KLIMA’S PARTY NOW A WINGS’ NIGHTMARE

Once upon a time he hid in the back of a dark Mercedes as it raced through the German countryside. He was a scared kid defecting from his homeland.

On Sunday morning, he hid in the front of his four-wheel- drive truck after it smashed into a car on Woodward Avenue. He was a drunken adult, hoping the cop wouldn’t see he’d been driving.

I don’t know what Petr Klima dreamt of when he came to America three years ago. I doubt it was prison. Or a rehab center. Or life with no paycheck. He is facing all three now.

What are the Red Wings supposed to do with this guy? Tagged as a hockey superstar from the moment he put his feet on our soil, Klima has been living the high life as if it were his destiny. He got the car. He got the house. He got the fans. He got the girls.

And he got the trouble. Drunken driving, twice. Violating curfew. Missing practice. He has been fined, suspended, arrested. And up to now, always forgiven. In fact, the Wings were about to reinstate him before he backed his vehicle into a woman’s car early Sunday morning (after leaving a bar), then drove away hoping not to be caught. When a police officer stopped him, Klima, legally drunk, tried to switch seats with one of the two women in his vehicle and pretend she had been driving instead of him.

Courage was never high on his list.

But it needs to be high on the Red Wings’. Especially now. Like a rock through their bedroom window, Klima has smashed again, tied to a note that says in big red letters: DO SOMETHING. To ignore it would be nothing short of criminal.

He goes. Plain and simple. Time for Wings to take a stand

He goes. If the doctors who are “examining” Klima find, as most people suspect, that he is not an alcoholic, that he is addicted more to the party than the punch, then the Wings should cut the strings. Easy for me to say. He’s not my investment. But he is my concern. As he is anyone’s who follows the Red Wings. A team, after all, is not just how many goals it scores; a team is what it stands for.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard,” Jacques Demers told me when I called him Monday. “I was shocked. For Petr to do that while his team was playing a game in Vancouver. I mean, the game was on the radio. You think he’d be home listening. . . .”

Maybe once. But we have heard these words before. The night before the fifth game of the NHL semifinals last spring, when Klima accompanied Bob Probert on a late-night drinking spree. “For Petr to do that . . . “

When he missed the plane after being sent to Adirondack. “For Petr to do that . . . “

Enough. Petr did it. And the Red Wings deserve better than to be sprayed with his poison everywhere they go. There are some good guys on this team, genuine sports heroes, and I don’t read a word about them anymore.

The fact is, Klima has been a pain in the butt for nearly two years. Even during his successful days, when he was skating fast and scoring often, he was selfish and self-absorbed. Demers would force a grin and say, “Petr’s really coming along.” But he knew the tinderbox he was dealing with.

So did the Wings’ higher-ups. They — general manager Jimmy Devellano, executive vice-president Jim Lites and owner Mike Ilitch — have refused to trade the star forward cheaply (or release him outright) because other teams would snatch him. What’s the alternative? Sink your current team to keep him? Devellano said Monday: “I can’t comment.” But it’s his call, not Demers’.

And he should make it. Never mind if another team rushes to pick Detroit’s garbage. Klima will at least learned there are lines you cannot cross. And the Wings will take a stand against drunken driving and big egos. Isn’t it time for something like that? Tough lessons for Klima to learn

Now. Critics might say “Wait a minute.” Wasn’t it the Wings — our team, our city — who fished Klima out of Czechoslovakia to play here? Didn’t we turn his head with money and screaming fans? Had we never signed him, would he be ruining some Czech team now, missing planes and partying nights?

I don’t know. The word is Klima was a rebel even behind the iron curtain. On the night he defected, the last detail he went over before stepping into the car was his contract: He wanted more money. He got it. The toll gate to freedom was dripping with cash.

So maybe it is no surprise that he turned out this way. I have been to the bar where Klima was drinking Saturday night (and has been drinking many times before). I have seen what it is like for local sports stars. They are surrounded by attractive women and back-slapping men. “Whatever you do,” they seem to coo, “You’re OK. You’re a star.”

It takes a strong personality to resist that. You would figure Klima, who gave up family, friends and birthright to come here, would have that strength.

But maybe not. Andy Warhol once predicted every American will be famous for 15 minutes. Most immigrants, however, know nothing of fame. The good life here is something they must earn, slowly, patiently, and almost always from the bottom up. Maybe it is time for Klima to learn those same lessons. From the top down.

He goes. For his own good. It was November, 1985 that an NHL goalie named Pelle Lindbergh slammed his Porsche into a wall and killed himself. He had been drinking. Enjoying his fame.

You were new to America then, Petr. Unable to read the newspapers. But you can read them now. So read this: Heroes fade. Parties end. Your dream has turned into everybody’s nightmare.

And your 15 minutes are up.

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