by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

“Everything we do is insane. It keeps us sane.”

— Scott Hastings, philosopher

So where’s the popcorn?”


“The popcorn. Don’t you know the rules?”

“Yeah. Any fan sitting in that seat has to buy us popcorn. And beer.”

“But . . . the game is going on!”

“We know that.”

“Wait a minute. . . . You guys eat during a game?”

“Of course.”

“When else?”

“Are you serious?”

“We’re serious.”

“And we’re hungry. Get going.”

Grab a sleeping bag. Fill the canteen. We are heading for The End Of The Bench. Which isn’t exactly The End Of The World. It’s worse. Even Columbus never looked for the End Of The Bench. If he did, this is what he would have found: Scott Hastings and David Greenwood, ordering popcorn.

Not that they eat it. Oh, once, against the Knicks, Hastings, after countless nights of sitting, shoes tied, jacket on, and never playing, finally decided to sneak a handful. “And a minute later,” he says, “when the kernels were still back in my wisdom teeth, and I’m trying to pick them out with my tongue, I hear Chuck Daly yell, ‘SCOTT! SCOTT! GET BILL. GO GUARD PATRICK!’ “

“You must have panicked,” I say.

“No, I was happy to get in. And athletes are pretty superstitious. So we figure from now on, we should eat popcorn every game.”

“Right,” Greenwood says. “Popcorn. Good idea.”

Welcome to the END OF THE BENCH. Scott Hastings and David Greenwood. They come out with the Pistons, night after night, race through lay-up lines . . . and sit. And sit. And sit. Occasionally, they get into the action, for a pass, or a free throw, or three minutes’ worth of garbage time. “But basically,” they say, “our job is to get stiff for two hours.” They squirm, they scream at refs, they make up jokes, they check out the fan in the fourth row. They order popcorn.

“Does it ever get so boring you run out of ideas?” I ask.

“The last Charlotte game,” Hastings says.

“Yeah,” Greenwood says, “I looked over and you were all foggy eyed. I yelled, ‘SCOTTIE! SNAP OUT OF IT!’ “

“Thanks, man,” Hastings says. “I almost lost it that night.”

This is the story of two men who have decided if you can’t join ’em, joke
’em. Other stories have been written about the last guys on the bench. Usually, they carry quotes such as: “I’m ready if the coach needs me. I don’t mind waiting.” Very nice. Very sweet. Complete bull. This is the real story. A world where boredom is the enemy, where humor is essential, where a “hello” from the head coach is a special occasion. A world where you rush to catch the bus because it might leave without you. Sitting? Watching? Night after night, without breaking a sweat? Who in his right mind wants to be one of the last two players off the NBA bench? It’s grueling. It’s frustrating.

And after careful study, Hastings and Greenwood have concluded there is only one way to avoid going nuts.


HASTINGS: We got the 20-second time-out down to a science.

GREENWOOD: Yeah. As soon as it’s called, we get up and try to circle the team while patting each of the guys on the butt —

HASTINGS: — and get back to our seats before the buzzer sounds.


HASTINGS: One lap.

GREENWOOD: You can make it in just under 20 seconds.

HASTINGS: Of course if you stop to say something, it takes longer.

GREENWOOD: Yeah. Usually you can only say, “Good job,” and move on.

Now, let’s get something straight right from the start: Nothing Hastings and Greenwood do is meant to take away from the team. They root. They holler. They want to win just like the other guys. Why else would they go through all this sitting?

But, yes, there are times they scream obscenities at the ref for a bad call, and, then, the instant the ref turns their way, they spin their heads toward the stands and go, “Who said that?”

And, yes, there are times when, for want of something better to do during the game, they check what their wives are wearing:

“Say, Dave, Joyce looks real good tonight.”

“Purple skirt. Got it for her last year.”

There is the little dance they do to the warm-up song, “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. (“Sort of a Temptations thing,” Hastings says.) And there are the discussions they get into with the fans, who often sit inches from their end of the bench.

“This one time in Dallas, a woman got all upset over one of our players cursing,” Greenwood says. “So Scottie decided to talk to her.”

“Yeah,” Hastings says, “I asked, ‘What is a dirty word really? I mean, aren’t all words basically clean?’ “

“After a while, he convinced her.”

“Maybe I just confused her.”

Maybe these two should go on the road. Live from Detroit, it’s . . . ScottieWood! You ask how these guys can get away with all this stuff? Have you ever tried reaching the top of your profession — and then just watching? The distance between stardom and trivia is just a few yards on the NBA bench, but those few yards can feel like a black hole. It was into this breach that Greenwood, 32, and Hastings, 29, tumbled this season, one a former first-round draft pick with a long career on losing teams, the other a stringy-haired veteran with a lanky body and Jay Leno’s sense of humor. Unlike many 11th and 12th men, they were not rookies, they were not kids all starry- eyed and
“happy to be here.” No. They were veterans who knew better. They grew friendly. Close.

Now they are Martin and Lewis.


GREENWOOD: Unlike some other bench guys, we never root for the starters to get in foul trouble.

HASTINGS: Yeah, because our biggest fear is that the starters will all foul out and they’ll actually use Vinnie Johnson at power forward before they use us.

GREENWOOD: Who needs that kind of embarrassment?


