Game Notes: Suns at Pistons
Detroit fans like Amar’e, but not the Piston effort.
by Eric Woodyard
Growing up in Michigan in the 1990’s there were a few things in the world of sports that you were spoon fed: Barry Sanders’ prowess, The Bad Boys’ toughness, The Fab Five’s swag, The Detroit Red Wings’ greatness and Grant Hill’s dominance. We often forget about Hill’s popularity. The man had his face on the front of the Sprite machine in my elementary school to remind me of it every single day.
If you didn’t have a pair of his FILA sneakers, it was almost like a sin. Fortunately, my parents blessed me with a couple of his signature joints so I can place myself in that category of being “cool” during that period of time.
Although he has been out of the F’s for almost a decade, it was still funny to see him wearing a pair of black and white Nike Hyperdunks in the visitor’s locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills when the Detroit Pistons hosted the Phoenix Suns as Hill made his annual visit back to his professional roots.
I attempted to get an interview from him but he shunned me (in a nice way, though).
“Can I ask you a few questions Grant?” I asked.
“I will take interviews after the game,” Hill responded as he watched tape of the Pistons.
Besides studying film, there was not much going on inside the Suns’ locker room. I caught Shaq’s big toe peeping around the corner of a room in the back as he was being stretched. Steve Nash was walking around fly in his Nike Zoom MVPs. The rest of the team was just relaxing while only Amar’e and JRich participated in shoot around.
Over on the other end of the spectrum in the Pistons’ locker room, everyone was chilling while listening to a few tracks from Nas’s latest album “Untitled” and watching highlights of the games from earlier in the day on the big screen television.
Without much going on prior to the game, I decided to get a bite to eat in the pressroom and engaged in casual conversation with former Piston John Long, as we both ate fresh salad and slurped on chicken soup. Long played in the backcourt along Isiah Thomas before Joe Dumars was drafted. He played eight seasons for the Pistons, and he averaged a career-high 21.9 ppg in the 1981-82 season.
SLAM: What do you remember most about being a Detroit Piston?
John Long: The ultimate thing was winning the NBA championship in the 1988-89 season and playing with Isiah (Thomas), Joe (Dumars), (Dennis) Rodman, Vinnie (Johnson), and (John) Sally and all those guys. You know everybody talks about the money part as far as playing basketball and that stuff is great but the bottom line is winning a championship because you have more bragging rights when you win championships. So that was the biggest moment in my career and being part of that triple-overtime game that was the highest scoring game in NBA history that’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. Being part of that is another thing that you can cherish. I watch that on classic sports a lot.
SLAM: Does seeing Grant Hill in that Phoenix Suns jersey bring back any memories of watching him as a Piston?
JL: Well, Grant has always been a competitor, he’s always played hard and he’s always been a leader. Unfortunately the last few years he couldn’t stay healthy and that really hampered him from really being a really great player in this league. You can tell that with the time that he’s had off, he has really prepared himself because he still has his legs and that’s he’s saved himself a little bit because he’s not burnt out. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, and I’m happy for him because he’s a really great guy.
Immediately following our conversation, I decided to step onto the court and take my courtside seat in the press row. Seeing that ESPN would be televising the game nationally made me excited because I thought that the players’ intensity would increase. I was slightly wrong.
Although the game was credited as an official sellout, a blind man could see that all of the seats were not filled. It still seems funny that consecutive sellout banner was absent after franchise-record sellout streak was stopped at 259 games when the Pistons hosted the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Replaced in its spot was a bland “Thanks Fans” banner.
As the game began, it was apparent that it would not be the most exciting. The timeouts were longer, the lights were dimmer, and it was just one of those days where everyone started pretty slow.
The most exciting were the hecklers sitting directly behind me. They made a few inappropriate comments but for the most part they were pretty funny.
“The Big Aristotle’s out of gas,” one guy said.
“Hey Terry Porter what’s your diet, you look really skinny,” another one added.
