NEW CASTLE —
Full disclosure: I hated the “Bad Boys.”
Hated those dudes.
If you were an NBA fan during the league’s heyday of Magic, Larry and Michael, you know exactly who I’m talking about. Hard to believe it’s been 25 years since the Detroit Pistons won back-to-back championships.
Physical to the point of Dirty.
Confident to the point of Arrogant.
Villains to the point of WWE stature.
Disliked to the point of Despised.
At least that was my take back then.
Even typing the names of their key players can make my blood boil: Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer and “The Microwave,” Vinnie Johnson.
As a kid who grew up rooting for Magic and the Lakers, I didn’t just hate those dudes — I HATED those dudes.
So for reasons I can’t quite explain, I was drawn to the latest ESPN documentary, “Bad Boys,” which focuses on those Motor City madmen from the late 1980s and early ’90s.
And you know what: I loved it.
I mean, we can learn something from everyone — even those we once loved to hate.
And during this terrific two-hour film, we get three important takeaways from the team’s late leading man, Chuck Daly. The former high school coach turned Hall of Famer brilliantly molded a cast of characters into a cohesive unit that team members still refer to as a “family” to this day.
Anyone who leads in the home, workplace or in athletic competition would do well to follow the blueprint.
To paraphrase analyst Doug Collins and his thoughts on the role of a great coach, Daly got his players to ...
1) Believe in their role — We’re all gifted in certain areas — and we all fall short in other ways. Daly — along with top assistants Brendan Suhr and Brendan Malone — studied his players deeply, and shared with them how they would best serve the team. He encouraged. He prodded. He cajoled. Through whatever means Daly delivered that message, he STAYED ON MESSAGE ... until his players believed it, too. And if they didn’t? Just ask Adrian Dantley, a six-time all-star and prolific scorer who was traded in the middle of Detroit’s first title season. Dantley thought his role on the team should have been larger. Daly disagreed.
2) Stay in their role — Think back, for a moment, on those notable Pistons and remove all the negative adjectives from your mind. Focus solely on their basketball talents and you’ll have vivid memories of ROLES.
•Laimbeer — Terrific mid-range shooter who set bone-jarring screens. He was a living, breathing definition of “pick and pop” before the term became engrained in the basketball lexicon.
•Rodman — Defense and rebounding. Defense and rebounding. Defense and rebounding. Did I mention defense and rebounding?
•Thomas — Scorer and distributor. A baby-faced assassin who could get to the bucket against even the biggest front lines.
•Dumars — He was called upon to defend the opponent’s best perimeter player and knock down the open jumper.
•Mahorn — His job was to defend the post area, score in the paint and rebound in traffic.
•Johnson — He delivered instant offense when he came into the game, hence the nickname “Microwave.” He appeared to have a green light to shoot from anywhere on the court — as long as the shots went in. And they usually did.
3) Star in their role — Even 25 years later, I can’t think of these players in anything else but those roles — because they were so good at them. Try to imagine a better defender and rebounder than Rodman. Try to think of a better penetrator and scorer than Thomas. Try to think of a player who could light it up off the bench better than Johnson.
But here’s the thing: no one ever thinks of those Pistons individually. It’s always in the context of a team. Always as a band of brothers. Always as “Detroit against the world.”
Maybe that’s why I hated those dudes.
They knew who they were. They believed in what they could do. And yes, they were some Bad, Bad Boys.
In a really, really good way.