BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
In sports, time will distance fiction from fact and create a disproportionate view of a team or player. In the case of the Detroit Pistons time, and what appears to be the intentional effort of others, have completely removed the 1989 and 1990 NBA Champions from our collective minds. This removal from NBA allure has denied the Pistons their true place among the NBA's elite.
To say the orginial Bad Boys have been robbed of their well-deserved glory is misleading. Mainly because it implies they once had glory bestowed upon them, which was never the case. Only losers bask in the glow of a well fought defeat, a winner bears the agony until victory is seized.
The Pistons did not just defeat teams on their way to the crown; they annihilated them. Thus leaving nothing but a trail of dismay and bitterness from how said opponent was defeated.
In the eighties repeating champions were not the norm, in fact the Boston Celtics were the last team to accomplish the feat in 1969. It was not until 1988 that the Los Angeles Lakers were able to also claim to be repeaters. 19 years and only two franchises could claim to be repeat champions.
The Pistons did not have a storied history of the Celtics, with Bill Russell and Red Auerbach. The Motor City Maulers could not boast of glorious draft picks and NBA Finals defeats, like the Lakers with Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. The Celtics and Lakers owned the NBA in not just the late eighties, but for most the league’s existence.
Enter the Detroit Pistons.
Nicknamed the Bad Boys because of their detail to destruction, the Pistons crashed the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson party that took place in the late eighties. Then the begrudged champions refused to leave the dance floor in a timely manner when it was Michael Jordan’s time to dance solo, which left a plethora of party goers frustrated at what they were forced to partake in.
The Bad Boys were fearless in their pursuit of a title and were not intimidated by the players who had already achieved what they desired. Detroit’s style of play was called dirty by some, aggressive by others, but all will agree it was ferocious. Isiah Thomas and crew played every defensive assignment with malice and with the intent to physically impose their will on the opponent.
What has been forgotten, or perhaps ignored was how flawless they were in executing on the defensive end, both as individuals and as a collective unit. Every ball was denied, every passing lane had a hand in it, and every penetrator was proudly pounded.
The pride exemplified on defense was breathtaking. Rarely if ever was there a broken assignment and the numbers reflected their commitment to a unified front. From 1986 to 1991 the Bad Boys never finished lower then third in opponents field goal percentage. Since the league began keeping the statistic in the 1970 – 1971 season no other back-to-back champion can make that claim.
Another testament to their greatness was their lack of star power. Detroit was a collection of grimy small college players who gladly used force instead of finesse. Imagine players from such college powerhouses as McNeese State, Southeastern Oklahoma State, and Hampton University controlling the NBA landscape. Even the players from your standard collegiate monsters would never be considered overwhelming.
The one player who symbolized the Piston’s commitment to defense was Dennis Rodman. The 6’8’ small college star was a terrific defender and rebounder who was a physical irritant that would agitate a player until they chose to respond and then that’s when the fun started. Rodman also was a tenacious rebounder who controlled paint not with size but with heart.
Then there was Joe Dumars, who was the quintessential role player that thrived alongside the explosive Isiah Thomas. “Little Joey” was seen as the good cop to some, but was just as fearless a competitor as the “bad cop”. Joe took pressure off of Thomas in critical spots with his ability to get to the basket. The shooting guard’s best attribute was his stout defense. The Hall-of-Famer used his strength to neutralize both smaller and bigger guards. The Louisiana native would make the NBA All-Defensive team five times in his career.
John Salley and Rick Mahorn provided defense both above and under the rim. Salley was able to use his quickness and athleticism to block shots and rebound, while Mahorn used his size and strength to manhandle opposing players. The Hampton University alum was crafty and physical.
However, the worst of the Bad Boys was Bill Laimbeer. The 6’11 center was hated in all continents and some often questioned if his mother liked him.
