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Saturday, December 19th, 2009 at 8:00 am  |  28 responses

Decades Most: Loveable Loser

by Pardeep Toor

Losing is relative. It’s a measure not conducive to absolutes because of the spectrum of “losers” in the League. For the Los Angeles Clippers, losing is an incurable epidemic that reeks of failure. For the Knicks, losing is a reminder of the karma-induced hope that possibly awaits them this summer – a boon for their suffering.

Lakers, Magic, Celtics, Cavs – any title with out the prefix “NBA Champions” would be considered a loss this year.

There is one team this past decade that combined the inevitably of loss with unbearable disappointment, showcased the collective swagger of a champion despite consistently failing to meet expectations. This decade’s loveable losers are the … Detroit Pistons.

Before you slay me for picking a team that won a championship and has little fanfare outside of its home state, let me explain. This isn’t about what the Pistons were but what they could have been. The title of “loveable loser” is not based on their single championship but the dynastic seeds they planted with one of the most balanced and complementary starting fives of the last decade.

The Pistons represented the collective over the individual – the culmination of egos into a unified cockiness that was unhindered by the results of their play. Validation for the Pistons came from within – win or lose – they believed they were the best team in the League every year. That belief was so strong that they often appeared bored, complacent, and indifferent in the most crucial playoff games, as if the championship had already been won inside their heads.

Six consecutive years of at least making Eastern Conference finals, two finals appearances, one championship, six coaches, seven 50-win seasons, yet I still consider them loveable losers. Their core was so good, the Eastern Conference so weak, they should have won more rings.

The Pistons were “loveable” because they displayed a fundamental human trait – a stubbornness and refusal to change, no matter the results.

Despite winning a championship in 2004 with depth, Larry Brown played only six players (Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Wallaces and McDyess) for four rounds in the 2005 Playoffs, the bench never developed in the era. Many nights in the regular season, it appeared as if they weren’t trying ’til the fourth quarter. An aging team refused to play zone in the Playoffs for Flip Saunders. Sheed never did re-enter the post. Billups wore down each and every year in the Playoffs and struggled to stay in front of quicker guards. Yet, the team never reflected on its flaws, but placed blame for their annual failures on external factors (refs, coaches) – very human.

The Pistons were loveable because they mirror many of our individual lives. They caught a break in 2004 with the Malice at the Palace, eliminating their strongest opponent in the Indiana Pacers. They capitalized on their chance by wining a championship but couldn’t catapult themselves to historical greatness, instead being just another team that won a title. As they aged, they remained inflexibly confident until it all ended last year with the Billups/Allen Iverson trade. Then, the reflection on an under-achieving era began among the group’s core.

Looking back, it’s easy to reminisce about how close things were to being completely different. What if Robert Horry (18 points in the second half, 4-of-5 from three) didn’t have the game of his life in the game five of the finals in 2005? What if Sheed didn’t leave him on the final play of the 4th quarter?

What if the basketball Gods didn’t send LeBron to drop some knowledge in game five of the Eastern Conference finals in 2007? Who was checking Daniel Gibson when he went off for 31 points, 5-of-5 from three, 12-15 from the free-throw line, in just 29 minutes in game six of the same series? In 2008, how did Kendrick Perkins go off for 18/16/2/2 in a crucial game five loss to the Celtics?

The Playoff series losses were too close to embrace. Each time, it felt like the Pistons were equivalent, if not a better team, but just a few plays each year distinguished them as the loveable losers rather than the best team of the decade.

This past decade, the Pistons were a microcosm of many of our own lives – marginal success, complacency and reflection, followed by regret. More than their accomplishments, I will always remember the Pistons for their mishaps – their flaws are our flaws – but also for how they kept getting up after each heartbreaking playoff loss. Their resilience (a trait worthy of mimic) is what truly made them admirable. I loved them for their unified attitude, but unfortunately, that was also their downfall.

***

For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.

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  • Yesse

    Wow i didnt see this one coming.

  • sbrubbles

    Neither did I; I would’ve gone with the 7SOL Suns, particularly the 2006-2007 edition.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    I kinda figured it would be a person…

  • pardeep toor

    Correction, the brawl was in 2005, not the 2004 championship year. My bad.

