There is wind. There is fire. There are hurricanes and tidal waves. And then there is Adrian Dantley when he gets hungry for a championship.
Ooooh, Teacher. Do that again. Did you see it? How could you miss it? The Pistons — hold your breath, this is sweet — are now one win away from a world championship, and when they went to bed Thursday night, they may have thanked their lucky stars that the man they nicknamed “Teacher” has, like most teachers, no sense of humor.
“Have you ever seen Adrian so intense?” someone asked his best friend, Joe Dumars, after Dantley led the Pistons to a grueling, heart-thumping 104-94 victory over the Lakers Thursday to snatch a 3-2 lead in this NBA final.
“Nuh-uh,” Dumars said, shaking his head. “He’s driven now. We talk on the phone every day and he keeps saying the same thing: ‘I want it bad. I want it bad.’ “
How bad? This bad. He played every minute in the first half, he spun, he twisted, he offered his body as a human sacrifice in trade for a free throw — and he almost single-handedly yanked the momentum to his sluggish teammates until, finally, it caught fire, the Pistons lit up, and the biggest game in this season full of big games was suddenly in their pocket.
“ADRIAN DANNNNN-TLEY!” sang the announcer after a spinning lay-up.
“ADRIAN DANNNNN-TLEY!” after a corner jumper.
“ADRIAN DANNNNN-TLEY! . . . ADRIAN DANTLEY! . . . “
“Have you ever been in a groove like that?” someone asked him about his dazzling second quarter in which he scored 10 points.
“Yeah,” he said, “every year in Utah.”
Hey. He made a joke.
It was the first of the night. Until then, Dantley was not only the teacher, he was the vice-principal. Normally a silent player, Dantley yelled at John Salley (“Get your head into the game!”), he yelled at Rickey Mahorn
(“Wake up!”), he even yelled at Isiah Thomas (“Pass the bleepin’ ball!”).
This was not ego. This was not greed. On the contrary, this was hunger, guts, this was a man who has waited 12 years for this chance, and he was not going to let it slip away. And good thing. Concentration has been a problem for these Pistons during this long playoff run. And they came out Thursday as if they had missed the alarm clock. Within minutes they trailed the Lakers 12-0, then 15-2. The Silverdome fell silent.
But check out Dantley. He glared. He stared. He talked.
“One time we were siting on the bench,” said Dumars, “and he was talking so much, I felt like saying, ‘Yo, Adrian, cool out.’ “
Cool out? Adrian? You won’t hear that often. But you won’t see this often, either. The Pistons followed Dantley’s lead, in the second half they were all business — defense, offense, attitude — and lookie here. They are inside the NBA palace now. They are banging on the throne-room door.
Who would have thought it? Who would have foreseen Dennis Rodman grabbing critical rebounds and Salley slapping away Lakers basketballs and Thomas and Bill Laimbeer and Dumars marching off with the delicious sound of 41,732 fans ringing in their ears.
One away now.
This was a great game, the final scene of the movie, all the drama of 10 years of Silverdome basketball coming to a climax in one raucous, sweaty night of action. It was Kareem Abdul- Jabbar showing his tenacity, not his age, and James Edwards showing that a career’s wait for a ring makes a man do anything; it was Vinnie Johnson sticking those relief pitcher baskets, and Mychal Thompson saying, “Hey. LA has a bench, too.”
It was punch for punch, blow for blow, neither team wanting to make that journey to California with a a 3-2 deficit in the baggage compartment.
The Lakers, at times, showed the grit of champions. But the Piston showed the fangs of a challenger. And when it ended, and the mob stormed the court
— a souvenir celebration on the final night of basketball at the Silverdome
— a franchise that began in this building with puny crowds and no-name players was ending in this: a plane ticket and a championship dream that is very much alive.
One away now.
Credit Thomas, who was playing with a sore back and a brand new baby he had barely seen. Credit Laimbeer, who rejected a Magic Johnson drive in the final two minutes to set the crowd on fire. Credit Dumars, who more than anyone besides Dantley, responded the way he had to to win this game, sinking jumper after jumper after jumper.
And credit Dantley, who finished with 25 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Before the game started, he was unhappy with the mood in the Pistons locker room. Convinced the Lakers were silent and all business down the hall (they were) he hollered at several teammates for not having the proper concentration.
“A.D. was the teacher and the captain tonight,” said Salley, the object of several of his tirades. “He kept telling me I hadn’t shown anything in this series yet. I was playing mad just to prove that he was wrong.”
Well. Isn’t that what teaching is all about? Dantley taught by words, and he taught by example. In that second quarter, he simply stuck a fuse under his sneakers and lit up. (“He was on a roll like I have not seen in his two years here,” coach Chuck Daly would say.) He spun in, he spun around, he danced into the corner and let go jumper after jumper. Swish. Swish. You could feel it coming in the arc of the ball. Magic.
And when the game was finally over, and the fans were dancing on the court, and the Pistons were doing interview after interview, and preparing for their trip to Los Angeles, where they need win only one out of two to capture the NBA crown — well, there was No. 45, back to his usual business-like self. No celebrating until this is over. Until they fit him for a ring. If it takes lay-ups, if it takes jump shots, if it takes a rare but necessary verbal assault to get his teammates going . . . well, whatever.
“Have you ever yelled at your children as much as you yelled at your teammates tonight?” he was asked.
“Not yet,” he said.
Look out, kids.
One away now. CUTLINE Pistons forward Adrian Dantley pumps his fists Thursday night as Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looks on.