DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) -As he stood against a wall, with the court in front of him and another playoff series against the Detroit Pistons approaching, John Paxson let his mind drift back to another era.
To the rivalry, the quest. To the pain that preceded the glory.
He thought back to when Detroit was the Chicago Bulls' ``hurdle'' on the way to their run of championships. And now, here they are again: the emerging Bulls meeting an established Pistons team.
``For us, that was the hurdle we had to get over,'' said Paxson, a sharpshooter on the Bulls first three championship teams. ``Ultimately, we did. But going through it wasn't fun.''
Now the general manager, he'll watch as the team he constructed tries to get past the Pistons - a hurdle that could be as high as the one Chicago faced in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Detroit president of basketball operations Joe Dumars will have an up-close view, too. The Hall-of-Fame guard who played on those ``Bad Boys'' teams said Wednesday he is not discussing the rivalry because he wants to keep the focus on the current teams, but Paxson had more to say.
Championships defined the Bulls in the 1990s, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen leading the way, but there was agony before that. There were bumps and bruises and three straight playoff exits courtesy of the ``Bad Boys'' era Pistons.
There was Pippen's migraine headache. There were suggestions that maybe it just wasn't meant to be for those Bulls. And, there was an education.
``We had to learn,'' Paxson said. ``The Pistons weren't going anywhere. The Pistons were going to be a good team for a long time. Ultimately, we had to find a way to beat them.''
They fell in five games to the Pistons in the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals and didn't fare any better against them the next two years in the conference finals. Detroit took them out in six games in 1989 and won Game 7 at home the following year as Pippen - then in his third season - sat out with a migraine.
The Pistons were also able to slow Jordan, who has said Dumars did as good a job as anybody guarding him.
``In '90, when we lost in Game 7, we felt we were pretty good then and had we had home-court, maybe that would have been the difference,'' Paxson said. ``That was our goal the next year: to try to get home-court.''
The Bulls led the East with 61 wins and swept Detroit in the conference finals. When it was over, the Pistons walked past the Chicago bench and into the locker room without shaking their hands.
Paxson said it's ``not relevant now'' and didn't matter to him then. What was important was the Bulls had cleared that hurdle and went on to beat the Lakers for the first of their six championships in eight years.
``That was a unique time where they were clearly the two best teams,'' said Bulls coach Scott Skiles, who played against them.
As tough as it was playing against them, Skiles loved watching those Bulls-Pistons games.
``(I) was constantly looking at the Pistons, how they were guarding Michael,'' he said. ``How they were going to get him stopped. Could somebody else from the Bulls step up?''
Pistons coach Flip Saunders called it a ``competitive war.''
``The crowds were as big a part of the success as anything, and that's going to carry over to now,'' he said. ``Our fans remember when the Bulls knocked the Pistons off, and their fans remember when Joe and that crew beat Michael.''
But can it ever be the way it was?
Paxson doesn't think so.
Chicago's Tyrus Thomas and Richard Hamilton were ejected and had to be separated several times during last month's game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. But Paxson said that was ``nothing'' compared to what used to happen.
``Back then, there was a genuine dislike among players,'' Paxson said. ``There wasn't all the grabbing and holding and hugging and kissing that there is today.''
Actually, there was grabbing ... and pushing and shoving, especially when Bill Laimbeer, John Salley and Dennis Rodman were on the court. The Bad Boys basked under that label, and the fact that they were a championship team only made them that much more annoying to opponents. It helped having one of the deepest backcourts ever - Isiah Thomas, Dumars and Vinnie Johnson.
There were heated rivalries back then, but Paxson said expansion killed them.
Division rivals meet four times now. There are stiffer penalties for dirty play, and the NBA instituted rules designed to give the game a quicker flow, more movement.
Paxson praised the league for ``showcasing skill,'' but said, ``People say those things were ugly; I think there was a lot of beauty in the way those games were played, too. That was kind of fun, too.''

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