“This is James Edwards, Buddha from the old Bad Boys days,” he said, leaning his 7-foot frame over the speakerphone. “How are you doing?”
It wasn’t a trick - just a treat for the Pistons’ Crew Members, who had the chance to chat for a few minutes with the former Pistons center. They conversed about the season-opening win over Indiana and Saturday’s game against Washington (“It should be an easy victory for us,” Edwards said).
Edwards, who looked menacing in his Fu Manchu mustache and No. 53 Pistons jersey from 1987-91, could not have been more congenial. When asked for an autographed picture, Edwards told the Crew Member where to find him at The Palace before Saturday’s game. Another woman commented on playing the Wizards the day after Halloween and Edwards played along. “I hope that’s not an omen,” he said. The only caller who abruptly ended the conversation had a pretty good reason. “I’m about to start an operation right now,” he said before hanging up, prompting Edwards to chortle and flash his gap-toothed grin.
That unfortunately was not his only call to a hospital this week. Edwards also had a memorable conversation with a Crew Member undergoing chemotherapy. “When he answered the phone, you could hear it in his voice,” he said. “When he heard my voice, he pepped up immediately. It was great, to help him out a little bit.”
Nicole Houin, the account representative on the call, could also tell how much it meant to her client. “You could hear him light up in his voice as soon as he knew it was Buddha,” she said. “You could tell he was tired, but he was so excited that he chatted away.”
Edwards couldn’t imagine he’d make such an impact when he offered to become more involved in the organization after being named to the Pistons’ All-Time Team in April. He welcomed the opportunity to stay affiliated with the franchise where he enjoyed the greatest success of his 19-year pro career, winning two NBA championships and reaching four consecutive conference finals.
During his playing days, interaction with season-ticket holders was “nothing more than getting together,” he said, “maybe a luncheon.” In the era of Blackberrys and instant messaging, contact with season-ticket holders has become a higher priority, and he’s been a part of hundreds of calls over the course of the week. It’s his way of contributing to the Pistons’ customer service and he’s happy to do it, especially after what other NBA fans have endured recently. Edwards resides in Seattle, where he witnessed firsthand the heart-wrenching relocation of the Seattle Sonics franchise to Oklahoma City. “It's a sad winter in Seattle,” he lamented.
Being a Pistons fan in Michigan has been tough for other reasons. A season-ticket holder for eight seasons named Mark hasn’t been able to renew his tickets yet because his business is facing new challenges in the current economic climate. Hopeful but unsure he’ll be able to keep his tickets for this season, Mark wanted Buddha to know, “I appreciate you staying in touch with the team.”
It is sentiment shared by many callers, in their own way. “We need someone like you at center,” suggested one Crew Member, clearly familiar with Edwards’ 11.2 points per game and 49.2 field-goal percentage with the Pistons. A smiling Edwards countered that Detroit simply needs to keep Rasheed Wallace from straying to the 3-point line.
“A lot of the fans have been here since the Bad Boys days, they still remember me. They say, 'Oh, you look a little different without your Fu Manchu,'” said Edwards, now clean-shaven. “They still remember all that. “It’s great to come back and get that kind of response.”