In the world of sports, a clash of enemies often prompts the greatest play. In that spirit, basketball fans everywhere have good reason to be grateful for the Pistons–Bulls rivalry. After all, which opponent animated Michael Jordan more in the ’80s and early ’90s, when he served up some of the most impressive seasons the league had ever seen? Or how about the play of Isiah Thomas, whom many consider the most compelling matchup of Jordan’s career? And if you appreciate chippy play, the rivalry delivered all the elbows a fan could ask for. There’s a reason the Pistons were known as the NBA’s “Bad Boys” in that era, and they were especially brutal when the Bulls came to town.
But for all the bad blood and big-game performances, which team has actually come out on top more often? We tracked the all-time head-to-head records of these franchises to see which squad dominated in each decade, and which team holds the lead today. Ready to see which side of this fabled rivalry owns bragging rights currently? Then keep reading.
50 Years of Fierce Play
From their first meeting in 1966 up until the early ’80s, these teams’ records were remarkably even: Neither team ever got more than a handful of games ahead of the other. Then, as the ’80s advanced, the Pistons opened up a sizeable gap on their foe, much to the frustration of a young Michael Jordan. From 1988 through 1990, Detroit defeated the Bulls in three consecutive playoff matchups. From there, however, the Pistons’ win count flattened, thanks to the efforts of His Airness. The 1991-93 years brought the first of Jordan’s three-peats, and the Bulls eclipsed the Pistons in head-to-head wins in 1996 when M.J. was en route to his second.
The beginning of the 21st century, however, ushered in a period of Detroit dominance. The Pistons’ recovered the head-to-head lead in 2000 and expanded it during a decade in which they won a title and generally became playoff fixtures. But the tide began to turn in 2008, the first of seven consecutive playoff seasons for Chicago. As of our latest count, the teams are virtually tied and have stayed neck and neck since 2013.
Franchise Greats Against Their Foes
It would be insulting to assume the anti-Piston scoring title would go to any Bull other than Air Jordan. Though the Pistons infamously employed the “Jordan Rules” to smother him with physical play, Jordan ultimately dinged Detroit for more than 2,400 points over his seasons in Chicago. He had help, however: His sidekick, Scottie Pippen poured in 1,097 against the Pistons as well. Other top Bulls scorers against the Pistons hail from earlier eras, including Bob Love and Jerry Sloan, who starred in the ’60s and ’70s.
On the Pistons side, Isiah Thomas led all players in drawing blood against the Bulls, notching 1,846 against them. He shares the list with some of his “Bad Boys” teammates, including Joe Dumar and Bill Laimbeer who scored more than 1,100 points apiece against Chicago. Second place went to Dave Bing, a Detroit legend who later became the city’s mayor. Hall of Famer Bob Lanier rounded out the list, thanks to notable seasons with the Pistons in the ’70s.
Putting Bad Blood to Bed?
Beyond all the nostalgia our findings inspire, does the Pistons-Bulls rivalry have any shot at revival? While neither team can currently be counted among the NBA’s most feared franchises, don’t count out another chapter of tension between these teams in the future. After all, it only took the Bull’s 1984 draft pick of Jordan to initiate the greatest period in the rivalry’s history. Why couldn’t Detroit and Chicago be butting heads again soon for Eastern Conference supremacy?
But don’t wait until that day arrives to stock up on the latest and greatest team gear. Fanatics offers the widest range of NBA apparel, so you can be the freshest fan out there.
To compile the data presented in this project, we utilized information from basketball-reference.com, a database of historical statistics on the performance of professional basketball teams and players. We included information only from games in which the Pistons and Bulls competed against each other, dating from October 1966 through November 2017. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on raw win totals alone.