True Blue Pistons - October 2011
Wrestlemania had its finest hour in the Silverdome. The pope’s visit to the huge bubble at the corner of Interstate 75 and M-59 drew the world’s attention. The agricultural geniuses at Michigan State figured out how to keep real grass alive indoors long enough for the Silverdome to host the 1994 World Cup where Brazilian, Swedish and Russian fans stood gaping at the marvel the place really was.
There’s a lot of history in the Silverdome for a place barely 40 years old, too much to throw away without giving it a few more chances. The Pistons gave the Dome some of its best moments, too.
Posted Friday, October 28, 2011
The principles are Dantley, McCloskey, Chuck Daly and Isiah Thomas. Isiah flatly denied at the time that he exerted any influence over the situation and McCloskey emphatically backed him up on that point, as I wrote in the final installment of the Trader Jack series that concluded this week on Pistons.com.
Dantley clearly believes – or believed at the time, at least, with no reason to think he’s softened – that Isiah was at the root of it. Dantley was enormously prideful – I can’t think of another athlete who came through Detroit in the last 25 years who took his craft more seriously – and I don’t know that he’s ever going to say anything more on the matter.
Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2011
But on a blustery October day, the Pistons helped bring a little sunlight to Highland Park, partnering with Sprite in a $40,000 overhaul of the outdoor basketball courts behind the high school. Lawrence Frank conducted a coaching clinic and Hooper and the Flight Crew dazzled a few hundred students chosen to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony on a day basketball again carried the day for Highland Park.
“It’s a wonderful uplift for the city, the community and the school system when you have a great basketball team,” Payton said as Frank ran his Highland Park varsity players through the ABCs of pick-and-roll offense and defense on the sparkling new courts, where grass sprouted through jagged asphalt and rims were absent not so long ago. “The kids and the whole community just get really into it. Basketball helps grow enthusiasm for the whole school, even for other sports at the school.”
With courts that give battered Highland Park a facility as fine as exists in Michigan, Payton hopes and believes the flickering embers of interest that once burned with a white-hot intensity will be fanned anew – and that kids at the same type of crossroads he faced in the early ’70s will seize basketball as their path to a productive life.
Posted Tuesday, October 25, 2011
In Jack McCloskey’s mind, the trade of Adrian Dantley for Mark Aguirre had to be made – no ifs, ands or buts about it. But it didn’t take him long to understand just how far out on a limb he’d gone with Pistons fans in trading Dantley with the team seemingly on the precipice of winning the first NBA title in franchise history.
“I can remember my wife and I driving up the street,” McCloskey said. “We stop at a red light and there were two guys in the other car. They both looked and saw me, then they pointed their finger toward me with their thumb up – like they were going to shoot me for making the trade. I told Leslie, ‘You made that trade, I didn’t.’ ”
Posted Monday, October 24, 2011
The Pistons, in their minds, messed all of that up. And that’s no exaggeration. From the phantom foul called on Bill Laimbeer in Game 6 that cost them the 1988 NBA title – with the champagne on ice and Bill Davidson summoned to the locker room to accept the Larry O’Brien Trophy from David Stern – to Red Auerbach’s endless harangue about the roughhouse style of Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn to the unmistakable clamor for Jordan to dominate the national stage, the Pistons saw the evidence stacked against them pretty clearly.
So when they finally won in 1989, they were ready to celebrate long and loud and deep into the summer. Two days later – as they were toasting the title with the parade up Woodward and finishing with a Palace rally – the air was sucked from the room on them yet again.
Posted Friday, October 21, 2011
So I whittled my list down to these three:
Posted Thursday, October 20, 2011
The wise man takes advantage of every opportunity to nourish his curiosity, filing away seemingly random bits of information for the day they need to be accessed and applied. So it was in the fall of 1977 that an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t help but think that the third-round rookie center out of Washington was doing a pretty fair impersonation of the NBA’s most dominant center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, while the superstar missed the first several weeks of the season due to injury.
More than a decade later, that assistant coach was well down the road toward building an NBA championship contender when that kid center, now 32, became available in trade after the Phoenix Suns, struggling through a 28-54 season, opted for a rebuild.
Posted Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Among the handful of things that got me hooked on basketball, I’m not sure there’s a more compelling factor than the 1972-73 New York Knicks. I loved that team, which hardly puts me in exclusive company. The ’73 Knicks for anyone 50ish or older were beloved not only by New Yorkers, but by pretty much everyone who wasn’t a dedicated fan of their fiercest rivals – the Celtics and Lakers, mostly.