Of course, we might have seen this coming with Hastings. Wasn’t he the Atlanta Hawk who once slapped high-fives with owner Ted Turner after sinking a three-pointer? Wasn’t he the guy who wrote a column for the Miami Herald last year as a player for the expansion Heat? Didn’t he once suggest the Heat’s losing streak could be solved with three easy steps: 1) Keep working hard. 2) Pick a fight with every opponent averaging more than 20 points. 3) Trade for Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone.

Hastings, 6-feet-10, is a Huck Finn face stuck on a giant scarecrow body. If he can’t make you laugh, you’re medically dead. You could picture him in overalls, steering a raft down the Mississippi. Of course, he’d be playing Nintendo at the same time. What do you expect from a man who comes from Independence, Kansas?

They call guys like Hastings “free spirits” — usually right before they call them “free agents.” That’s what he was last July. After stints with New York, Atlanta and Miami, he signed with the Pistons.

Greenwood came a few months later. He, too, was a free agent, and was coveted by several teams. But, at 32, a new team wasn’t enough. He wanted a ring. Coming out of college, he was a star, the second player taken in the entire 1979 draft. Unfortunately, the first was Magic Johnson, who went to Greenwood’s desired team, the Lakers. Greenwood went to Chicago. He suffered there until the arrival of a kid named Michael Jordan — then the Bulls traded him to San Antonio. He suffered there waiting for a kid named David Robinson
— then the Spurs traded him to Denver. Timing? You want to talk timing? David Greenwood had the timing of the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons.

“I figured Detroit could use me, since they had just lost Rick Mahorn,” he says. So he signed in October. A one-year deal. A slow training camp hampered him. Then the improved play of James Edwards, John Salley and Dennis Rodman left little room for his 6-foot-10 presence.

Suddenly, the former hero of UCLA found himself in the last seat on the Detroit bench. What? “I said to Scottie, ‘I’m not used to this, man. If you ever look over at me and see me losing it, you gotta help me, OK?’ “

Scottie nodded OK. He knew just what to do. DAVE AND SCOTTIE’S HOW TO FIGHT BOREDOM, IDEA NO. 128: CHEW A TOWEL

GREENWOOD: Scottie has this thing during the game where he just chews the end of a towel until he can pull a string out between his teeth.

HASTINGS: I used to leave it hanging there, just to hear people yell, “Hey, you got a string hanging from your mouth!”

GREENWOOD: Then one day he started blowing them onto people.

HASTINGS: They’re just little threads. Sometimes James Edwards will come over, and he’ll be all sweaty. I’ll blow one at him.

GREENWOOD: And it sticks.

HASTINGS: Yeah. It’s pretty cool.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Goodness. All that money and so little work and these fellows are having . . . fun? Well, before you condemn it, remember that these fellows, despite their spots on the bench, are still better than 97 percent of the basketball players on this planet. That’s the crazy thing about the NBA. You take a guy who was king of his high school, prince of his college, and, suddenly, in the pros, he’s the mop-up man. “I don’t care if you’re Mr. Optimist of the world,” Hastings says, in a rare serious moment. “Nobody can sit there and watch his job being done by someone else and feel like he’s contributing.”

“I never used to think about bench guys when I was a starter,” Greenwood adds. “I’ve gained new respect. It’s one of the hardest things to do. I really believe guys sitting would give up some money for the chance to play.

“And garbage time doesn’t cut it. I’ll be honest with you. Going into a game with 30 seconds left and a 35-point lead — that’s not playing basketball. It’s almost like an insult. That’s like saying the guy ahead of you can’t last another 30 seconds, so you get in there. Heck. We have a better chance of getting injured coming in cold than the guys who were already playing.

“Garbage time is a lose-lose situation. If you play well, they say, ‘Aw, it was just against the other team’s scrubs.’ If you make a mistake, they say,
‘See? That’s why we can’t play him.’ “

Hastings listens. He nods. “Last month, I went into a game with 12.8 seconds left and came out with 11.6 left.” “Amazing,” Greenwood says.

“Yeah. I got what we call a trillion.”

A trillion? “Yeah. That’s when the box score reads: ‘1 minute played, followed by a row of 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0.’ I got lots of those.” DAVE AND SCOTTIE ANSWER THE QUESTION: WHO ARE WE?

GREENWOOD: Honest now, Scottie, when was the last time a coach came up and said, “Hey, how you doing? How’s your wife and kids?”


GREENWOOD: See? We do not exist.

HASTINGS: Right. We are like the twins that the family hides in the basement.

GREENWOOD: We are like professional blackboards; there’s nothing there.

HASTINGS: We are like the insurance policy that you get when you’re first married–

GREENWOOD: — and then you stick it in the attic —

HASTINGS: — and 40 years later you dust it off and say, “HEY, HONEY, LOOK WHAT I FOUND! IT’S DAVE AND SCOTT!”

Which is not to say they are bitter. Oh, sure, they want to play. And maybe they wish the coach would feel what they feel. But their enthusiasm for teammates is almost legendary. Joe Dumars, during his recent injury, spent the first few games sitting amid the Hastings-Greenwood show. “You guys are too into it for me, man,” he said finally, moving back uptown. “I can’t believe how much you yell!”

Often times, when a Piston is having a bad stretch, he will come to the bench and get an earful from Daly. Then he’ll wander to Hastings and Greenwood, who he knows have been watching. “James, you drove the baseline the last five times. Go to the middle next time,” they’ll whisper. “Salley, stop thinking so much and just go up with it. . . .”

Often, the advice is good. And when the guy goes out and sinks a basket, he turns to Greenwood and Hastings and smiles. Let’s face it. Sitting on


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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