First, I’m married and have a small child. So that’s who’s been drinking all the milk.
Today’s subject is the Detroit Pistons and their NBA Finals victory over the Lakers. On Friday, barring news developments that can’t be ignored, we’ll talk about something really important: camera angles.
Brian McAllister: I certainly understand the chuckle value of demeaning Brown’s chances of winning a title. But I got the sense that you actually meant it. The fact is, any coach who leads a team that is competitive in the playoffs has the ability to win a championship. There is no magic in winning a championship, and to suggest that a coach doesn’t have that “intangible” falls into the same line of reasoning that some teams “don’t know how to win.”
The object of the game is to put the ball in the bucket, and to do it more than the other team. The rules don’t change in the playoffs; as often as not, a team of unprovens wins (despite the lack of “playoff experience”). The idea that there is some magic formula that only some coaches can tap into to put their team over the top is a trite cliché. You’re too smart to fall for that.
King replies: Am not! The rules do change in the playoffs. Not about putting the ball in the bucket, but about how to go about getting more buckets. Show me a coach who doesn’t coach differently in the playoffs, in any sport, and I’ll show you a coach who doesn’t win championships. In basketball, winning four times in seven consecutive games against the same team is a very different thing than lining up on a Tuesday night in January and winning that three-quarter-speed thing that passes for the sport during the “regular” season.
And when you write, “As often as not, a team of unprovens wins (despite the lack of ‘playoff experience’),” I suppose you’re correct, if by “as often as not” you mean “almost never.” What team of unprovens without playoff experience has won lately, and by lately I mean, oh, during the lifetime of Kobe Bryant?
The Pistons lost in the second round in 2002, the semifinals last year. The 2003 Spurs were in their sixth straight playoffs, including their 1999 championship. That first title year, they were only in the playoffs for the second straight time, but they’d only missed the postseason once (in ’97) in the previous nine years. Before the Spurs was the ’96-98 Bulls, and we don’t need to talk about them. Before that, the ’94-95 Rockets, who had also missed the playoffs once (in ’92) in nine years before starting their championship run.
The last team of unknowns, lacking playoff experience, to win the NBA title was the 1977 Portland Trailblazers. And I’m stretching wildly here to call 24-year-olds Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas unknowns.
Kip Reese: I’m afraid that the 2004 Pistons are the 1995 New Jersey Devils. I mention the Devils because they, by implementing the trap and winning the title managed to make Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and the other top skill players in the league not as meaningful to the game. At the time it seemed so “niiice.” The plucky no-names came together. Well, look at the NHL now.
I give the Pistons their due and the Lakers didn’t deserve to win anything but I hope this doesn’t bring in an era of every team trying to load up with Tayshaun Prince clones and keep scores in the 70s. The Knicks and Heat slowed down the NBA and made thuggery fashionable in the ’90s but they couldn’t break through. Should I be afraid?
King replies: I don’t think so. The difference is that the neutral-zone trap takes advantage of an NHL rule — the two-line pass — that makes the best offensive strategy to combine it illegal. NHL teams know what they have to do to beat the trap, they’re just not allowed to do it.
The NBA’s current defensive era doesn’t seem quite as fatally flawed. The league has tweaked the rules a bit to try to give some help to offenses, but really the issue seems to me to be the skill sets of the players, which are trending toward defense and away from offense. (Tayshaun Prince, by the way, can shoot.) I don’t know this, but I think that’s a cyclical thing, and offense will be back at some point.
Sandy LoSchiavo: I’m from L.A. I’ve been a Lakers fan for years, so much so I used to pace out in my yard during tense moments of the old Lakers-Celtics games because I was afraid I’d jinx my boys when they were free throwing if I watched.
That being said, I despise these particular Lakers — and I’m not alone, despite the Lakers-flag-flying SUVs you see around town. Most of my friends, sports fans all, and Lakers fans in particular, have been quietly whispering among ourselves, “I’ve always loved the Lakers, but I hate this bunch.” I can’t imagine Kareem and Magic’s Lakers putting forth such a pitiful effort in the Finals — and that’s not to take anything away from the Pistons, who were awesome. In fact, I rooted for them all the way. They had the heart, team effort and work ethic that has seemed to elude the Lakers all year.
Although I miss him terribly, I’m glad Chick Hearn’s not around to see what a bunch of asses his Lakers turned out to be.
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Detroit and violent celebrations [PERMALINK]
Many readers were unhappy when I declined to apologize for Tuesday’s joking item encouraging Detroit police to encourage marijuana use to defuse any potential celebratory rioting.
Peter Fehrs: So, let me get this straight. You won’t apologize for ripping into Detroit for rioting even though the last riot occurred 14 years ago? In addition, L.A.’s 2000 riots (after the Lakers’ win) don’t register? Hmmmm. It’s not just people from Michigan who are confused by your lame bandwagoning onto the “riot” theme, it may be all Salon readers.
Erin McIntyre: Yes, Detroit hasn’t had the best track record in past years following sports championships, but the examples you cite are more than 13 years old! Other cities listed in your source article (Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, Dallas and Denver) have had more recent events, and yet no one was predicting an L.A. riot with a Lakers win. Has Los Angeles proven itself to be a safer place, or is there a larger burden of proof for Detroit to say it’s safe?
King replies: If a championship had been imminent in Los Angeles, I would have made the exact same joke.
I was surprised by how many people wrote me to say, “Why didn’t you mention Chicago? (Denver? Vancouver? Etc.?)” It seems beyond obvious to me that I didn’t mention them because the championship was about to be won in Detroit, not those other places, so the comment to be made was about Detroit. It was actually a joke about marijuana, but I guess the people who are sensitive about marijuana aren’t letter writers.
I similarly “singled out” the Lakers as the losers of the NBA Finals without once mentioning the Syracuse Nationals, St. Louis Hawks or any of the other teams that have also lost in the Finals. It’s the same thing as not mentioning Los Angeles et al.
Cynthia Conlon: As a native Detroiter, I’m always sad to hear commentary about the denizens of that city being likely to riot after big sports wins. But, let’s face it, it’s happened in spectacular fashion on a couple of occasions. I don’t have much use for Jimmy Kimmel, but I disagreed with his show getting yanked after he made the Detroit-dissing comment. And I certainly understand why you didn’t apologize for your comments about handing out marijuana to Detroit sports fans to prevent rioting. I thought your comments were pretty funny, actually.
King replies: Though I’ve posted two critical letters and one supportive one here, that doesn’t represent the overwhelmingly negative response of letter writers to the item. The ratio was more like 7-to-1.
Previous column: An open letter to Larry Brown
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