I watched ESPN’s “30 for 30″ show about the Bad Boys of Detroit, who won
I watched the Bad Boys episode on ESPN’s 30-for-30 tonight. It’s fabulous, a must see but it also brought back a lot of Bad Boy memories that I’ll share with you.
As the announcer for the Washington Bullets, I always remember the hostile environment at the Palace of Auburn Hills. There was a fan “Leon the Barber,” who sat behind the visitors bench and shouted obscenities at the Pistons opponents. More than once players left the bench to go after him.
Let’s face it, as a team announcer, you try to remain reasonably objective during a broadcast but your heart is really with your team. I loved the Bullets and I hated some of the Pistons, especially Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman.
Laimbeer was a white whale, the dirtiest player in the NBA. He was a loudmouth, a bully, a rich kid whose dad, a corporate exec, made more money than he did. Financially, he could have walked away any time but he loved being a bully and playing for the Pistons. I would scream at Laimbeer on the air, “That’s a flop, what a cheap shot, the dirtiest player in the league,” but he loved being the bad guy.
One night in Baltimore the Bullets played the Pistons in an exhibition game. Rick Mahorn got into a fight with the Bullets’ 7′ footer Dave Feitl. In those days, players actually fought and this was a dandy. When Laimbeer tried to enter the fray, Bullets’ coach Wes Unseld, in coat and tie, grabbed Laimbeer by the waist and threw him about three rows deep.
At some media function a few years later, I reminded Laimbeer of the incident and he denied it ever happened. He was still full of shit. I was there and I saw it. Laimbeer was the guy who started fights but he knew Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman could finish them.
Rodman was the most unique player I’ve ever seen. He didn’t care about scoring. He just wanted to play defense and rebound and he did both as well as anyone. But he was obnoxious. After a play, he’d point to the crowd or talk trash as Pistons crowd went wild.
I couldn’t dislike Rick Mahorn. He broke in with the Bullets and became a good friend. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known and with his bosom buddy Jeff Ruland, the “Beef Brothers,” they flattened more opposing players than any duo I’ve seen. When he went to Detroit, he was the baddest of the bad guys. The other Pistons could run their mouths but they knew Mahorn had their back.
When Mahorn retired, the Bullets brought him in to audition for a TV anaylst’s job. I had been working with Phil Chenier, who had become a good friend. But as management often does, they were looking for something novel (Read my book: “I Love the Work But I Hate the Business.) But Mahorn took a coaching job and Phil was saved and has gone on to be a great color man for nearly 30 years on Washington TV.
You wanted to hate Isiah Thomas, this cocky little shit from Chicago, but he was so talented that anger dissipated as you watched this amazing little guy. After he retired, I worked with Isiah, for NBA TV. We did a game in Portland, LeBron James first road game of his rookie season. He was fabulous and really should have had a great career as a color man. But after his playing career he pissed some important people off, when he helped destroy the CBA and then had an unsuccessful run as President of the New York Knicks. I like Isiah and hope he can find the right niche.
Joe Dumars was the quiet assassin, the perfect complement to Isiah. He played defense, moved without the ball and hit big shots. He gave way to the egos on this team but he was as important as any of them.
Chuck Daly was the perfect coach for this collection of personalities. A former college coach at Penn and long-time NBA assistant, he knew when to berate players and when to stroke them. “Daddy Rich” changed the NBA’s dress code. He would wear a sweat suit to the game and hang his glad rags in his office. After working with players, he would shower, put on his $3,000 suits, comb his hear and make grand entrance. He and Lakers’ Coach Pat Riley staged a long battle to see who was the best dressed.
I was lucky to have been part of the NBA then. These were the Golden Years with Bird, Magic, Jordan and the Bad Boys. What fun.