Laimbeer was slow and couldn’t jump over a shoelace, but he gave his body up for the cause. For 10 straight seasons “Lamb” averaged nine or more rebounds and for seven of those 10 seasons the center averaged a double-double.
The center was known to get under opposing players skin and do whatever he could to gain a competitive advantage. The center was involved in at least one scuffle per game and sometimes those scuffles would evolve into a full fledge brawl. Through it all, Laimbeer was consistent and reliable, and at the end of the day he was a champion.
The general of the troops was Lord Isiah Thomas.
In life strong leadership can overcome weak personnel. This was never more evident than with Thomas’ Bad Boy crew. Every player on the roster had a glaring weakness except for Thomas. Every player on that roster gave something; however, Thomas gave it all.
History should remember Thomas as being the single greatest guard of all-time, yet he is an afterthought.
The Pistons were nothing when Thomas arrived; when he left they were considered an elite franchise. Head Coach Chuck Daly was an assistant from the 76ers who earned his stripes while coaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Daly now rests in the Hall-of-Fame. Joe Dumars was a good scorer and great defender, who might be remembered in the ilk as Mitch Richmond or Alvin Robertson had he not played alongside No.11.
When people ask for the greatest point guards or shooting guards of all-time the Lord’s name is often mentioned after players like John Stockton and Gary Payton, if Thomas’ name is mentioned at all. Isiah, aside from a few documentaries and an occasional mention, is barely discussed. If one were to poll the top players in NBA history No. 11 would be somewhere outside of the top 20 on most list.
Lord Thomas is arguably the greatest guard of all-time. Every player who has ever won a title has had the benefit of another great player, except Thomas. Yes, Dumars rest in the Hall, but what part of his game was Hall worthy. He was an adequate player who benefited from playing next to an extraordinary talent.
The root of his omission is not known. What is known, or what was witnessed was a disregard for history by Thomas. The proper order had been laid out and the guard was not on the list. How else can one explain history’s blatant refusal to acknowledge the Pistons reign. Only the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons can say they played in three straight NBA Finals. The leaders of those units are congratulated at what times feels like hourly, while Thomas is ignored.
The league found it prudent to turn a blind eye to the team from Motown. Conversely, the NBA has spent an abundance of money selling the Jordan Dream in hopes everyone would forget the Motown nightmare.
Interestingly, it is unconceivable to relive the triumph of the only team that defeated Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, and crushed Jordan’s Bulls. In this denial the NBA has done a tremendous disservice to the Dynasty that was “The Bad Boys”.
They were aggressive but they were also extremely disciplined. They habitually crossed the line of physical play but also were flawless in execution on both ends of the floor.
The Bad Boys were the epitome of team play which is why they should be celebrated for championships instead of chastised for their competiveness.
Were they overt perhaps, but the docile rarely conquer.
NBA history will tell you the throne went from Bird and Magic directly to Michael and that was not the case. The Pistons ruled the NBA and were not just Sir Jordan's stepping stone. Yes, their measures were extreme, but crown is ever given?
When Detroit took the floor for each and every contest their goal was simple to become champions and they were unapologetic when asked about their “by any means necessary” approach. The reward has been being labeled “renegades”, who destroyed the fabric of the game.
This misconception is tragic, because this group was nothing more than hard workers who overcome and eventually where able to overtake the most monumental of obstacles.
The Bad Boys should be celebrated for the success they achieved; they conquered the players history told us were unconquerable.
Few players can ever claim to have maximized their potential the way the Detroit Pistons did, and someday the NBA will remember them for that feat.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Ladies and gentleman, basketball fans alike, we have been duped. The world told us Mitch Kupchak was an incompetent, bubbling, puppet, who was incapable of rebuilding the Los Angeles Lakers into a championship team. Oh how we were all wrong.
Laker fans created petitions and online websites denouncing all things Kupchak. The streets of Figueroa were laced with cries of “We Want West”. This was all done under the belief that the general manager was incapable of successfully doing his job.
