The Jordan Rules were a successful defensive basketball strategy employed by the Detroit Pistons against Michael Jordan in order to limit his effectiveness on the game. Devised by Isiah Thomas in 1988, the Pistons' strategy was "to play him tough, to physically challenge him and to vary its defenses so as to try to throw him off balance." Sometimes the Pistons would overplay Jordan to keep the ball from him. Sometimes they would play him straight up, more often they would run a double-team at him as soon as go left, which he was less successful in doing. Additionally, whoever Jordan was guarding on defense, Detroit would force that player the basketball in order to make Jordan work extremely hard on both ends of the court, thus rendering him less effective.
Jordan began his playoff career with three consecutive first round exits (none by Detroit), followed up by one exit in the second round and two in the Eastern Conference Championship (all by Detroit), and then won three consecutive titles before retiring for a year. Chicago, in Jordan's first year back to basketball were eliminated by the Orlando Magic in round two, and then won the next three titles. Jordan then retired and returned 3 years later to play for the Washington Wizards for two final seasons.
This strategy has also sometimes been employed against other prolific scoring guards. The Jordan Rules were an instrumental aspect of the rivalry between the "Bad Boys" Pistons and Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This style of defense limited players including Jordan from entering the paint and was carried out by Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer.
The Jordan Rules were most effective for the Pistons during their first three playoff meetings with the Bulls. Detroit beat Chicago four games to one in the efeated the Bulls in 6 games in 1989 and in 7 games in 1990. The Pistons won back-to-back championships after eliminating the Bulls. Finally, in 1991, the Bulls defeated the Pistons in the playoffs, neutralizing the Jordan Rules with their triangle offense, orchestrated by coach Phil Jackson and assistant Tex Winter. They swept the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. Soon after, the Bulls captured their first-ever NBA title, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals 4 games to 1. The Pistons qualified for the playoffs again in 1992, 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2000, not advancing to the second round until 2002.
This strategy was later used by the New York Knicks from 1992 to 1998. However, the Knicks were not as successful as Detroit in containing Jordan and the Bulls. Jordan faced New York in the NBA Playoffs in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1996. The Bulls eliminated the Knicks and captured NBA titles in all four of those seasons.
If Michael was at the point, we forced him left and doubled him. If he was on the left wing, we went immediately to a double team from the top. If he was on the right wing, we went to a slow double team. He could hurt you equally from either wing—hell, he could hurt you from the hot-dog stand—but we just wanted to vary the look. And if he was on the box, we doubled with a big guy. The other rule was, any time he went by you, you had to nail him. If he was coming off a screen, nail him. We didn't want to be dirty—I know some people thought we were—but we had to make contact and be very physical.
- 30 for 30: Bad Boys. Dir. Zak Levitt. Perf. Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman. ESPN Films, 2014. DVD.
- "PISTONS: Reliving the Pistons-Bulls Rivalry". Archived from the original on September 27, 2005.
- McCallum, Jack (May 29, 2007). "'Jordan Rules' revisited (cont.)". Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2013.