With the Pistons and Celtics getting ready to rekindle a fantastic Eastern Conference rivalry that’s been dormant far too long, the Free Press’ Drew Sharp examines the genesis behind Motown’s “Bad Boys” moniker (link taken from —-ta da! — Detroit Bad Boys)
“It just came up in discussion,” said Don Sperling of NBA Entertainment, the league’s marketing branch that produced a video of the Pistons’ 1987-88 run to the brink of its first league championship.
“We’re talking about possible titles,” Sperling recalled, “and somebody came up with the phrase ‘Bad Boys.’ And if there was ever an occasion when a concept just immediately clicked, that was it. We thought it was perfect. The Pistons thought it was perfect. But little did anybody realize the staying power it would have — even to this day.
“I still catch hell from people for it.”
But its legacy endures as one of the great sports marketing brands.
“When you stop and think about it,” Joe Dumars said, “it was genius.”
Yet there would be no Bad Boys without the Boston Celtics. The seed was planted in Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals on May 23, 1987.
The Celtics won the first two games at history-creviced Boston Garden, continuing a home winning streak against the Pistons. The series moved to the Pontiac Silverdome. The Celtics figured that the Pistons wouldn’t offer much resistance on the path toward their 17th NBA championship.
And then Larry Bird drove the lane, Bill Laimbeer dropped him on his butt and a rivalry ignited.
Bird went ballistic.
If Laimbeer had clocked any other player, the echoes of discontent wouldn’t have reverberated as strongly. But Bird was the Great Savior.
Both were ejected, and Bird was out of control as he departed the Silverdome floor.
Nobody realized it then, but Laimbeer exposed a weakness in the impenetrable Celtics. They weren’t composed of ice water. There was a plentiful well of anger that was available if you were willing to drill deep enough.
Apparently grudges remain. Bird didn’t want to reflect about old times when the Free Press contacted him recently.
But former Pistons captain Isiah Thomas said, “The ‘Bad Boys’ gave us the identity we were looking for because it had always been my objective when I became a Piston to find a way that we could build a tradition that put us on the same level as the Celtics and Lakers. Every championship team needs a foundation on which to build. And we achieved that.”