The frustration with Kupchak and infatuation with West has always been a bit perplexing. West has gotten an abundance of credit for his tenure with L.A. When in actuality it was Pete Newell who acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and made the trade that landed the draft pick to select Magic Johnson. It was Bill Sharman who secured Jamaal Wilkes from the Golden State Warriors and who made the trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers that secured the pick used to grab James Worthy. In addition, it was Sharman who traded for Bob McAdoo and who drafted Magic Johnson.
To be honest, West’s contributions to the Showtime Lakers were A.C. Green and Bryon Scott. Now West does deserve a standing ovation for the foresight to select Kobe Bryant, drafting Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Derek Fisher, and eventually signing Shaquille O’Neal. The drafting of Bryant and Fisher combined with the signing of O’Neal began another dynasty. At the very least it was Newell who brought a much longer and more gratifying dynasty to L.A. first.
Furthermore, Kupchak’s body of work is much more impressive than West’s body of work. For every Bryant selection there is a George Lynch or Elden Campbell. West had the luxury of respect and envy on his side as well.
When West grabbed O’Neal the world was not as against the Lakers as they are now. Many even expected the big man to head west. Things have drastically changed since that acquisition for Los Angeles. There was a time when L.A. could easily replace Magic with Kobe, Wilkes with Worthy, Worthy with Fisher, and Kareem with Shaq. These moves all were done without a peep from the league.
This has not been the circumstances for the current general manager, who has all eyes on him at all times. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat have been the only multiple champion since 1998 other than the Lakers, however only Los Angeles has won back-to-back titles in that time frame.
West walked away from the Lakers on August 7, 2000, and Kupchak officially took the title on that date. The new G.M. replaced starters on each of the two championship rosters, dealt with the Colorado issue, and added contributing veterans like Mitch Richmond, Lindsey Hunter, Samaki Walker, Horace Grant, and Isaiah Rider. Three straight championships should garner some respect.
Unless your mental capacity has been undervalued to the point where people cannot fathom you are better than the perceived best. This is a role Mitch has fostered and played to Oscar winning effectiveness.
The G.M. has convinced the world he is too “nice” to be a shrewd businessman, yet he traded Lamar Odom for a space bar. Many questioned his mental wherewithal when he traded Shaq and didn’t even get an All-Star player in return or when he called Kobe Bryant’s bluff in 2007. Still Kupchak is not strong enough to make these moves on his own. He is too weak and unassuming to make such a power play, it has to be Dr. Buss, or West is running two organizations.
This is the perception regarding the former understudy during his reign. Most geniuses are overlooked in their time. Kupchak has not only allowed his genius to be overlooked, he has gone as far as to escort it to someone else.
His aggressiveness is so passive one doesn’t realize he has been played until he gets home and counts his “magic beans”. The Memphis Grizzles were given cap space and two first round picks in the trade for power forward Pau Gasol. After two bad seasons Memphis decided they were ready to rebuild, but who found it prudent to trade the most skilled big man in the world to a team in your conference.
Certainly West was behind that move, because his understudy could not have possibly talked the Grizzlies into such a swindle.
The Laker GM showed the Grizzs the same blueprint he used when he traded his All-Star big man for cap space. You know the trade we ALL questioned. The difference between a man with an idea and a man with a plan is accomplishment. Gasol was added to go along with the addition of Trevor Ariza (whom he stole from the Orlando Magic, sound familiar) and Derek Fisher it was obvious the Lakers were ready to compete for another title.
Before anyone can blink Ron Artest is added for pennies on the dollar. Then trouble hits and the Lakers struggle the last two seasons. With each gut wrenching season ending loss Kupchak gives his State of the Union address, and he channels his inner Verbal Kint. When asked specific questions about how to improve the current roster by reporters, the Laker boss responds with an obscure answer that most times is the question just reworded.
