"Oh, I hated them," said Jordan, aired Sunday, in Episode 3 of the ESPN docuseries "The Last Dance." "And that hatred even carries it to this day."
In the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals, Jordan and the Bulls lost to the Pistons in five games, in six games in the 1989 conference finals (after holding a 2-1 lead), and in seven games in the 1990 conference final.
The Pistons tormented the high-scoring shooting guard in Chicago along the way, employing a bruising style of defense that came to be known as "The Jordan Rules."
"We knew that the greatest player was Michael Jordan and we tried to use it as a rallying cry to come together," said Pistons star Isiah Thomas in Episode 3. "From a physical standpoint we had to do everything to stop him.
"They managed to make it personal," said Jordan. "They beat the s-- out of us, physically."
The Bulls finally broke through in the 1991 conference finals, and they did so in dominant fashion, sweeping Detroit 4-0 to give the Pistons back-to-back championship reign an unceremonious end.
With 7.9 seconds remaining in the 21-point rout of the Bulls to end the series, the Pistons - at the behest of big man Bill Laimbeer, according to Thomas - walked away from the court without shaking the hands of the Bulls players or congratulating them on moving forward.
Thomas was part of the procession, ducking his head slightly as he walked along the Chicago bench toward the tunnel to exit.
"Straight-up b--es," Bulls forward Horace Grant said of Detroit's decision in episode 4. "That's how they walked off. We just kicked your ass, we just went ahead and we went."
Thomas defended the actions of his team, noting that when the Pistons beat them in the 1988 conference finals the Boston Celtics conducted themselves in a similar way.
"That was OK for us," said Thomas, looking back at the Celtics' departure from court while there was time left at the clock, rather than exchanging pleasantries. "Knowing what we know now, and the aftermath that took place, I think we'd all stop and say congratulations as they do now." Thomas then imitated players in today's game, who are seen by some as being too friendly with the competition.
"'Hey, congratulations.' 'Love you, man.' 'Love you.' 'Hey, congratulations'" Thomas sarcastically replied. "I mean, we'd have done it. Of course we'd have done it. But that's not how [the mantle] went through during that period of time. When you lost, you left the floor. That's it." Documentary director Jason Hehir let Jordan watch Thomas' explanation video. But Jordan said before he played it, "Well, I know that's all bulls
"Whatever he says now, you know it wasn't his actual actions then," said Jordan. "He's had enough time to think about it - or the public's reaction that's kind of changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want. There's no way you'll convince me he wasn't an a-hole." After watching Thomas, Jordan rolled his eyes and pointed out that the Bulls paid their respects to the Pistons in previous years.
"Just go back to us losing in Game 7 [in 1990]," said Jordan. "I shook everybody's hands. Two years in a row, when they beat us, we shook their hands. There's some respect for the game we're paying them. That's sportsmanship, no matter how much it hurts. And believe me, it hurts." Jordan then smiled and revealed how much it meant for him to finally beat the Pistons and earn his first trip to the NBA Finals, where he and the Bulls captured him.
"But they were not supposed to shake our hands," Jordan said of the Pistons. "We knew we were already whipping their ass, we'd have gone past them and that, to me, in some ways was better than winning a championship."