by | Jan 11, 1991 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Alot of Detroit fans are worried about these Portland Trail Blazers. They see the second-best record in basketball, the longest winning streak of the season — they see all this and they begin to sweat. They figure maybe these mopes from Portland are ready to overtake the Pistons as kings of the NBA.

And I say: HA!

Have you met assistant coach Brendan Malone?

Let me tell you why I say that. On Thursday, I dropped by the Pistons’ practice, just to see how they were doing. Football season had kept me away for a while, and I thought, well, who knows? Maybe they have lost a little of the old magic. Maybe they really should be worried about these guys from lumber land.

So I walk into the gym, the Oakland University gym, and there’s the team finishing up, boisterous as ever. I see Isiah Thomas turn to Mark Aguirre and, with a smile, square off in a make-believe boxing match. I see Bill Laimbeer, plastic mask on his face, give a group of reporters his belligerent stare.

(REPORTER: “Bill, what does breaking the all-time Pistons rebounding mark mean to you?”

LAIMBEER (glaring): “It means I’ve been around a long time.”)

This would be enough to intimidate most people. As would the sight of long, tall James Edwards and Tree Rollins, ducking under the door frame together. Or Joe Dumars, injured, still out there.

But then, a few minutes later, comes the kicker. I find myself in a conversation with Malone and Scott Hastings. Just your basic, small talk conversation. And this is when I realize that maybe Detroit fans ought to stop worrying.

It went, more or less, like this: It’s not bull — they can be tough

ME: You guys see the movie “GoodFellas”?

MALONE: Great movie.

HASTINGS: Great movie.

MALONE: You know, I grew up with those guys.

ME: You did?

HASTINGS: Get out.

MALONE: Yeah. In New York. The guy that movie is about, Henry Hill? He lived two blocks from me. I remember that stuff. Guys passing guns in paper bags. Dead men floating in the river.

ME: You do?

HASTINGS: Get out.

MALONE: Yeah. For a while, I worked as a longshoreman. I saw all sorts of stuff. Later on, I coached high school ball. One of my players, a few years after he graduated, the mafia had him killed. He was running rackets. They found his body in the river.

ME: They did?

HASTINGS: Get out.

MALONE: It’s true. It floated to the surface two months after they popped him. See, that mafia group, they just killed you and tossed you in the river. The Westies, who they wrote that other book about? They would slice you open, let your insides come out, then throw you in the river, so you would sink to the bottom and stay there.

ME: They did?

MALONE: It’s true.

HASTINGS: You know, we never had stuff like that where I grew up.

MALONE: Sure. You grew up in Kansas. Your idea of big news was when one of the neighbors got a new heifer.

HASTINGS: Naw, a bull. I swear, someone would say, ‘We got a new bull!’ And after school, five or six kids would go and sit on the fence, chew on weeds, and just stare at this bull, and not say nothing. Just stare at it, for like, hours.

ME: They did?

MALONE: Get out.

HASTINGS: But none of my friends ever got killed and thrown in the river. One time, I did help slice open a cow.

ME: You did?

MALONE: Get out.

HASTINGS: I’m not kidding. It was a common thing on the farms. First you shot it in the head with a .22. Let the blood drain out. You had to do it in the morning, before the flies were around. Then you cut like this, and then this way, up, like this, then you spread it apart, and took the hide off and everything. It was kind of gross, but I did it.

ME: You did?

MALONE: Unbelievable.

HASTINGS: Whatdaya mean? You’re the one from New York. You’d have made a good gangster.

MALONE: (Laughing, makes a gun shape with his finger.) Yeah. Bad-da-bing, ba-da boom! You’re dead.

HASTINGS: (Making a gun shape.) Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom!

MALONE: Hahahaha!

HASTINGS: Hahahaha!

ME: Well, gotta go, fellas.

Now, I am not making this up. And remember: Malone is only the second assistant coach. And Hastings is maybe the 11th or 12th man on the team. We haven’t even begun to talk about Isiah and Aguirre’s younger days on the mean streets of Chicago. Or Vinnie Johnson and John Salley and the things they learned in Brooklyn.

So, I see it this way. When people around me fret over the Portland Trail Blazers and their wonderful record, I figure, hey, here we have an assistant coach who remembers the bad old days and a bench player who once ripped open a cow with his bare hands.

And what does Portland have?

Rick Adelman?

Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.

I’m not worried.


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