Originally published in SLAM 81
The 6th Man: Growing up, I hated the Pistons. I can’t state that strongly enough. Hated them, hated them, hated them. A lot. As a Bulls fan, I simply had no choice in the matter. This was my Boston/L.A., my Yankees/Red Sox. And there was plenty of fuel on the fire. The Jordan Rules. Dennis Rodman slamming Scottie Pippen into the stanchion. Isiah Thomas disrespectfully leading his team off with time on the clock after getting swept in the ’91 Conference Finals. Chuck Daly’s hair. Bill Laimbeer, period. Seriously, if I saw Laimbeer drowning, I probably would have thrown a bucket of water on him. Therefore, watching MJ and company finally overthrow the Palace denizens in ’91 was a great, great day. Maybe even better than the first Bulls championship that followed.
So, you’d think when the Pistons made the Finals this year, mauling the Bucks and gutting it out against the Nets and Pacers, I would have been gleefully anticipating their imminent demise. Not so. I may have picked the Lakers in print (another one wrong, if you’re scoring at home), but this time they were the arrogant ones, the expected winners. The Pistons? They were a scrappy team, perfectly represented by their starting five—undersized center, well-traveled point guard, skinny-as-hell two, even skinnier three, and, well, Rasheed Wallace. Only Tayshaun Prince, the Plasticman-long three, was a Pistons Draft pick. The rest were brought together by former Bad Boy Joe Dumars and placed under the direction of career nomad Larry Brown, whose insistence was on playing the right way. Which was nice, but they didn’t have a chance in hell.
Only they did. The powerful Lakers, put together for one purpose, were vanquished with the same ease with which they were supposed to do the vanquishing. The League’s most dominant player, the active leading scorer, and perhaps the best player, were defeated by a team, a collection of disparate parts that meshed together exactly the right way at exactly the right time. Now, I do feel the whole “team over individuals” thing was a bit overblown—after all, the Spurs played as team-like as anyone, and the Lakers absolutely demolished them. But the Pistons’ success, for a change, was nice to see. Even scarier? Right now, I’m sitting beneath a miniature Bill Laimbeer banner. It’s good to forgive.