GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Today, he’s the assistant general manager of the LA Clippers but once upon time, former Michigan star Mark Hughes was just an NBA rookie, caught in the middle of one of the most controversial moments in league history.
“Yeah I still get a lot of texts about that game. People look for me. I had a 90s shirt on,” Hughes, a Reeths-Puffer alum, laughs.
It was in fact, the typical look for the Muskegon native in 1991. Hughes never got to play for the Pistons that season but he still was them from their promising start all the way to their disappointing finish as the Chicago Bulls closed in on a four game sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. With defeat inevitable, the Pistons were mad. They’d seen enough of the game and heard enough complaining all series from Bulls great Michael Jordan.
“He didn’t like the physical play, the toughness, and the way that we played” the 53-year-old remembers. “He really wanted to beat us.”
When Jordan ultimately did, the Pistons didn’t want to stick around to see him gloat. With Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas leading the way, they left the court with time still remaining on the clock. No goodbyes. No see you laters. Just a lot of cold shoulder with no sign of sportsmanship in sight.
The incident is now known as the “Walk-off,” and as the legend goes, only three Piston players stopped to congratulate the Bulls for reaching the Finals. But according to Hughes, that’s not entirely true.
“(Fellow Michigan native) BJ Armstrong was a friend of mine,” Hughes explains. “So I kind of walked out a little slowly and as the buzzer sounded, I did reach out and congratulated him.”
Hughes didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment then, but he does now. The Pistons short- and long-term reputation suffered and Thomas was likely kept off the 1992 Olympic team in part because of the walkout. However looking back on it from his perspective, Hughes says he doesn’t have any guilt.
“It was basically you are a rookie, here is what Isiah said to do (and) Bill was like ‘we’re out of here,’” he says.
And so off the Pistons went, with Hughes walking beside them to the very end.
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