The doubters have been convinced that the act was sincere. Truth be told, Mr. Kupchak is everything the Lakers want but more importantly he is what they need. Born in the city where everyone has a hustle, the general manager has chosen underestimation as his hustle.
The man who was deemed incapable has been playing us all along.
The nullified Chris Paul trade was nothing more than a warning shot. Coming off a lockout orchestrated to stop the Purple and Gold’s reign on the top, the G.M. knew there was no way he could make a move that landed him another superstar.
The former player listened as owners cried broke and dually notated who said what to whom. When the time was right he played Mark Cuban in the Lamar Odom deal. Then Verbal used Cuban’s money to get the point guard the Lakers wanted. Ramon Sessions was nothing more than a stop gap used to convince the world L.A. was no longer in the running for a big name player. People questioned the Odom move and most agreed with the Sessions move. The Laker boss knew all along they had no intention on keeping Sessions.
Los Angeles is about the now. One can save the future for Charlotte and Cleveland.
L.A. not only grabbed Howard and Steve Nash but the organization used Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s whining and Cuban’s money to do it. The G.M. snatched the league’s wallet while their hands were in their pockets. There is no possible way Commissioner David Stern would veto another trade, after vetoing the Paul trade. Kupchak knew he had immunity in pursuing Howard because Gilbert played his hand in the Paul fiasco.
Cuban could not complain about a Los Angeles takeover because he was armored with cap space and resources he received from the Lakers in the form of Lamar Odom. He was in position to turn his space into players. There was nothing left to do but iron out the deal. Yet he could not.
Howard’s indecisiveness was nothing more than a helpful distraction. In the end Kupchak tricked us all into believing he could not do what he had done before and eventually did again.
At the Howard’s introduction press conference, when Kupchak was asked about how he orchestrated an off season that bought both Howard and Nash to the Lakers, gone was his usual Verbal Kint responses and just for a moment we all saw Keyser Soze.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
It has been three years since the Davidson guard, Stephen Curry, set the basketball world ablaze. Frankly, it has been three years since anyone has cared about the Davidson guard who set the world a buzz.
Golden State Warrior fans will call him a tweener or an enigma, but truth be told, to this point Stephen Curry has been a tremendous bust.
Now one may pardon his bustivity because of injuries, lack of stability in the Warriors front office, or playing out of position. Simply put, a loser always has an excuse and a winner always has motivation. Curry has failed to turn the Warriors into a competitive team yet alone a playoff contender.
At this point Curry’s development has gone from stagnant to nonexistent, which is a far cry from the player who looked destined for stardom in the 2009 NCAA tournament.
The current evidence suggest the guard will be an injury prone player, with no definitive position, but who can shoot. Championship player he is not, quite frankly contributing member of a playoff team, he is not.
Drafted at seventh overall in the 2009 draft, Golden State needed more from the NCAA Tournament sensation.
The Warriors needed a difference maker. The Warriors needed the cat who led four rec league players deep into the NCAA Tournament. Golden State needed the almost 30 point a game scorer with unlimited range, yet what they got was a player who can shoot.
Could it have been that the bar was set too high for Curry and the expectations far exceeded the talent? After all there is a major discrepancy from a top five player and a top ten player. In fact, since the 1990 NBA Draft only two players selected seventh overall have played in an All-Star game, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton. So perhaps Curry is right where he should be a solid contributing member to an average ball club.
Maybe, the Warriors guard has overachieved and he is just another a college player who teased us with improbable play. Yet, what do we make of what was witnessed in the Tournament. It is illogical to think a player who was so dynamic at one point is nothing more than an adequate role player at this point.
Where does that play in the evaluation?
Average players do not lead suspect players to NCAA Tournaments and get those same suspect players to produce at a high level.
Furthermore, an average player does not lead a sub-par team to record wins in back-to-back seasons. Somewhere along the line Curry has either regressed in Golden State or just managed to go “whammy free” while at Davidson.
Regardless, of what Curry was, at this point he is a disappointment.
