Vincent Goodwill is a Detroit-based writer who did the “Revenge of the Pistons” feature you may have noticed being plugged on the Kobe cover. He was at Pistons-Knicks on the night before Thanksgiving and figured a D-based perspective on the Isiah situation was worthy of running on our site. He was right.
By Vincent Goodwill
I attended Isiah’s homecoming to the place he built last week amid all the rumors that each game could be his last.
I won’t bore you with all the details that are dated by now, but by the game’s end, the Pistons got another win, the Knicks went down for the eighth straight time (a losing streak they finally ended Saturday). Chauncey Billups had 25 points and 15 dimes, and Smooth pretty much gave Steph a lesson on point play. Starbury had a very modest eight and five.
As for the highlights, a joke told by Knicks announcer “Rise and Fire” Gus Johnson to myself and Detroit News columnist Rob Parker. It involved a Rick James quote and that’s as far as I will take it.
In the building: One Mr. William Wesley, all dapper and such. Never seen the man, live and in all his glory, speaking, exchanging smiles, pounds, hugs and such probably around 100 people, it seems. I saw a Piston official if the “most powerful man in basketball” was here and he says, “Who, Wes?” I nodded and he pointed in the dude who has “WWES” on the cuffs of his shirt.
Pregame: When Isiah is addressing the media, his poise and patience in dealing with the vultures that are calling for his head daily is more than impressive. He keeps a monotone but assured voice until someone asked him about Detroit. Never have I seen a man’s eyes light up so quick as he talks about Motown with the same reverence as most Tar Heels talk about that cult known as UNC.
I see rookie Rodney Stuckey walking through the corridor and call him by his celebrity nickname, “Fifty,” earned for his resemblance to Curtis Jackson. He’s playing with one of those braces that barely covers the hand, tells me that it should be a couple weeks if not sooner till he makes his debut.
As of today, the Pistons are tied for first place in the Central, even though every member of the starting five except Tayshaun Prince has missed multiple games so far, and they’ve gotten through the vaunted West-Coast Swing. What you see with them is really what you get. Sheed still acts a fool, and regardless of what anyone thinks, they feel like they’ve left some rings on the table, and that if a few bounces went their way, most NBA folks would be referring to the Pistons as a modern-day dynasty.
As far as Zeke goes, although his rep around the league has been sullied and thrown through the mud, Detroiters still stand by him. He’s Motown’s Michael Jordan. No matter what we hear, we stand by him profusely. So much so that most people believe that Isiah (as a coach) would be a better fit as coach of the Pistons than Flip Saunders, and surely he would help in the evaluation of draft talent (Darko, anyone?). Fans think a mentally tough team would better respond to Zeke’s experience and strong personality, rather than what’s perceived as a non-ability from Flip to connect with his players.
In other words, we have a view no other city can have, no other perspective can be as unique as ours, and we hold to that. Just as Russ has his Bulls, and Lang has his Hawks, we have Detroit and Isiah.
You can scream out “CBA” and we’ll tell you it wasn’t a Fortune 500 company to begin with, and that Zeke’s vision was ahead of its time, that he wanted it to become what is known as the NBDL, but people weren’t trying to hear it then, especially because of whom it was coming from.
Most honestly believe Isiah hasn’t really recovered from the events of 1991, when he and his Bad Boy teammates walked off the court without shaking the hands of Michael Jordan and da Bulls, and he was targeted as the leader of it all, even though Larry Bird and the Celtics had done the same to the Pistons three years earlier.
He was then left off the Dream Team, even though it was clear he deserved to be there and has been fighting negative perceptions every since. We noticed how no one was making Zeke the rightful victim when Karl Malone smashed his elbow into Zeke’s dome, requiring 40+ stitches.
As Detroiters, it’s painful to watch him go through this, especially knowing that the reception he received at the Palace, as a visitor, was a million times better than the one he gets at the Garden.
When people say he’s unlikable, we see how he gets love from all around, from John Long to Rick Mahorn and how he’s still close to Chuck Daly and John Salley.
Where he and Steph are concerned, there’s not much experience with Starbury. But the city itself has had its share of selfish players, and given Steph’s shaky history as a player, where every team he leaves gets increasingly better, combined with a few of his recent blackmail-sounding comments, doesn’t make it hard to see what side of the fence to stand on.
Don’t get us wrong. There have been some things that Isiah himself has had a hand in, but it appears from this vantage point that the criticism is too heavy-handed and at times, he isn’t given the reprieve after accusations come up empty or baseless.
When turning on the worldwide leader or reading any NY tabloid, you’d think Isiah dismantled a championship team, a la Jerry Krause circa 1998. People tend to forget how much hell the Knicks were in when Zeke walked through the door, and given nobody in NY has any tolerance for waiting, he had to take chances. Measured and calculated, some impulsive and mind-boggling.
Instead of waiting for the bad contracts to expire, then being able to start from scratch and build a team in his image, he had to move quickly, couldn’t take a nap in the city that never sleeps, then found himself in the middle of one scandal after another, some of his own doing, some of circumstance.
We’ve dealt with Larry Brown. We know in his first season he asked for Smooth to be traded for Eric Snow. We know how impatient, impulsive, ridiculous and ridiculously brilliant LB can be—at the same time.
Funny how the sexual harassment case that was subject to a lot of attention during the off-season focused solely on Isiah, even though the evidence against him was sketchy at best, and I’ve yet to find out how James Dolan’s comments about women in short skirts and Steph’s sexual escapades with an intern had anything to do with Isiah, the person who took the marquee. We’re not defending whatever Isiah did or didn’t do, some just want to see the blame distributed evenly.
Regardless of how this incarnation of Isiah ends, we know he won’t quit, and if most observers look at him as a failure, we still got two rings and a blueprint for a third thanks to him, and in our minds, the greatest pure PG of all time. He can’t be a failure then, right?