990s were the Bad Boys.

The Bad Boys gave the league the Jordan Rules, a strategy specifically designed at roughing up the league’s beloved son, embracing the role of villain like no other team before them. Everyone hated the Pistons because they were good, but also because they made sure everyone felt how good they were in hip checks and follow-through blocks.

These Bad Boys were characters, well known by NBA fans with enduring legacies even today. Four hall of famers suited up for this team during their run. For at least two seasons, this close-knit family with vibrant personalities ruled the league. Here are a few of those personalities, all playing a part in one of the best acts of NBA history.

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