The most compelling comment came near the end of the fourth quarter when Amar’e Stoudemire was getting set to come out of the huddle in a time-out.
“Hey Stoudemire,” a heckler says as Amar’e looks in his direction. “You’ll be here next week!”
Amar’e shook his head slightly as he walked onto the court as though he was in agreement. Missing was the eagerness to dunk on opponents. Missing was that usual grimace. He was just out there.
Prior to this, I didn’t believe a trade could happen, but it was at this moment that I began to think that there could be a serious possibility of Amar’e coming to Detroit.
Acclimating another player into an already struggling Detroit Pistons roster may cause some serious problems but there is really only one direction for them to go, and that is up. Although they are still in the phase of trying to transition Allen Iverson into their roster, if Amar’e was to join the crew before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, he may improve their chances.
After the Suns defeated the Pistons, 107-97, I caught up with STAT in the locker room. Even after he dropped 18 points and grabbed 7 boards his frustration with his role on the team was evident.
SLAM: There was a lot of heckling during the game about you coming to Detroit, did that bother you at all?
Amar’e Stoudemire: They just want me to come to Detroit, man. That’s all that’s saying. You know, “Come to Detroit.” They want me.
SLAM: How do you feel about that?
AS: That’s a good feeling knowing that the fans want you and the teams want you. So it’s a good feeling.
SLAM: Would you like playing here in Detroit?
AS: You know, I’ve never played here before so I’m not sure, but I think from a fan standpoint, they definitely have a pretty good fan base here.
SLAM: I hear a lot of comparisons to you and a young Antonio McDyess, you agree with that?
AS: Yeah, we were kind of similar. We have similar games. McDyess [was] a super athletic player and he was a freak of nature out there on the court. He’s still playing well even though he went through his injuries.
SLAM: Do you ever watch old film of him?
AS: Nah, none of that. I think McDyess had a pretty solid career coming back from his injuries and persevering, but I never watch film or anything like that of him.
Leaving him really had me thinking, could he be the next Michigan sports figure that we spoon feed to the younger generation? Anything is possible. Following our interview I decided to talk to Steve Nash, who handed out a season-high 21 assists.
SLAM: Does it scare you at all seeing that the Pistons fans seem to like Amar’e so much and that he could be possibly traded?
Steve Nash: Yeah, obviously we don’t want to lose Amar’e, and we don’t want to think about trades during the season. We’re just going to ignore all of that stuff and keep working.
SLAM: Why do you think you were able to pick the Pistons’ defense apart so well tonight?
SN: I was just trying to get in the paint and make plays. We got out in transition as well, and I just tried to be aggressive and create open opportunities form my teammates.
SLAM: Were you at all amped to play against Allen Iverson or Rodney Stuckey to prove that you are still that MVP-caliber player?
SN: No, I don’t really feel like I have anything to prove, I just want to win and do well for my team so I just went out there and tried to be aggressive on both ends of the court.
SLAM: Speaking of MVPs, two possible MVPs faced off today (Kobe and LeBron). In your opinion, who has the better chance of getting MVP this season, Kobe or LeBron?
SN: I think it’s whoever has the better season. Whichever team has the better year.
SLAM: Do you still think of yourself in that caliber?
SN: No, not really. I think this year especially I’ve sacrificed a lot of my game to incorporate all of these other great players so I don’t have necessarily the same impact as I had tonight all of the time so maybe we’ll get back to playing a little more of that way but so far this season it hasn’t been that way.
SLAM: As far as point guards, where do you rank yourself right now?
SN: I don’t know. I think it’s a lot of great point guards in the game right now and, obviously, in the history of the game, there’s a ton of guys that I admire. So if I’m mentioned in the same sentence as those guys then that’s a great honor.
Only time will tell if Amar’e will become a Piston, but all I can say is that he will be welcomed with open arms. Forget 2010, change needs to come now! Standing Tall and Talented, he seems to be the perfect fit for the franchise.
To be continued…