Timeout with Buddha
In a brilliant 3½-year run, James Edwards and the Pistons won two NBA titles
Langlois: That was a pretty impressive 3½ year run, wasn’t it?
Edwards: Oh, yeah. It was a great time. I came here, I already knew Laimbeer because we had played together in Cleveland and Chuck Daly was our coach. And I knew Mahorn, so it was a great thing when I got traded. Jack McCloskey called me up and said, “You’re going to be coming to Detroit.” And I was like, “When do I need to get there?” I was on the first plane, smoking almost.
Langlois: Trivia question for you – who was Ron Moore?
Edwards: Ron Moore was the Detroit Piston that I got traded for as a Phoenix Sun and I came to Detroit. I don’t think he even played any more after he went to Phoenix.
Langlois: I looked it up. Ron Moore played five games for Phoenix – 34 minutes, 14 points and six rebounds. In the 1990 championship season, you averaged 14.5 a game.
Edwards: I think that was a good deal for Detroit.
Langlois: Yeah, that was a pretty good one. Let’s go back to Feb. 24, 1988. A lot of NBA players love playing in Phoenix – great climate and everything else. What did you think when you first heard, I’m going to the Pistons?
Edwards: I was like, Playoffs. I had great friends on that team, I knew it was a great organization. Isiah, Joe … they had Rodman and Salley and I was just ready to go.
Langlois: The NBA was so much a Celtics-Lakers league back then. You had Magic and Bird and everybody assumed when the season tipped off that it was going to be those two teams in the Finals. The Pistons were an up-and-coming team that hadn’t quite gotten over the hump yet. What was the perception around the league of the Pistons at the time you were traded?
Edwards: At that time, it was one of the up-and-coming teams, but like you said, they hadn’t gotten over the hump yet. And, of course, everybody wanted to beat Boston or the Lakers because they had been in the championship the last few years so it was time for a new team to step in there and that’s when Detroit broke through and beat Boston that one year.
Langlois: Do you remember the mood of the team when you first got here? Did the team believe that they were on the same plane as the Celtics and the Lakers?
Edwards: Oh, yeah. It took so long to beat Boston. Earlier in my career, every time we went to the Garden, we lost. I didn’t even win in the Garden until I got to Detroit. It was just extremely hard to beat Boston in the Garden. They had their big three with Parish, McHale and Larry Bird and it was just extremely tough to win a game in that building.
Langlois: Take me back to the ’88 conference finals. What was it like to finally break through there?
Edwards: It was a great feeling. You work all year to get to that point. To come up short, it’s just very disappointing and to finally get over the hump is just a relief. It’s like a weight lifted off your shoulders.
Langlois: One of the searing images was from Game 6 at the Silverdome that year. When Kevin McHale fouls out, he goes straight to the locker room, doesn’t wait for the end of the game and he pulls Isiah aside. There’s 60,000 some in the Silverdome. Everybody’s witnessing this. In retrospect, it’s symbolic. Did you sense at the time that this is the passing of the torch?
Edwards: Yeah, it was a changing of the guard. They finally knew that we were strong enough and had the mental mind-set to come in there and beat them at home and beat them on the road, also. They knew what was going on.
Langlois: That was kind of the start of the NBA being marketed as a star’s league. Magic and Bird were at the top of the pyramid. The Pistons were known nationally as Isiah’s team, but there were a lot of strong personalities on that team, weren’t there?
Edwards: Oh, yeah. You had Laimbeer, you had Mahorn, you had Joe and, of course, you had Rodman, who was a strong personality, and Salley, who was a jokester, so, yeah, there were a lot of strong personalities on that squad.
Langlois: And a lot of leadership. Chuck Daly once told me that Laimbeer’s voice was as important as anyone’s in that locker room.
Edwards: Oh, yeah.
Langlois: And Joe was kind of the counterbalance to that. Isiah and Laimbeer were both fiery personalities. Joe would not change demeanor. Talk about how Joe’s demeanor and his leadership played into the dynamic.
