by | May 11, 1999 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

ATLANTA — Their big man, Dikembe Mutombo, was having the time of his life. He backed in on one Piston, knocked him over and slammed home two points. He backed in on another Piston, spun past him and banked home two more. He bumped in on another Piston, then sliced a jump hook down the hoop’s throat.

i>Their big man, the Hawks’ big man, scoring, blocking, rebounding.

And the Pistons’ big man?

Sitting on the bench, his face in a scowl.

I’d like to be nice. I’d like to be understanding. But if someone can tell me how Bison Dele earns his $6 million annual paycheck, I’d be happy to listen. This guy, in plain English, is a waste of time. He lasted all of two minutes in the most important game of the Pistons’ season before going to the bench with his second foul. Up to that point, he hadn’t taken a shot or grabbed a rebound.

He then sat for the next 16 minutes.

Is that what we call a contribution?

He came back for four minutes in the second quarter, picked up another foul, didn’t shoot once.

OK, you figure. Maybe halftime will shake him out of his doldrums. The Pistons still had a chance Monday night, right?

Fat chance. Dele started the third quarter by turning the ball over. He then fouled Mutombo, all but chopping him in half with his forearm. When the ref whistled him, Dele — who often puts more effort into complaining than he does into playing — walked off yelling, “How is that a foul?”

When the ref didn’t answer, Dele mumbled a phrase that begins with “mother” but doesn’t end in “I love you.”

The ref called him for a technical.

Dele sat the rest of the quarter.

Sorry, folks, but that’s not what I call “helping your team.” Other Pistons played badly, but at least they broke a sweat. Here — in the game that basically buried the Pistons for 1999 — was Bison Dele’s line:

Eleven minutes, no points, no shots, no free throws, one rebound, five fouls.

The next time Dele sees Bill Davidson, he ought to write him a check.

I mean, come on. Enough about his moods, his eclectic tastes, his wandering wave forms. When your team desperately needs a big man, and you are that big man, and you don’t bring your A game, your B game or even your P game, what good are you?

I’ll bet it’s a question the Pistons brass are asking themselves right now.

The end seems inevitable

“Whatever we’re doing wrong, we better fix it fast,” said point guard Lindsey Hunter, after the Game 2 loss.

Forget it. The time for that was after Game 1. The Pistons came into Monday night swearing they would not repeat their 70-point effort from Saturday, a franchise playoff low. They were right. They scored 69.

This was not a game the Pistons could afford to lose. They lost it anyhow, 89-69. They made bad passes. They forced bad shots. They not only repeated the mistake from Saturday, when they went 7 1/2 minutes without scoring in the third quarter, they bettered it. In Monday’s third quarter, they went eight minutes without a point.

“Mutombo had an incredible game,” said backup Eric Montross of the center’s 28 points and 13 rebounds, “but I think he took four hook shots and the rest were lay-ups. That’s inexcusable.”

Then again, with all due respect, why are we going to Montross for that quote? He played 21 minutes. He is not supposed to play 21 minutes. Not in a crucial playoff game. He did what he could against the Mutombo mountain — did a decent job early on — but it was Dele’s job first and foremost.

At one point, in the third quarter, the Pistons were trying to save their season with Loy Vaught, who has barely played; Christian Laettner, who is not his old self; Don Reid; Jerry Stackhouse; and Grant Hill.

Come on. Does that sound like a playoff-winning lineup?

A terrible game for everyone

But then, Dele is at fault for much of that as well. When you can’t count on a big man, you have to use all kinds of weird combinations to compensate. The Pistons tried everyone on Mutombo except announcer George Blaha — and don’t be surprised if they ask Blaha for Game 3.

Now, it’s true, basketball is a team game. And it wasn’t like the rest of the Pistons were lighting it up. Hill came off a great game Saturday with a mediocre one Monday, only 5-for-16 shooting, although he did lead the team in another of what should be Dele’s categories, rebounding.

Hunter was an awful 1-for-11, and nobody, repeat, nobody could stop Mutombo.

“We were awful,” coach Alvin Gentry said.

When asked about Dele, he bit his lip.

He has to. I don’t. In two games, Dele has more fouls (nine) than points
(seven). I don’t get it. What happened to centers who get up for playing the opposing big guy? Isn’t that what gave us Wilt and Russell, or Reed and Cowens, or even Laimbeer and Abdul-Jabbar?

Instead, we have a disappearing act who slumped by his locker after the game with his arms crossed, looking at his feet.

A reporter tried to ask something. “Did it make a big difference that–“

“It doesn’t matter what makes a big difference,” he said. “We have to make a big difference.”

Wrong pronoun, big man.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 1-313-223-4581 or Listen to “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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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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