Up goes the shot, down comes the rebound, in goes Bill Laimbeer.
“That’s one,” he says, grabbing it.
Up goes the shot, down comes the rebound, out comes Bill Laimbeer.
“That’s two,” he says.
Up shot, down rebound, out Laimbeer.
“That’s three,” he says.
He counts. He rebounds. He divides. He rebounds. He figures out percentages. He rebounds. All game long. All at the same time. In the two or three seconds it takes to run upcourt, Bill Laimbeer has got it all added up. His mind is an NBA calculator, a gray-matter box score. You half expect his eyes to blink on and off. Rebound 10, rebound 11 . . .
He has been doing it all season — keeping his stats, and everybody else’s. Now the season is just about over. And the numbers are in his favor.
Say hello to the new NBA rebound king, ladies and gentlemen. A man born into wealth, a man who can’t jump over a dog, a man abhorred by half the league as a dirty player and by the other half as a crybaby. Say hello to Bill Laimbeer, the new NBA rebound king.
Because you can’t argue with numbers. He sees it as his job
He has them. He has 1,075 rebounds (13.11
average), well ahead of the 1,008 (12.75) by second-place Charles Barkley of Philadelphia.
He did it by playing every game and by figuring every ball that went up had his name on it coming down.
“It’s my job,” he says.
And so, for the first time in six years, Moses Malone will not claim the title. It goes to the big guy from Detroit. But don’t expect speeches like,
“Gee, I didn’t even know. How nice.” Uh-uh. This is a man who had Charles Barkley updates within minutes of the final whistle. Whose first words off the floor were, “How many did he get?”
Laimbeer may say, “The rebounding title isn’t really that important to me. It was my teammates who wanted me to get it.” Baloney. His teammates weren’t bent over the newspaper in the locker room, dividing rebounds earned by games played.
But that’s OK. The Pistons don’t mind that. Especially going into the playoffs. You can never have too many rebounds. Besides, it’s this type of competitiveness that characterizes Laimbeer in the first place.
Most people know by now that Laimbeer, 28, is the son of a successful business executive, that his “street ball” was played in his backyard, that he once flunked out of college from sheer laziness and is too slow and too earthbound to walk in the same room as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Malone.
But Bill Laimbeer is competitive. He’s the kid who comes up after a test in school and says, “What’dya get? What’dya get?” And you show him your B-plus and he whips out his A-minus and says, “Beat ya.”
A few years ago, he bet teammate Isiah Thomas he would outshoot him in free-throw percentage. He shot 87 percent for the season — far better than he had ever shot before — and won. “In practice they sometimes play for travel money,” says Pistons public relations director Matt Dobek. “You should see him. He plays like mad. Like an animal. For what — $20?”
Well, whatever gets you up. Last September, Laimbeer says, he was at an NBA Players Association dinner. Malone, as usual, was accepting the award for rebound king. In his speech, Malone said, “This is too much work. Next year I’m going for something easy, like the scoring title. I’ll leave the rebounding to guys like Bill Laimbeer.”
He sat back down and Laimbeer said to him, “You’re right, Moses. I’m gonna win it next year.”
And now he has. Tiring and thankless
Of course, it’s also well known that Laimbeer hears more boos than cheers. He is not popular around the league. He has tussled with more guys than Marvis Frazier. And he’s had his share of Academy Award “I was fouled” performances.
But you can’t take this title away from him. Rebounding is tough and thankless. “It’s so much more tiring than people realize,” Laimbeer says. “I got so tired this year. I don’t know how Malone did it for five years.”
There is more to it than being tall, which Laimbeer is (6- feet-11, 265 pounds), or fast, which Laimbeer isn’t, or a leaper, which Laimbeer also isn’t. He credits his success to “desire, position, and doing anything I have to to get the ball.”
Let’s leave the last part to your imagination.
In the meantime, there’s no arguing with numbers, and numbers say he is the king. He ought to know. He has been adding them up since his first rebound of the season. And for those of you who find it strange that a man can play basketball and keep an adding machine going in his head, well, you don’t know Bill Laimbeer. “What else are you gonna think about when you run upcourt,” he says, “going fishing?” Yeah.
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