The guard’s spectacular play in college has not transferred to the league and now Golden State privately has to be wondering what to do. Three years have passed, and while Curry is not the sole reason for the Warrior’s strife, one would have hoped by now he would have been the sole reason for a few conquests.
Since being drafted Stephen has started a total of 174 games and the Warriors have won 71 of those games. Again the guard is not responsible for all of those losses. However, would it not be rewarding to say he was responsible for some of the wins?
There are several different ways a guard can control a game.
The first facet would by a combination of scoring and facilitating. This type of play usually results in what is commonly known as a double-double. If we evaluate Curry using this metric system he falls short, again. The guard has amassed 20 double-doubles………in his career.
Safe to say playmaker he is not.
Another way to control the game is by applying pressure on the defense through scoring, in a Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant type of fashion. Now Curry is definitely not of that ilk, but how about at a Gilbert Arenas, Mack Calvin, or Gail Goodrich fashion. All were combo guards who could score, and found ways to contribute to the win loss total of their clubs. After all it was the guard’s scoring that set him apart from the other players in the draft. Yet, Curry’s penchant for scoring has not followed him to the league. In his career he has only 79 games with 20 or more points, that is not the make-up of a prolific scorer.
The final way Curry can impact a game is decision making and controlling the flow, which would result in a high assist rate. Curry’s assist numbers are decent per average, but are not game effecting. Now based on the numbers alone he is a decent player, not a game changer.
A decent player is not what the Warriors signed up for.
Golden State was expecting the shooting enigma to lead them out of the depths of despair. The Warriors' blog refers to Curry as a franchise cornerstone, even today, despite his inconsequential play.
When the guard was drafted phrases like “great addition”, “outstanding fit”, and “possible star” were used to describe Curry. Now the conversation has shifted to should they extend the projected cornerstone? This is a far cry from where he started.
The Warriors have not had an All-Star game participant since 1996. That streak appeared to be over with the acquisition of Curry, yet here we sit 16 years later and counting. Any hope of the guard reaching that aforementioned All-Star level should have given way to the cold reality that he never will.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Dwight Howard is finally a Los Angeles Laker, and it makes sense.
Playing for what many feel is the modern day gold standard, in all of professional sports, will be both the gift and the curse for D12. No other franchise has the nightly expectation of championship or die. Yes, Laker fans can be that delusional at times, many fans believe any regular season loss somehow equates to losing an NBA title. In L.A. there are no pats on the back for 60 win seasons, those, like traffic on the 405, are to be expected.
In Orlando it was enough to compete for an NBA title, and in some NBA cities fans will take solace in the occasional trip to the NBA Finals, not in Los Angeles.
In fact, in the case of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal it is not even enough to win three NBA titles. Bryant and O’Neal are both marred by what they should have done, instead of what they did do. That, ladies and gentlemen, is LakerNation.
George Mikan delivered on his promise and talent in Minneapolis to the tune of four NBA titles and the NBA’s first three-peat. Despite what history tries to recreate both Jerry West and Elgin Baylor did not walk that championship trail. West and Baylor both lost several NBA Finals appearances, and it was Wilt Chamberlain who provided Los Angeles with their first title, escorted by the NBA’s longest winning streak.
Welcome, Mr. Howard, to your desired utopia.
Mikan was a Laker from birth and won in just the infancy stages of his career, Wilt and Kareem arrived in Los Angeles as champions and left as legends. Yet, it was Kareem’s journey that plays a significant role in how Howard will ultimately be judged. It was Abdul-Jabbar who raised the bar that Shaq was unable to reach.
Just as Kareem superseded Wilt and took his own historic footsteps along glory road, by building on Wilt’s one championship with five of his own. It appears the basketball gods have presented the City of Angels with another history altering gift.
