Sports History: Pump Up The Pure Pistons (1990) - Reviewed

The cliched, yet compelling 1990 documentary, Pure Pistons serves as a vehicle that delivers the truths and attitudes sandwiched between the Los Angeles Lakers/Boston Celtics rivalry of the '80s and the Chicago Bulls championship hegemony of the 1990s.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Detroit Pistons won their second straight NBA championship and served up the world the last helping of what no one arguably outside of Michigan wanted: a title for Bad Boys basketball.

Now that the Palace of Auburn Hills is under the process of demolition, let’s take a closer look at Pure Pistons, the documentary which showed not only the triumphs and tribulations of these Detroit basketball teams, but also the history of their construction.

After briefly showcasing some of the Pistons’ most iconic championship moments between the 88/89 and 89/90 seasons, Pure Pistons educates the viewer on the greater context on the history of the team. Beginning in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Pistons reached the NBA Finals twice in the 1950s. Following the logical move to the Motor City in 1957, Pure Pistons briefly touches on the Dave Bing and Bob Lanier eras before getting into Jack McCloskey’s tenure as GM.

With the second pick in 1981 NBA draft, the Pistons selected the point guard from Indiana, Isiah Thomas. Pure Pistons present the drafting and initial utilization of Thomas as not only a turning point, but also an introductory step into the making of the “Bad Boy” Pistons.

Bad Boys:
Thomas was one of the first steps following the cleaning house stage of the Pistons in the 80s, almost as if they were an expansion team starting from scratch. Pure Pistons then highlights an interview with Thomas stating that after the  acquisitions of Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, the addition of Joe Dumars really enables the team to take off.

Playoff Progression:
Pure Pistons is fortunate in the subject matter it’s charged to present: the progression of the Bad Boy Pistons, from a strong playoff team, to reaching the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics in 1987. After showing the dramatic loss to Boston, encapsulated in a Larry Bird steal of Isiah Thomas, Pure Pistons continues to show Detroit’s basketball ascendance to their appearance against the Los Angeles Lakers the following year.

The Jordan Rules:
If not for the Pistons, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls stood a chance to have added a couple more titles to record prior to their first 3-peat from 1991 to 1993. The “Jordan Rules” as shown in Pure Pistons, had three components: bring reinforcements, nothing is sacred, and give nothing away. Consistent with the scrappy ethos of Detroit, fans of the Pistons can take pride in that the Bad Boy Pistons denied Jordan’s Bulls for years, and arguably engendered him with the toughness that would enable him to win six championships.

Later Documentaries:
Even more fittingly, perhaps, later documentaries on the Bad Boy Pistons would show their demise, demonstrating that most dynasties die nastily. With the stripping away of some of the Pistons’ personnel, in addition to injuries and the increasing savvy of Michael Jordan, the Bad Boy Pistons saw their demise in 1990-1991 season with a playoff against the rival Chicago Bulls.

While although the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls are more remembered from this era, Detroit Basketball, as shown through Pure Pistons, deserves a spot in this lore.

-Blake Pynnonen