If you came of age a few years earlier, it might have been Texas Western over Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA title game. Or UCLA vs. Houston – Lew Alcindor vs. Elvin Hayes – in January 1968 at the Astrodome, the first nationally televised prime-time college basketball game. Or maybe the nine titles the Celtics were winning in the ’60s with game-changing giants like Bill Russell and Bob Cousy bringing basketball’s possibilities into focus.
A few years later and basketball might have seized your soul when Magic and Bird met in the 1979 national championship game. Or, a year later, when Magic, an NBA rookie, went from point guard to center to replace Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – he wasn’t Lew Alcindor any more – in a Game 6 on the road and went for 42 points, 15 boards and seven assists in perhaps the most remarkable individual performance ever, given the circumstances and the stakes.
Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, continuing with the 1986 draft that saw McCloskey add John Salley and Dennis Rodman. Up next: The most overlooked move of all.)
There is no such thing as a sleeper in today’s NBA, where even players with roots in Africa and obscure professional leagues in Asia and the Middle East are known commodities by the time June’s draft rolls around.
But a generation ago – before the explosion of sports on cable TV and the advent of the Internet and the information gusher it spawned – it was still possible to uncover hidden basketball gems, even those who spent four years at American universities.
Such was the case with Dennis Rodman, who played at a tiny NAIA school in the rural plains, Southeastern Oklahoma State. The Pistons’ scouting staff caught wind of him during the season, then was wowed by him at the Portsmouth Invitational in April 1986, where Rodman was the best player.
Posted Monday, October 17, 2011
There is no definitive litmus test for projecting the success or failure of a head coach stepping into a new job. But I’ve seen dozens come and go over the past 25 years, the first 20 of them spent covering all four Detroit pro teams and Michigan and Michigan State’s football and basketball programs as a daily newspaper columnist, and have come to at least sense some of the essential elements that will determine their fate.
First and foremost, does the coach himself project an aura of self-confidence? Does he believe he can lead his team to title contention – or at least to be the best it can be?
As simple as that sounds, not all of them do. Some, in fact, project an aura of inevitable defeatism. I found that in Darryl Rogers with the Lions, way back when. I remember after one loss that devastated the locker room, Lions assistant coaches being taken aback to find Rogers blissfully munching on a sandwich minutes after the defeat.
Posted Friday, October 14, 2011
The idea of a career as a basketball coach flowered within Lawrence Frank when he was 13. It wasn’t something he sat on until he left college eight years later, either. Coaching youth teams while still in high school and plotting his course to attend Indiana to learn at Bobby Knight’s knee, then majoring in education so he could teach in high school and coach at that level if the NBA never came calling, it’s always been about basketball coaching for Lawrence Frank.
Well, almost always.
On Knight’s recommendation, Frank landed a job under Kevin O’Neill at Marquette fresh out of Indiana, taking a position as a staff assistant earning $5,000 a year in 1992. He left after two years, following O’Neill to Tennessee, getting promoted to a full-time staffer a year later. Then O’Neill quit over philosophical differences with Tennessee three years into their run in Knoxville.
Posted Thursday, October 13, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, continuing with a major trade made in the summer of 1986. Up next: A jolt of athleticism.)
For practically every championship celebration, there is a near-miss story of a player who did much of the heavy lifting but wasn’t around to feel the sweet sting of champagne in the eye.
Kelly Tripucka was twice removed from Detroit by the time the Pistons he helped make respectable through the mid-’80s had been dubbed Bad Boys and won their two NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. It was almost cruel that Tripucka, the 12th pick in the same 1981 draft that saw Jack McCloskey pluck Isiah Thomas with the No. 2 pick, spent those two Detroit championship seasons toiling for the expansion Charlotte Hornets, winning a total of 39 games.
Posted Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Chris Reynolds arrived on the campus of Indiana University in autumn 1989 the way most freshmen do: wide-eyed and eager to embrace the freedoms that come with leaving home, but a little nervous about juggling the responsibilities that go hand in hand with independence.
He had left Peoria, Ill., behind to play basketball for Bobby Knight – to be the famously demanding coaching icon’s point guard, no less – and that, in itself, presented an additional set of challenges.
It all might have been a little overwhelming if Reynolds hadn’t partnered with people who could help him navigate the system and show him how to schedule the considerable demands on a student-athlete’s time at a national basketball powerhouse.
Reynolds found one that came in a most unlikely package, a sophomore he now recalls as “5-6 and 140 pounds. When he was 18, he looked 8.”
Posted Tuesday, October 11, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, continuing with a gold strike in the 1985 draft. Up next: Taking the next step.)
It was one of those file-it-away moments. Jack McCloskey was scouting the UNLV Holiday Classic in December 1984 where the two headliner teams were the host Runnin’ Rebels and San Diego State, being coached by Smokey Gaines – the guy who took over at the University of Detroit for Dick Vitale when Vitale left for the Pistons.
