HE’S THE LINK FROM BAD BOYS TO TODAY

LOS ANGELES — This was Sunday night, just minutes after the Pistons had stunned the Lakers in Game 1 at the Staples Center. Lindsey Hunter, still sweating, looked up to see Joe Dumars, the team president, inches away from him.

“Listen, before the media comes in,” Dumars said quickly, like a captain issuing orders to his first mate, “make sure everyone knows. No crazy statements. And focus on Game 2.”

Hunter nodded. And that interaction says a lot. It reminds you that Hunter and Dumars were once teammates, sharing the ball and the locker room. It also shows that when Dumars needs to send a message through a team member, Hunter is his man.

Why shouldn’t he be? More than any other player on the Detroit roster, Hunter carries the voices of others inside him — sometimes Lakers, sometimes Pistons. It’s an unusual time for the 33-year-old backup point guard with the face of a boy, the resume of a veteran, and the only championship ring on any Piston’s finger. He was drafted by Detroit to play with Dumars, traded by Detroit at the hands of Dumars, and returned to Detroit by — who else? — Dumars.

And one of his in-between stops, of course, was right here, in L.A., where he won a championship with the 2002 Lakers. Shaq and Kobe were his teammates then. Phil Jackson was his coach. Purple and gold were his uniform colors.

But his house was in Detroit.

And his family was in Detroit.

And his heart was . . . well, you know the rest.

The life in La-La Land

“Oh, it was definitely cool being here that season,” Hunter says, sitting at the practice facility where he once broke a sweat with the Lakers. “I mean, I remember I saw Denzel Washington — and he’s one of my favorites — and he said, ‘What’s up, Lindsey?’ and I was like, ‘He knows who I am! Man!’ I met a lot of stars that way. Samuel Jackson, guys like that. It’s a circus out here. It’s crazy.”

He looks around at the press corps collected for the Pistons. While large, it is not as large as those chasing after the Lakers, a fact that makes him smile.

“That’s just how it is; we’re not as star-studded.” He laughs. “Hey, they got four Hall of Famers.”

That’s OK. For Hunter, what Detroit lacks in stars, it makes up for in grounding. He didn’t sell his home in Michigan. Not after he was traded to Milwaukee, not after he went to L.A., not after L.A. sent him to the Toronto Raptors.

“Detroit has been home since I was drafted,” he said. “That’s where my kids were born. That’s why getting to the Finals as a Piston means so much. And to be honest, winning a title as a Piston would mean more than winning one as a Laker. When we won in L.A., I kind of celebrated with my immediate family because I really didn’t have any other people out here.

“But Detroit is the team I started with.”

His boss and former teammate

Remember, Hunter not only connects the Pistons and Lakers, he is the sole link between the old Bad Boys and this Finals incarnation. He didn’t play on any of the championship squads, but he shared a bench with Dumars and Isiah Thomas and, for a brief stretch, Bill Laimbeer.

Now he looks over and sees Laimbeer with a headset, doing Pistons broadcasts. He sees Dumars and Thomas as team presidents, wearing suits and making trades.

Only Lindsey is left in the short pants.

“It’s funny when I see those guys like that,” he says. “With me and Joe especially, since he’s my boss now.

“But when we talk, it’s still like we’re teammates in a certain way. He can share certain things with me, and I can share them with my teammates.”

Dumars knows that Hunter is telling his guys to find quiet time, to turn off the cell phones and shut the door. The biggest challenge the Pistons face this morning is making sure they don’t wake up thinking they’ve accomplished something. Hunter is one of the best weapons against such bravado.

“I knew that when I traded back for him,” Dumars says. “It was something our young guys needed.”

Hunter played pretty well Sunday, defending the Lakers’ guards and hitting a big three-pointer when L.A. was reeling. The Staples Center fell silent when he hit that shot, as quickly as it had once roared when he did that for the Lakers.

“That felt great,” he says. “But we have to be careful. We didn’t come out here to win one game. We’re trying to win the whole thing.”

He says that and you hear his voice and Dumars’ voice and Shaq’s, Kobe’s and Jackson’s voices, too. You remember that old Ian Hunter album — “You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic”? Maybe Ian is a distant cousin. There are a lot of voices rolling around in Lindsey’s brain. But this Detroit moment finally belongs to him. And oh, he’d love to make it shine.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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