They have begun the new decade as America’s anti-heroes.
Evolving from just their Bad Boys image into the NBA’s World Champions has agreed with the Detroit Pistons.
“We see some teams try to be like us,” Bill Laimbeer said. “But they don’t necessarily have the same personnel nor are they as smart as us. Still, there are a lot of teams that try to emulate us.”
No teams have succeeded.
Short of the marvelous backcourt triumvirate of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, this has been a team that has created a negative impact on the NBA -- on and off the floor.
On the court, it began four years ago with Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn establishing an image that would change the ebb and flow of the league. It has become increasingly difficult to officiate games as players become bigger and faster. Now with the push, pull, pratfall routine of Laimbeer and Co., it has, in essence, transformed what had become a flashy transition pass and flash game into a half-court, bump and grind contest of wills.
“They rely on defense and aggressiveness, and it’s been successful,” Portland Trail Blazers forward Buck Williams said. “Teams used to try to compete with Boston and LA, to rebound and run, because they were so successful. Now everyone wants to be really physical.
“They (the Pistons) have started their own trend and because they’re champions, they are allowed to play a certain way.”
The consequence has really put a damper on the game because it creates a can’t win situation for the officials and the opposition.
“Everything being equal,” Portland coach Rick Adelman said, “Laimbeer would have had six fouls in the first quarter the other day.”
He didn’t. The Blazers fell behind 2-1 in the NBA Finals and a lot of whining went on regarding the officiating. That wasn’t the basis for winning or losing, it just attaches a stigma to the game. The double-standard between what the Pistons are allowed to do, and how their opponents can retaliate, plays too vital a role.
The physical nature of the inside game so closely resembles the trenches in the NFL these days, that it detracts from the marvelous skills these athletes possess.
Nevertheless ... it works for the Pistons.
Showtime has given way to slowtime.
That brings us to the off-court financial success the Pistons franchise has experienced. The Palace of Auburn Hills is just that -- a palatial surrounding. Almost opulent with suites circumfusing the building, it has become a place for owner Bill Davidson to entertain his rich companions.
That this takes place at a basketball game is merely incidental. Ticket prices and broadcasting rights have made the Pistons a landmark franchise for the ‘90s financially. Although the Pistons seem certain to win their second consecutive NBA title during the next week, the road will continue to toughen on the floor as young teams blossom around the league in the coming seasons.
Still, they are the team of the ‘90s. Not only are teams becoming more physical on the floor, the entire league is becoming more corporate. Stylish buildings have become a necessity to compete for top dollar. What the NFL was to the ‘70s and ‘80s, the NBA is for the ‘90s. Glorious arenas like the Palace for the kings and queens to spend their rubles is detracting from the game.
It was such a short time ago that the NBA would entertain anybody who would listen. So starved for attention, the world was its friend. Not that the people at the league office aren’t as obliging as they used to be. They remain the most public relations conscious of any league and have done a spectacular job internationally, but that’s not the point.
What has happened here is the Pistons have begun an era where the common fan and the basis of the game have grown passe. Inflated salaries, egos and priorities have changed this cozy league into a monster growing out of control.
Yes, it was always a battle to gain position at the low post.
It was never cheap to get into games.
Both have gotten carried away, coinciding with the Pistons rise to the top of the heap.
Are the Pistons the product of a changing league or is the league changing because of the Pistons?
That’s tough to answer. Probably a little of each.
More importantly, is there no return?