Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What I Learned from the Detroit Pistons' Bad Boys: Truth in Tears

Another NBA season has come and gone. Watching LeBron exit the court while Coach Pop and Tim Duncan embraced one another made me wonder if someday we will watch a "30 for 30" about this era.

If you know me, you understand why I think in terms of future ESPN programming. For one, my brother thinks I should be a publicity agent for "30 for 30." #Dreamjob! When I enjoy an episode, I go out of my way to talk to others about it. "Bad Boys" the "30 for 30" about the Detroit Pistons basketball team in the late 80s is no exception.
Someone had to wear the black hat, and I was happy to be that person. Guess who...
For me, "Bad Boys" raises more questions than answers. At one point I found myself considering if I should purchase an old school "Pistons" t-shirt only to wonder in the next moment how and I why I was so emotionally captivated by these bruisers. I was crestfallen when they walked off the court without shaking hands with the Chicago Bulls, a team that beat them in four straight games (1991). As I watched Isaiah Thomas duck his head behind the big man Bill Laimbeer, I deemed their action "unforgivable." Minutes later, my feelings changed as they regretted their actions and I came to learn how the team and their unique chemistry unraveled quickly; one that has yet to recover. 
The infamous walk-off. Not okay.
I recommend watching "Bad Boys" for a number of reasons, but the primary one comes from a truth revealed by an unlikely source, in this context. Archbishop Oscar Romero said “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” His words resonated with my experience of taking in this show.

Unlikely people for unlikely reasons in "Bad Boys" reveal how this is true. And what is equally remarkable is that you will find yourself crying with them. Believe me, everyone I've gone out of my way to talk to about this show agrees...

Listed below are three that captured my attention, imagination, heart strings and the box of Kleenex.

1. Isaiah Thomas: Relief
In 1989 Detroit swept the Lakers, ending another dynasty. The "Bad Boys" were NBA Champions. Bill Laimbeer, the 6'11 center said, 
"When that last second went off the clock, reality never set in. It gives me goosebumps even now. We’re champs?! We’re champs!" 
"I needed to go over to Isaiah and champion him. It wasn’t Magic or Bird, it wasn’t Jordan. He finally was a champion." 
"I can speak for myself only but I think Isaiah feels the same way. It’s exhilaration winning a championship and knowing what a great feeling it is…but actually, it’s relief."
Tears of relief aren't that common but they come from a very deep place. You know those tears when you see them. It was hard not to shed one with Isaiah as he lifted up the trophy.

I developed a new-found respect for my
friend John, another power FW when I learned
his jersey #44 is shared with this Bad Boy
2. Rick Mahorn: "It still hurts." 
For the 1990 season, the NBA expanded to include two new teams: the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Every pre-existing franchise was allowed to protect 8 players. One of the reasons the Pistons were strong for so long is because they were 10 players deep. This fateful draft took place at the same time as the Pistons' victory.

John Salley said "There was no Facebook, no social media. We returned to the locker room and they told us that Rick was picked up in the expansion draft (by the T-wolves). To have Rick go through it on that day, to have us go through it on that day that was awful."

Rick Mahorn adds, "It was the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. It hurts even talking about it today. I wanted to be that person to protect it (meaning the trophy for the next season). But you know….excuse me….."

Mahorn can't finish his sentence. Even 25 years later, it still hurts. This one cuts deep for you the viewer as well. There are but a one or two events in my life, that I can't recall without breaking down. To see this in one of the baddest of the bad boys changes everything. Mahorn played very dirty and yet understanding his role on the team, it's hard not to love the guy. 

Mahorn's departure also meant an end to an era. At the ceremony, Thomas announced, "one of the members of our team was traded. There can only be one "Bad Boys" basketball team. So this is their only championship title."

Pistons implemented the Jordan Rules
In 1991, Jordan fought back
Dennis Rodman: "I won something."
You've got to be kidding me, right? The Worm cried?  

In 1990 Dennis Rodman was inserted into the starting line-up, when his teammate Mark Aguirre said to head coach Chuck Daly that he was holding the team back. It was time for Rodman, the sixth man, to start. 

The result? The Pistons—defending champions—won 25 of their next 26 games with Rodman starting. One announcer said "he was the jack-in-the-box out of the box." All that the viewer sees for the next few minutes of tape is Rodman flying into the crowd as he attempts to make a save. "If I could go out there and break an arm, hey I’m going to do it," he said. The viewer believes it. I almost wanted him to.

Behind Rodman, the Pistons became the top defensive team in the league and he was honored as the "Defensive player of the year" He came a long way from mopping floors in an airport.

Today's Dennis Rodman said "I was SO happy to win that award. Oh my God, I knew what it meant to work hard and get the satisfaction and people actually appreciated it. They could have given me a lollipop for the award, I didn’t care. I won something in the NBA."

The program flashes back to a much younger Rodman. One without piercing and tattoos, one that did not hide behind his shades. He stood at the awards podium, a very thin 29 year old man who was not holding back one single tear. Amid his sobs, he admits, "I wanted this award so bad. This is so overwhelming. I owe it all to my teammates, Chuck Daly, everybody."

John Salley said "I used to think that whole bit about a team being a family was bulls*** until these guys. For Dennis, we were the closest thing he had to a family." I have no doubt Rodman wasn't the only one who cried that day. Something tells me his family members did too.

10 men deep, these guys were a family.
I should include Joe Dumars' incredible story about his father's death in this post, but as heart breaking and touching as it is, he tells it without tears. And tears can reveal so much.

My good friend Chad describes his 4-year old daughter Lucy as a little mystic. Just the other day, he overheard her say to her older sister an important realization. "Shelby," she said, "Did you know that sometimes people cry when they are happy too?" Watching "Bad Boys" you will shed tears of laughter, you will shed tears of joy and of sorrow. And most importantly, you may come to understand yourself a little better because of the tears you have cried. Enjoy

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