McCloskey might have been there expecting to scout the talent on those two NCAA tournament-bound teams – as fate would have it, they would be first-round opponents three months later, UNLV winning 85-80 to improve to 28-3, ending the Aztecs’ season at 23-8 – but it was a guard at McNeese State that wound up catching Trader Jack’s eye.
The kid’s name? Joe Dumars.
Posted Monday, October 10, 2011
When I talked to Joe Dumars three weeks ago about the new assistant coaches Lawrence Frank had lined up, he smiled as he talked about how they were all throwing themselves into the job.
“These guys work,” he said. “They put their heads down. They’re not coming in with a lot of fluff. If you’re in the office with these guys, you get a sense real quickly – these cats are all about the work. They’re not about anything else.”
Their signings have not yet been officially announced by the Pistons, but they’ve been putting in long days for several weeks now. Their typical days are 5:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. – when the staff calls it a day by going out to dinner together most nights.
Posted Friday, October 7, 2011
Steve Hetzel admits his body clock has undergone a radical adjustment since Lawrence Frank began occupying the office at the other end of the hall along the first floor of the Pistons’ practice facility.
If NBA coaches weren’t late-night creatures naturally, the schedule ultimately makes them so. They’re accustomed to checking into hotels at 3 in the morning after flights whisk them from one stop to the next following the many nighttime tipoffs.
But Frank is an inveterate early riser who can’t wait to get to the office to tackle his unquenchable thirst for answers to every conceivable question, for solutions to every possible contingency that could arise over the course of any 48-minute game in an 82-game NBA season.
So Hetzel, who came to the Pistons two years ago from Cleveland with former coach John Kuester as player development coach, now gets to bed before 10 p.m. so he can get to the office long before sunrise and start providing the answers Frank craves.
And he loves it.
Posted Thursday, October 6, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, continuing with his quest to plug a big hole in the Pistons’ lineup at power forward. Up next: Striking gold in the 1985 draft.)
When Jack McCloskey came to Detroit in December 1979, free agency was the least likely implement in a general manager’s toolbox to spur a turnaround. So unless the draft coughed up a lineup solution, trades were the avenue to pursue to plug holes. The Pistons had many holes when McCloskey took over for Dick Vitale. But in his first few years on the job, McCloskey performed yeoman’s work in plugging a few big ones. He drafted Isiah Thomas with the No. 2 pick in 1981 to play point guard and Kelly Tripucka at No. 12 as his small forward, swung a trade for sixth man extraordinaire Vinnie Johnson a few months later and went to the wire at the February 1982 trade deadline to snare Bill Laimbeer to play center. But power forward? That position haunted the Pistons as they tried to inch closer to the top in the East. McCloskey inherited Bob McAdoo, whose disinterest in playing for the Pistons was so apparent that the media and fans quickly dubbed him “McAdon’t.”
Posted Wednesday, October 5, 2011
The Sporting News just came out with its list of America’s greatest sports cities and Detroit finished 11th out of 271 markets considered. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound horrible.
Until you see what cities ranked ahead of us.
Posted Tuesday, October 4, 2011
(Editor’s note: Jack McCloskey made every move in building the Bad Boys from his hiring in December 1979 to their winning consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and ’90. Pistons.com looks at the 10 biggest moves he engineered, continuing with his hiring of Chuck Daly following the 1982-83 season. Up next: Solving the hole at power forward.)
First things first. Jack McCloskey did not fire Scotty Robertson because of anything Isiah Thomas said or didn’t say to him. And he didn’t hire Chuck Daly because he thought his personality would mesh better with Isiah than Robertson’s did.
“It wasn’t that (Daly) had to get along with Isiah,” McCloskey scoffed. “Isiah had to get along with him.”
Posted Monday, October 3, 2011
Points scored? Isiah is still comfortably at No. 1 with 18,822 and Joe D is right behind him at No. 2 with 16,401. They’re also 1-2 in games played (Joe D 1,018, Isiah 979), minutes (Isiah 35,516, Joe D 35,139), assists (Isiah 9,061, Joe D 4,612) and steals (Isiah 1,861, Joe D 902).
In field goals (Isiah 7,194, Joe D 5,994), field-goal attempts (Isiah 15,904, Joe D 13,026), free throws (Isiah 4,036, Joe D 3,423) and free-throw attempts (Isiah 5,316, Joe D 4,059), Isiah ranks No. 1 and Joe D No. 3.
The Bad Boys needed all of the amazing depth Jack McCloskey stockpiled, they needed the hard edge that players like Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn provided, they needed the defensive infusion provided by Dennis Rodman and John Salley and they needed the coaching panache Chuck Daly brought to the equation.