Edwards: Joe was very quiet out there, but he got always got the job done. If you did something wrong, Joe would give you that look and that’s all he would have to do. He didn’t have to say anything. But if you did something wrong, Isiah would tell you and Lamb would definitely tell you. That’s good, though. You need to have guys out there who are going to have your back and tell you what you need to do out there. That’s what makes championships.
D. Lippitt/Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Edwards: No. You saw that. We can watch that tape right now. I mean, Kareem’s a superstar, Lamb wasn’t – who’s going to get that call? Kareem. We thought about that all summer. We had them on the ropes, we had them 3-2, we let them back in, they won the series. We had a bad taste in our mouth the whole summer. So when we came into training camp we set goals for going back. We were going to play those Lakers again and we were going to beat them and that’s what we did.
Langlois: So you guys were secretly rooting for the Lakers to come through the West that year?
Edwards: Definitely. We wanted the Lakers. Definitely.
Langlois: That series became kind of anticlimactic when Scott and Magic pulled their hamstrings. Before that happened, did you guys feel pretty confident you were the best team anyway?
Edwards: Oh, yeah. It didn’t matter if they were healthy or not. The year before we had a couple of guys who were hurt. It’s just part of the game. Guys get hurt all the time. But we knew we were going back and we knew we were going to beat them that year no matter what.
Langlois: How different was it coming back the next year trying to defend? You guys had fed off of that “We’re the underdogs” – now you come back as NBA champions. How did it change wearing a different hat the next year?
Edwards: Coming in as the NBA champs, everybody wants to beat you. And it seemed like every game was a playoff game. Even teams that won only like 15 games the whole year would play extremely hard against you and you had to have the mind-set to come in and play like every game is a playoff game.
Langlois: Did that wear on you guys emotionally eventually?
Edwards: Well, I don’t think it did. But it finally caught up with us when Chicago swept us. It’s hard to maintain that and play all those games through June and have a short summer and a quick turnaround and come back. You have to be mentally strong to do that.
Langlois: Do you think it’s taken a cumulative toll on the current team? They’ve been playing into June now for six straight years. When summers are short, do you feel it the next season?
Edwards: Oh, yeah, you do. A lot of guys have been off since April and they’re resting and you’re still playing. But I’d rather take that any day. I’d rather play in June than be sitting there watching the playoffs any time. But it does take a toll. Especially, like you said, they’ve been six times and they’ve played into June and that takes a toll on your body, too.
Langlois: Is it just my memory or did every playoff game in 1990 start with you getting the ball in the low post?
Edwards: Well, that’s how we started off games. We’re going to go down low, see what they’re going to do. If they start double-teaming, I’m going to kick it to out Isiah or Vinnie or Joe. And if they’re not going to double-team me, I’m going to go to work and try to get my guy in foul trouble.
Langlois: Did you ever miss on those first possessions?
Edwards: Oh, yeah, I missed a couple of times, but mostly I’m going to hit something.
Langlois: Finally, we’ll get you out of here on this. You spent 19 seasons in the NBA. Your final season, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls won 72 games. As big a rivalry as the Pistons and Bulls had – I think Detroit was the only arena Jordan ever good booed – was it difficult going to the Bulls and how do you remember yourself, as a Piston or a Bull?
Edwards: No, I’m a Piston for life. I was sitting at home and I got a call from Ron Harper. Ron said, “You’re going to get a call from the general manager of Chicago because he wants to know if you can still play.” I said, “Well, yeah, I can still play.” So I went out there and things worked out and they had the best record ever. But I was there kind of like an insurance policy. Luc Longley was the starting center there and everybody knew that. So, it was great being there and it was great getting a ring with the Chicago Bulls, but I’m a Piston for life.
Langlois: So you wear your Pistons ring?
Edwards: Oh, yeah. I’m a Piston for life.