“Michael Jordan Couldn’t Go Left”: When Isiah Thomas Revealed ‘The Jordan Rules’ Used by Bad-Boy Pistons

“Michael Jordan Couldn’t Go Left”: When Isiah Thomas Revealed ‘The Jordan Rules’ Used by Bad-Boy Pistons


Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. Credits: USA TODAY Sports

The rivalry between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas is one of the best we’ve ever seen. While there might have been a lot of bad blood between the two, the rivalry was purely built on the court. In the late 80s, the Bad Boy Pistons ruled the NBA. During that time, young Jordan was trying to stamp his authority in the league and the Pistons weren’t going to make it easy for him. So, they devised a set of Jordan Rules to stop the incredibly skilled scorer.

During an appearance on the ‘ALL THE SMOKE’ podcast, in 2023, Zeke talked about the Jordan Rules and how they executed their plans against the Bulls legend. Stopping MJ wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, and the Pistons knew it. So, they traced all his weaknesses, which weren’t a lot, and planned their game around it.

Thomas said that since his team was incredibly disciplined, it was easy for them to stick to the plans. A major flaw in Jordan’s game was that he was a “reluctant passer”, and the Pistons wanted to put him in difficult positions where he’d have to pass.

To get Jordan to give up the ball, the Pistons identified that he doesn’t have great handles and that moving to his left is his weakness. So, the Pistons started double, triple-teaming him, just to force Jordan to give up the ball. Zeke said,

“He didn’t have great handles, [Michael Jordan] couldn’t go left, and if he went left more than two, three times, he had to pick it up, so the rules are very simple.”

The Pistons analyzed all the metrics related to Jordan’s game, something that wasn’t a trend in the NBA back in the day.

The 2-time NBA champion added that the NBA was promoting dunks in the league at the time. So, with their strategy of double-teaming the opposition’s key player, they would often stop MJ in his tracks. The Pistons were more than willing to foul only to stop Jordan from dunking on them, to frustrate him, by playing mind games. The Bad Boys were successful in their plan as they won back-to-back championships and marked their name in the NBA’s history books.

Michael Jordan had a way out against the Jordan Rules

As a competitor, Jordan wasn’t just going to give up on the attempts made by the Pistons. In 2020, his teammate B.J. Armstrong gave a rebuttal to the celebrated Jordan Rules. He said that the plans were effective only as long as MJ approached his game the traditional way. But, seeing how the Pistons were able to manipulate his position, he had to come up with a solution. MJ’s way out was catching the ball in positions where he could easily convert.

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Armstrong said,

“He figured out he had to catch the ball in position to score. So, he learned to operate from the post and on the weak side and play the game with three dribbles or less. Now when he caught it, because his footwork was so good, he could score in a multitude of ways. He was skilled enough to adapt to any situation.”

Despite facing strong challenges, MJ was able to get past them because of his preparation and mentality. And as fans, we got to witness arguably the greatest era of basketball.