'Jordan Rules' revisited
Pistons' defense on LeBron jogs Chuck Daly's memory
Posted: Tuesday May 29, 2007 11:04AM; Updated: Tuesday May 29, 2007 11:26AM
One man understands as well as anyone how difficult it is for LeBron James to solve the athletic riddle that is the Detroit Pistons' defense. He was the one, after all, who put together the Pistons' plan that stopped (well, limited anyway) Michael Jordan two decades ago.
So I journeyed to Jupiter, Fla., to watch Game 2 (a 79-76 Cleveland loss last Thursday) with Chuck Daly, whose Bad Boy Pistons made it to three straight Finals and won the last two, in 1989 and '90. As a pregame bonus, Daly went to his kitchen and whipped up a butterscotch sundae.
"Non-fat ice cream," he says, placing it in front of me, "so it's OK."
Daly leaned forward on his couch to get a better look at the defense the Pistons were throwing at James. "See, watch the Pistons' shoulders," Daly says, staring at his big screen. "They're all pointed toward LeBron and ready to shade an extra step." Daly smiles wickedly. "They're ready to pounce."
Daly's Pistons were slight favorites going into the second-round playoff series against the Bulls in '88, but Jordan was eminently capable of engineering an upset -- he had, after all, averaged 38.2 points in six regular-season games against them. Daly decided he had to take away the Jordan-can-beat-us-by-himself possibility. So he huddled with his assistants, Ron Rothstein and Dick Versace, and hatched a defensive plan predicated on making Jordan's life miserable. The Detroit staff firmly believed that none of Jordan's teammates -- Charles Oakley, Dave Corzine, Brad Sellers, John Paxson and promising rookies Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant -- could score enough to pick up the slack if Jordan's output was limited.
They devised a set of defensive principles that came to be known as the "Jordan Rules." (That wasn't Daly's term for it. The media picked up on it and it later gained a permanent place in NBA history with the publication of Sam Smith's book of the same title, an inside look at the Bulls' '90-91 season.)
There were three tenets to the Detroit defense: Never give Jordan an easy shot; try to confuse him with varied defensive looks; and be very physical with him. The principles were perfect for the Pistons, who were smart and aggressive (some would say they crossed the line into "dirty") defenders.
"The so-called Jordan Rules might've been the only thing I contributed to basketball," Daly says with a smile. "Everything else I stole."
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