  • Dave

    Yea I thought it would have been a player too

  • Oli

    the brawl was in 2004, but in the 04-05 season

  • Michael Scorn

    I would have picked LeBron. He is the greatest and most loved player in NBA history who has never won a championship.

  • Reflex

    ^^^^^^^^
    ‘greatest?’ ‘most loved>’
    LeBron? Que?

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    This is waaaay too subjective.

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    We’re talking about the #1 b-ball magazine calling a championship team with regular eastern conference championship appearances losers?!

    I submit Allen Iverson. He’s a guy who spent the decade losing quite a bit. Not only has he lost regularly, but he’s also been on the losing end of some really notorious losses in Denver. He’s lost respect this decade. He’s also lost quite a bit of speed and athleticism. You know I’m right, but I know you guys could never call AI a loser, no matter how much of a loser he is.

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    I should add that even with all that losing, AI still gets a lot of love, and deservedly so. Therefore AI is the decade’s most lovable loser. And I have too much free time.

  • Michael Scorn

    doyouwantmore is right. AI is more loved and lost more that LeBron

  • Jray

    I agree with doyouwantmore

  • MikeC.

    I’d have to say the Clips are the most lovable losers. Sure their losing is constant, and they seem to have an injury hex on them, but losing is something that they do very well, and nobody hates the Clips(except for their lottery picks). Since the 2009-2010 season started this decade, I’d also submit the 2009-2010 edition of the NJ Nets. They’re really really really good at not winning. Everyone kinda feels sorry for them. They’re kinda lovable losers as well.
    How about Jamal Crawford? That poor guy hasn’t even sniffed the playoffs during his career. Sure the Hawks look like legit contenders this year, but with Jamal’s luck, they’ll lose every game for the rest of the year and miss the playoffs.

  • http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash

  • http://myspace.com/rsaenz24 RoG23

    I would’ve guessed sacramento, but detroit has so many different personalities, most everyone has a favorite piston from that team. Either big ben and his fro, sheed and his mouth, rip and his mask, prince and his block on reggie, or billups being clutch

  • Sporting-Lisbon-Blazers

    yep suns and nash…seems all the decade awards are pistons related…not very creative SLAM

  • kingkhoopa

    I woulda thought it woulda been tmac wit him NEVA gettin outta the first round and all…. I’m just sayin…..

  • Josh

    Booo this article is no good. The Pistons weren’t losers, and they weren’t very lovable either, they were a poor mans Spurs, consistent and boring.

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  • http://thegayestwebsiteever.com Big Ben

    The Pistons were like Super Macho Man in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out – they were the final test for a team before they got a shot at the title. Super Macho Man was just a test: he couldn’t actually beat you and then go fight Tyson himself, because he wasn’t supposed to be the champion – he was just in your way. And the Pistons were there every year, and if you wanted a shot at the title, you had to prove yourself worthy by getting past the Pistons. But they were never going to win it themselves; it’s like they weren’t supposed to. Which is really too bad, because they were such a damn efficient, well-oiled machine when they wanted to be. I think they reached the perfect level of confidence about halfway through Game 3 against the Lakers in 2004. They realized that if they played together, and played hard, there was no way that they could lose. And the fact that they were the only ones who knew it made it so much better. But starting the next year, their confidence when just a bit to high and their effort dropped a tad too low, and it just went downhill from there…

  • http://www.sixers.com 360vue

    naaaaaah

  • Pic

    to each his own, but for me, this series started promising and then got less and less credible as it went on

  • R.E.D.

    this article and award disgust me

  • Jon

    decent choice. how about the t’wolves? are there many out there who hated on the pre-celtics garnett? how he stuck through some adversities? how sam came and helped and still won nothing.

    my fav losers are the t’wolves even though im a nuggets fan. i just feel sorry for them ya know?

  • http://hoopistani.blogspot.com The Hoopistani

    cosign R.E.D.

  • bambé

    I just watched game 5 of 2005 finals. Simply amazing game.

  • dh86

    The Mavs and the Suns wish they could get “lucky” and be “losers” like the Pistons were.

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