This episode of déjà vu takes place 37 seasons after Abdul-Jabbar first stepped onto the Great Western Forum. Howard, like Abdul-Jabbar, is following a player that was known as the most dominating force in the modern day game, in Shaquille O’Neal. The former Magic center will also be attempting to outdo the resurrection Shaq provided upon his arrival. Much in the same way Abdul-Jabbar had to overcome the shadow of the player who brought Los Angeles their very first title.
When KAJ arrived in Southern California the Lakers did not instantly morph into Showtime. In fact it was quite the contrary, L.A. experienced two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, and one of those seasons included the franchise center acquired by then general manager Pete Newell. Once Kareem arrived there was still the season of discontent as the Lakers finished 40-42, thus missing the playoffs.
In short, Los Angeles still had a ways to go before they would win their first title as the Showtime Lakers.
It would take eight seasons from the time Wilt nabbed the Lakers first NBA crown to when Abdul-Jabbar brought the Purple and Gold their second NBA title. The start of the 2012-2013 season will mark 12 seasons since Shaq led the Lakers to the title, just as it was 12 seasons from Kareem’s last title to Shaq’s first title.
The former Magic centers also share the dubious distinction of losing their only NBA Finals appearance before arriving in L.A.
Now it is Howard’s turn and his legacy thus far resembles Shaquille’s, much like Kareem’s resembled Wilt’s when KAJ arrived in Los Angeles. Yet, it is Kareem’s path that Howard must abide by if he desires similar accomplishment.
Few players, or athletes for that matter, symbolize excellence the way Kareem Abdul-Jabbar does. His commitment to excellence was scoffed at during his playing days, but appreciated nonetheless. The known as “Cap” by his Laker teammates, choose endurance over power.
The five time champion’s offseason workout included Martial Arts. Kareem managed to cultivate his offensive game to fit his skill set, and not that of a conventional big man. This allowed the center to be an unstoppable on both ends of the floor, and now Howard must do the same.
However, even if Howard is as dominate as advertised, his adversaries are just as potent. The Miami Heat reloaded this offseason and have finally tasted the fruits of their labor. One cannot forget the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, and San Antonio Spurs all are legitimate threats and all are prepared for the new look Lakers, both in roster and in mentality.
Lost in the transition of those big men is none won a title their first season with Los Angeles. It took both the “Big Dipper” and “the Diesel” four seasons, while Abdul-Jabbar toiled for five seasons before getting his hardware. What would be the reaction if Howard’s carnation took that long?
The pressures of Orlando forced the defensive stalwart to lose his composure, and Los Angeles’ bright lights can make even the good and sane fall victim to the pressures of the game. All three predecessors dealt with adversity before they were professionals, and while they struggled at times in their prospective careers, they could gain strength from previous trials and tribulations.
What is D12 prepared to do should the Lakers struggle? One person’s probing in Central Florida caused the center to have issues. What happens when you add the cameras of ESPN, the micromanaging of Kobe Bryant, and the burn from the spotlight? If the Lakers struggle and Howard is not getting his desired touches, will there be beef between the post and the point?
Or worse, what if L.A. rolls early? What will the self-proclaimed caped crusader do when he is given all the credit from the national media for L.A.’s success, and he now has to deal with the ego and pride of champions who feel his adulation is premature. You combine those feelings with the skepticism of a city yet to see him hoist the hardware.
No one knows how Howard will respond, and only a selected few know what he is set to endure. Dwight’s passion for the game must exceed his passion for the glory, just as his forefathers did. The center must focus on the process and not the result.
Now wearing the garb of champions Howard must perform like one nightly as champions are never excused or given the benefit of the doubt.
How will the newest Laker respond to the pressure that greeted Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, and O’Neal? The young man’s ignorance to success must keep him from being engulfed by the beast of expectations.
This upcoming season the Lakers plan to retire Shaq’s number and immortalize the great KAJ with a well overdue statue. Sitting courtside to indulge in the celebration of each center’s accomplishment will be what many hope is the next in line.