One by one they pushed the door open and reacquainted themselves with destiny. Joe Dumars, as usual, was first man in. He took a seat by his locker, with his trademark can of Coke, and his trademark disc player and headphones. He had his trademark book, a novel. At his feet, as usual, sat two of the young Pistons ball boys. They were opening his mail.
“Somebody wants you to test-drive drive a Rolls-Royce,” said one, reading the invitation.
“A Rolls-Royce?” said Dumars, not looking up.
‘Yeah. ‘We want you to experience the luxury of our . . . um . . . ‘ ”
“Can’t do that,” said Dumars.
“This one is from Japan,” said the other ball boy, holding a package with a foreign postmark.
“Japan?'(at) Dumars mused, heading off to get taped. “Well, if you can read it, you can keep it.”
Across the room, John Salley lumbered in, reached for the ticket envelopes and scribbled a few names. He saw someone wearing a ragged Pistons sweatshirt. He smiled. “Hey, man, where can I get one of those? The Salvation Army? HAAA!”
Bill Laimbeer, in a sweater and sneakers, looked up as a cameraman entered the room. Laimbeer made a face.
“Who are you?” he snarled.
“I’m with NBA Entertainment.”
“Yeah? You have permission to be here?”
Back to work. But first, the rings
This was the operative theme Friday night, a night that, no matter where you were, you knew that something was happening out at the Palace. Something familiar. Something good. That music. That thumping. Those searchlights in the parking lot, crisscrossing the November sky. . . .
Back to work. The return of the warriors. Of course, most of us don’t get a standing ovation when we reach the office. Most of us don’t have M.C. Hammer congratulating us on a 20- foot giant screen. But then most of us have never won an NBA championship, either — let alone two.
So it was that on this particular shift, before they put on their hard hats, the Pistons put on their rings. Championship rings. For the second time. Dumars and Salley and Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas and the rest. They were called to center court, and, with the lights down, and the announcer, George Blaha, singing their praises, they were handed little brown boxes, and they opened them the way a kid opens a Christmas present, all eager to see what glory looks like in a Size 9 band.
“THE SULTAN OF SWAT . . . JOHN SALLEY!”
“THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE . . . VINNIE JOHNSON!”
“THE BUDDHA TRAIN . . . JAMES EDWARDS!”
And then, finally, the raising of the second championship banner. It was a nice moment. Not like last year, when Detroit was all giddy and juiced up, like high schoolers at a dance. Oh, it was noisy Friday, sure. But this time the celebration seemed a little more mature. A little more . . . appreciative. What the Pistons had done, after all, was not wonderful this time because it was new. It was wonderful because it was old.
Back to back.
“THREE!” yelled Salley, as he took his ring and held three fingers to the cheering crowd.
Back to work. One down, 81 to go
And pretty soon it was. Here was Laimbeer, wearing a clear mask to protect his fractured left cheekbone, and the game wasn’t 30 seconds old before he was arguing a call with the referee.
Here was Isiah, in mid-season speed, racing up the court and sinking a basket before the halftime buzzer.
Here was coach Chuck Daly — who, you remember, thought he might give all this up after last year — popping to his feet and crossing his arms and glaring. “ISO! ISO!” he yelled, calling a play. “FIFTEEN! FIFTEEN!”
And here were the Pistons, when it was over, loping off the court with a victory in their pockets. One down, 81 to go.
It was old, but it was new again. And in a funny way it was comforting, like a flannel blanket. Maybe in Los Angeles or Miami they don’t understand this. But here in Detroit, this is what a championship basketball team does; it makes the oncoming winter bearable. All those frozen nights, when your body shivers and your car says “forget it,” there are the Pistons, on TV, little pictures of Aguirre throwing in a long jumper, or Rodman dangling from the rim after a dunk.
And all those mornings, when you pull the newspaper from your front porch and shake off the snow, there are these stories about the Pistons, in Cleveland, in Seattle, in Denver, winning again, looking good.
They have become a part of our municipal psyche, these guys. Everywhere you go, someone is wearing a shirt, hat, or jacket. Maybe it’s the winning. Maybe it’s the sport.
Basketball is such a great game — run, stop, twist, duck — it almost pulls you from your seat in sympathetic action. And when your team wins? Well, to describe its magic to a foreigner is, as someone once sang, like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll. Maybe the closest I ever heard came from Joe Dumars’ father, who, before he passed away, called Joe after watching him perform on national TV. “Son,” he said, “that’s a pretty good job you got there.”
Making people feel good often is.
Back to work. Winter just got a little warmer.
Free Press sports columnist Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book,
“Live Albom II,” at two Saginaw locations today. Albom will be at Walden Books, Fashion Square Mall, 1-2:15 p.m., and at Jacobson’s 3-4:15 p.m.