Auburn Hills — It was a magical time for Detroit sports. The University of Michigan won a national championship in basketball. The Lions were just two years away from winning their first playoff game in four decades, the Red Wings featured Steve Yzerman, and a young kid named Jalen Rose celebrated a state championship at the brand-new Palace of Auburn Hills.
People still called boxer Thomas Hearns “champ” as he walked through The Palace to his seats behind the basket during Pistons games.
“It was our year,” Rose said.
The year was 1989, and despite all these wonderful things in Detroit the Bad Boy Pistons captured our imaginations more than anybody else. They were brash, controversial and won things the Detroit way: a blue-collar work ethic and an in-your-face style that angered others.
And it all plays out on national television Thursday night.
Rose is absolutely thrilled to host a post-show discussion following the debut of “Bad Boys,” an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary. The documentary will be shown from 8-10 pm. Rose will co-host a show from Los Angeles (10-11 pm).
Rose learned his swagger from the Pistons when he played for the University of Michigan’s Fab Five with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
“They encouraged us and gave us that toughness and that flavor and the ability to be different,” Rose said. “You just don’t beat Magic (Johnson). You don’t just beat Michael (Jordan). You don’t just beat Larry (Bird). You’ve got to be extraordinary to beat those guys, and that is what the Bad Boys were able to do.”
How time flies. We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pistons’ first NBA title in 1989. This team advanced to three consecutive NBA Finals, winning another title in 1990, before old age and the Jordan era derailed the Pistons.
This documentary is important to the old Pistons and it is important for our city. Let’s be honest. Although the Pistons were a source of pride, this town and this team got bashed for its Broad Street Bullies ways.
What many missed is that this team did not win with brute. It won with mental toughness. It was amazing to see how the Pistons worked on the minds of people like Kevin Duckworth and Scottie Pippen and brought them to their knees.
The Pistons were also talented.
Thomas and Dumars are Hall of Fame guards. Dennis Rodman was one of the best defenders and rebounders in NBA history while Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly trotted out a bench that was nine men deep. The Pistons believe their stories were told too much by people from New York and Boston and not enough through their eyes.
“It is their story,” director Zak Levitt said. “It is in their words. You kind of want to stand out of the way and allow them to tell their story.”
Levitt told the story of not just the Pistons but the city. He shows the grime and decline of the city and how the Pistons fit in. At the time the city was beaten down, much as it is today, and there was uncertainty if the Pistons would ever overcome the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers.
“Somebody said along the way there was no team with a greater learning curve,” Levitt said. “You had to go through the Celtics and Lakers, and you could feel that. The players still carry that. They are proud of their two championships, but they are still going through a sense of what could have been as well.”
Levitt said he will watch the film at home with his wife. Rose said he won’t watch it until Thursday night. He wants to be surprised.
“I loved how they embodied the entire city and the whole theme of “You can’t touch this,” Rose said. “It was our time. It was just our time.”