One of the greatest rivalries in NBA history was the vs. the in the late 1980s and 90s. At the heart of the rivalry were the leaders of each team NBA legends and Hall of Famers and . For the first few years of Jordan's career, the Pistons dominated the Bulls. The Pistons in this era were known as "The Bad Boys" due to their scrappy and fierce play style. Their play's "dirty" nature led to many players and teams disliking the Pistons. They wouldn't get the same treatment as teams like the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers, but they dominated the league anyways.
From 1988-1990, the Pistons beat the Bulls in the playoffs for three straight years. Despite some awe-inspiring efforts by Jordan, including multiple 45+ point performances, the Bulls couldn't edge past the Pistons. Over these three playoff series, Thomas was only able to average up to 20.7 PPG. The dominance came as a team effort from the Pistons, particularly on defense. To prepare for playing the Bulls, The Bad Boys created what is known as the "Jordan rules".
It wasn't a secret that the Bulls were almost a one-man team, with Jordan as the show's star. So, the Pistons created a rule to contain him by keeping him on the ground. And when he would go up, get the most out of a foul. It isn't an overstatement to say that the Pistons team abused Jordan in the playoffs. It wasn't until 1991 that the Bulls were able to blow past the Pistons in the playoffs en route to their first championship.
Isiah Thomas was recently featured on "" podcast and discussed his rivalry with Jordan, including the NBA rule change.
It appears that Thomas thinks the NBA saw Jordan as the "golden boy" that wasn't allowed to get hurt. In today's game, players like get a lot of calls because of his name and prominence. Or, you have , who has mastered the art of drawing fouls. Back then, however, fouls were called much less frequently and were much more physical. A flagrant foul in the NBA today was a common foul in that period. Thomas claimed that the dunk was what the NBA was trying to market then, and they changed the rules to allow Jordan's very marketable dunk.
Thomas let loose his belief that not only did the NBA change the rules for marketing purposes, but the Pistons would also have beaten the Bulls had he not been injured. Even after all these years, the rivalry between Jordan and Thomas remains. After this recent interview, it won't end anytime soon.