Once upon a time, there were Bad Boys

30 for 30 bad boysOnce upon a time, NBA players beat the crap out of each other.  ESPN’s “30 for 30: The Bad Boys” pleasantly reminded us of that.  The two-hour, must-watch special highlighted the rise and fall of the Isiah Thomas-led, two-time champion Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s.

Times, however, have changed.  Punch somebody in today’s kinder, gentler NBA and be suspended for who knows how long.  Do so a few decades ago and such actions might be overlooked, or even rewarded.

Steve Nash being hip-checked into the sidelines, Jeff Van Gundy swinging wildly from Alonzo Mourning’s leg, Kurt Rambis getting clotheslined, Dr. J and Larry Bird grabbing each other by the throat, these are indelible moments in NBA history that David Stern would rather us forget.

But we can’t.

laimbeerNobody wants a fight but we do want intensity.  Consider it a return on our emotional and financial investment in the game.  With that intensity, comes violence.  This is professional basketball at its highest level.  It’s why we love the NFL.  It’s why we love hockey fights.  It’s why we miss boxing.

Those Detroit Pistons understood that beating the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls required beating up the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls.  But make no mistake.  In addition to the bullying, the Pistons were also quite skilled.  Joe Dumars could shoot lights out.  Vinnie Johnson was the most clutch bench player many of us have ever seen.  Dennis Rodman may have been the best pure rebounder ever, or at least the most instinctive.   And Isiah Thomas was the best point guard of his generation rarely mentioned.  After Michael, Magic and Larry, there was Isiah.

What that documentary reminded us – and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you watch – is that you can never underestimate the importance of team chemistry, regardless of the image they portray or that is portrayed for them.  We just assumed these guys were thugs, and they were, but they were a tightly knit and determined group of thugs that ended up with two championship rings.

Those Pistons are the forgotten team of that era.  They bridged a generation of champions, by beating two and inspiring another.

bad boysTheir ways may have been unscrupulous, violent even but they are forever etched in history.

I hated that team.  Everybody did.  But watching “Bad Boys” reminded us of how they redefined the game.  Dare I say, in retrospect, they became almost likeable.

Kermit Washington once punched Rudy Tomjanovich in the middle of an NBA game.  He broke his jaw.  That hit forever changed the sport.

So did the Pistons.

We’ll never see that kind of play again in today’s NBA.  Not if Stern and his understudy Adam Silver have anything to say about it.  There’s too much money involved, too much image, too much at stake.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t reminisce fondly over the days when fouls were fouls and champions were built through blood, sweat and tears.

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26 Replies to “Once upon a time, there were Bad Boys”

  1. Pingback: Wild Thing Fantasy Football » Once upon a time, there were Bad Boys

  2. Chump,

    Yep the Pistons were thugs, plain and simple, and for a year or two they proved that one can win so long as they bully and beat up every other team. So? That is hardly basketball. I expect that in the NFL where physical control of your opponent is job #1 but it has no place in basketball. The ‘logical’ extension of that is to hire half a roster of 6′ 10″ brawlers to simply pummel the other teams best basketball players onto the injured reserve list. My ‘friends’ in Detroit saw nothing wrong with this.

    So much for the idiots in Detroit.

    I really hate to agree with Stern on anything but I might have to this time.

  3. Chump,

    I can neither confirm nor deny any age related strain… of course it is getting harder to see the screen to read what you said…

  4. God, did I hate them. So much so that I have chosen to avoid watching documentaries on their reign. I prefer the NBA of today to those times in some part because they indeed are recognized as an important symbol of that era. It’s sad their brand of basketball was accepted let alone rewarded. I still hate them and wouldn’t root for the Detroit Pistons franchise even today if they were playing Russia.

  5. I watched it too…Enjoyed every minute.

    Great team, that like you, I HATED back then…Boston too.
    Only now, years later, can I appreciate how good they were.

    Isiah was a MFer…Meaning a hell of a competitor. Got assed out of the Dream Team because of Jordan (allegedly). Shame because he belonged on that team instead of Clyde. I always wondered if he ran straight to the clininc to get tested after Magic’s announcement. (JK)

    Didn’t know about the Dumars dad thing. Sad. Another underappreciated player. Dude was a rock.

    Felt for Mahorn getting expansion drafted, but I can relate because I remember Charlotte took Rambis in that same draft and that hurt. But, it did allow Rodman to flourish and they still won the following year. Tough break for Rick and his monstrous rear end.

    Lamibeer was a goon and rightfully despised by everyone outside of Detroit, but the kind you’d love to have on your team because you knew he was doing all those little annoying things to help his team win.

    Funny how many ended up on the Bulls after all the animosity.

    Though Detroit was a great team, were it not for Magic and Byron pulling hamstrings in that 89 Finals, the Lakers 3-Peat instead of Pistons going B2B. Admittedly bias, but fact nonetheless.

