The Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s wore the tag of "Bad Boys" with pride and if you didn't like them, well, you were likely to get a shove in the back of the head.
Has the NBA ever had a more interesting cast of characters on one team, from Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer creating on-court mayhem to the brilliant mercenary Isiah Thomas to Joe Dumars, who killed you with class and smothering defense? Then there was coach Chuck Daly, the beloved creator of the Basketball Frankenstein, who drew up the famed Jordan Rules, which saw Michael Jordan double- and tripled-teamed and pounded nightly like a red-and-black piñata.
The Bad Boys remain one of the NBA's most interesting dynasties, though their tale often gets lost amid the Lakers' and Celtics' dynasties of the '80s and the six titles won by the Bulls in the 1990s. Now 25 years after the first of their back-to-back NBA titles, ESPN Films is turning the Bad Boys into a two-hour documentary.
In an interview with SI.com, ESPN Films vice president and executive producer Connor Schell said a documentary on Detroit's championship years titled Bad Boys will air on April 17 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. More than 40 people were interviewed for the film, including 10 members of the championship Pistons teams and opposing players such as Jordan. After the film, Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose will host a one-hour discussion on ESPN about the Bad Boys era. ESPN NBA analyst Doug Collins, who coached against Detroit while with the Bulls from 1986-89, will also appear, along with several Pistons players from that era.
The film is a collaboration between ESPN Films and NBA Entertainment. The two entities have partnered on the brilliant Once Brothers and the terrific The Announcement.
Dion Cocoros, the senior vice president of original production for NBA Entertainment and an executive producer on the film, said the Pistons of that era were the first team to give NBA Entertainment special access such as live sound in the huddles, training-room entry and cameras on bus rides and at hotels.
"The behind the scenes of the 1989 and 1990 Finals are incredible," Cocoros said.
The idea for a doc on the Pistons had been percolating for years among the ESPN Films brass and executives at NBA Entertainment. The 25-year anniversary felt like a timely news hook.
"The Pistons on their own have always fascinated me and I think fascinated basketball fans," Schell said. "Just the name Bad Boys elicits a reaction that you either loved or hated. They are also a little forgotten or overshadowed by the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls. They seemed a team rife to explore."
Cocoros said members of the Pistons were happy to participate and wanted the opportunity to state their case for history. The only two subjects the filmmakers wanted who declined (as of now) interviews were Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. But the two Hall of Famers will be part of archival footage.
The film (directed by Zak Levitt) will air as a two-hour broadcast (100 minutes without commercials) and includes a synopsis of Detroit's cultural landscape leading up to the 1980s. The air date was chosen because the NBA regular season ends on April 16 and the playoffs start three days later.
Something NBA fans will be excited about, according to Cocoros, is Thomas' talking about Bird's famous steal in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals. That story has been documented often from the Celtics' side, but rarely have viewers heard from Thomas and other Detroit players about it.
"Isiah lives and breathes this stuff," Cocoros said. "His memory and recollection on how things went down and what he knows about this team is amazing."
Cocoros said he discovered never-before-seen footage of the team inside the locker room before and after games, as well as compelling footage of Daly's huddles. Daly died in 2009, but Cocoros said viewers will feel his presence throughout the film.
"You will hear how the players talk about Chuck and what a father figure he was for these guys and the way he handled himself," Cocoros said. "He's not around to talk about the team, but you don't miss him at all in the film. He comes across as truly the guy who tied it all together."