  6. Couple of comments Chris.
    Rudy T was running to breakup a fight when he ran into a Kermit Washington right. Broke his jaw? Actually it shattered his face. Kermit thought RT was coming after him. Sorry situation.
    Most of these jocks can’t fight, but the ones that can watch out. Dennis Johnson was a skillful brawler and we already mentioned the tough Calvin Murphy. The hard left that Shaq threw at Barkley wudda killed him if connected.
    Nice post and I kinda miss those days.

    Ps. That cheapshot that Jabbar nailed Benson with was gutless. As great as KAJ was that kinda marred his career in my mind. Why? I saw the cowardly Jabbar run away from an angry Dennis Autry.

  7. Attitudes…

    You should watch the special. You might just see them in a different light.

    I mean, hey. You’re the one with the sports attitude, he he.

  8. On the flipside, Bleed, how close was that Pistons team to winning multiple championships?

    I think you’re more on my side that most of the readers here.

    I’ve got a few people in another sports forum that think there’s no way the Pistons compete in today’s game.

    I totally disagree.

  9. Bets…

    I don’t know if you ever read Feinstein’s book on the punch but it was pretty damn good.

    He wrote that when in the hospital, Rudy told the doctors that he could taste blood. The doctors told him that wasn’t blood he was tasting but his own spinal fluid.

    Not to change subjects entirely but I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of that in MMA.

  10. Al…

    Do you think a team could not necessarily get away with that sort of physical play but still be physical enough to intimidate other teams in this league?

    And speaking of physical, or lack thereof, what’s up with the Rockets? Portland is having their way with them.

  11. Chris

    Hasn’t there always been that intimidation factor concerning contests between the teams especially during the postseason ? That was what , those winning Pistons’ teams were built on, especially those that were coached by Chuck Daly .

    Let me pose this question concerning the Rockets (54-28) . Everyone deemed it a near certainty that they would be one of the top teams in the West which they undoubtedly were based on their divisional and conference record . Yet , do you believe that they have played like the fourth best team in the West in their series against the Blazers ?

    Your thoughts on the Bucs’ schedule in comparison to last year ? How do you see the team faring in their contests especially against their divisional rivals this upcoming season ?

    I’m sorry but what part of being offered $144 million over six years is so difficult ? That was the offer on the table that was turned down by Tigers’ ace Max Scherzer the AL CY Young Award winner from last season . I know his agent is none other than Scott Boras, the agent that the majority of MLB general managers seem to cower under , whenever his name is mentioned . Yet even Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski was dumbfounded by the player’s decision, as was Boras , himself .

  12. A team with that much talent, depth and…uhhh……………”spirit”
    could compete in any era.

    Despite the dirty play, the bottom line is, those guys were fierce competitors and had all the necessary tools at all the right positions to challenge any team.

    I try to look past my hatred of them and appreciate the accomplishments despite the sour grapes of knowing their first ring should have been LA’s.

    Isiah may be one of the most overlooked superstars in NBA history. He hardly ever gets mentioned when discussing all time greats…even in the PG category. That is a mistake by the masses. He had the stature of a midget but the heart of a lion and was the undisputed leader of that team.

    That game he took over with a sprained ankle was incredible.
    Mere mortals don’t do that.

  13. Chris,
    You forgot to mention one of the most important parts of that machine. Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Daley.

  14. Al…

    No disrespect to the Blazers and the season they had but I honestly thought the Rockets would advance in that series.


    LaMarcus Aldridge is must see TV. 89 points and 26 rebounds in two games? Who’s more disappointing so far? Houston, Indiana or Chicago?

    And I heard that the Buccaneers will go a month without a home game. Where’s the fairness in that?

  15. Tell ’em, Bleed.

    I’m actually surprised so many people suggested they wouldn’t.

    Aside from the Spurs and Heat teams, who the hell else in today’s NBA has done anything of merit? Those Pistons teams won two damn championships. Where’s the respect?

    That Isiah quarter was absolutely insane. I had actually forgotten that he did that all on a bum ankle.

    And yea, I think Isiah’s legacy is to quote Roger Clemens “misremembered” because of all the crap that went on with the Knicks and FIU.

    That doesn’t change the fact that the guy was nails.

    And oh yea, he’s got a national championship at Indiana to boot.

  16. Bets…

    I’d like to know, which wasn’t really addressed in the video, how much of their roughhousing was Daly’s idea.

    How much was he telling his players in the locker room to knock people on their asses and how much of it was their own doing?

    And if his relationship with Isiah was all that tight, why couldn’t he as coach overrule Michael, Magic and Larry in getting him on that Olympic team?

  17. Chris, the 3 against 1 rule applies. Daley knew better than to upset the core of the team.

  18. I suppose, Bets.

    I just wonder if those three held any grudge against Daly himself considering he’s the one who left them bruised, battered and torn.

    Or maybe that’s why they respected him because he’s the one coach that managed to beat all three.

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