I sit in my robe at halfcourt. I bang my gavel on the hardwood floor. I hereby call this NBA season to order.
“Go ahead,” I say, “state your case.”
“Your honor, we are the Atlanta Hawks,” says the man with the mustache and the yachtsman’s cap. “We feel it is our turn. We have spared no expense. We have paid for Moses. We have paid for Reggie. We have Dominique. We are unique. We are not oblique. We–“
“Isiah,” I say.
“Isiah? . . . ” he says.
Surely you remember Isiah, Atlanta. Took you apart in the playoffs a couple of years ago? Made your guards look like house plants?
The bad news for you, Atlanta, is that Isiah is still here. He has been working out. He has become a TV news reporter, so that now, he can score 30 points a game and tell you about it on the 11 o’clock news. You get to the conference final this year, he will be waiting.
“Isiah? . . .” says Atlanta.
“Next,” I respond.
“Your honor, we are the Boston Celtics,” says the fat man with a cigar in his mouth. “Larry, Kevin and Dennis are very upset with what happened last year. After all, we belong atop the NBA. It’s our birthright. We were tired last season and old and weary, golly, were we weary, all those minutes, all those injuries, plus we had a bonehead coach who didn’t know the meaning of
‘bench’ — but now we’re back. We are green. We are mean. We are not serene. We–“
“Adrian Dantley,” I say.
“Adrian Dantley?” he says.
Surely you remember Adrian Dantley, Boston. The man who finally slew you in your own building? The man you could not stop in last year’s conference final? How many different guys did you use? How many taller, faster stronger men? And there he went, spinning past, banking it in, drawing the foul.
The bad news, Boston, is that Adrian is back, and hasn’t gained a pound or said a word since he last saw you. He is hungry. He is ring-crazy. And he still doesn’t like you very much. You get to the conference final, he will be waiting.
“Adrian Dantley? . . .” says the cigar man.
“Next,” I say.
One by one, they take the stand and plead their case. One by one I dismantle their dreams. Sorry, men. Not this year.
The Cleveland Cavaliers say they will come out of nowhere. I agree. Cleveland is nowhere. But as far as a championship, let me say this, and I mean it sincerely: Ha.
The New York Knicks? They say they are due. Overdue is more like it. By about a decade. But a championship? Well. Let me just say, in a language New Yorkers will understand best: Get lost.
The Utah Jazz? I hear their cry. The Dallas Mavericks? The same old story. Chicago is good. Philly has potential. Portland has talent.
So . . .
. . . what?
Turn in your briefs and close the books. The 1988-89 basketball year belongs to Detroit, signed, sealed, delivered. Deep? Chuck Daly needs a submarine to reach the bottom of his bench. Talented? The Pistons could have four 7-footers on their roster. Quick? Have you seen Isiah and Rodman run?
Did someone say hungry?
Imagine a dog that has been set loose in a bone factory — with a muzzle over his mouth. Imagine a Manhattanite who is wandering in a delicatessen – with no money. Hungry? The final seconds of the seventh game of the NBA Championship? Only to lose? Hungry? I’d say hungry is a good word for it. Ravenous is a good word for it. Personally, if Dantley doesn’t get his ring this year, I don’t want to be around.
“Let me make one thing perfectly clear, gentlemen,” I say, circling the other teams that are waiting by the foul line. “Detroit is doing this the right way, the slow, one-step-at- a-time way. Two years ago, they got to the seventh game of the semifinals and fell. Last year, they reached the seventh game of the finals and fell. What we call this, gentlemen, is championship through experience.”
“Could you repeat that, your honor?” says the man from San Antonio.
“Never mind,” I say, “you don’t have to worry about it.”
“Your honor, I represent the Los Angeles Lakers,” says the man with the slicked-back hair and the button that says: “Yep, I predicted it.” “I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain. We were the best. We are the best. We have Magic in our pocket and a Worthy cause to celebrate. We have the oldest center in the game, and the most talkative center in the game. We have Orlando. Not the city. The player. We are sleek. We are not meek. We do not squeak. We are–“
“Fat,” I say.
“Fat?” he says.
“Surely you have heard of too much success, Los Angeles? Don’t you think this is a bit . . . excessive? First the Lakers win once. Then the Lakers win again. Then Wayne Gretzky shows up. Then the Dodgers win. The Rams are threatening. USC is undefeated. Do the words “we’re sick of you” mean anything?
“The fact is, Los Angeles, you have used up all your meal tickets. By the time Magic stops smiling and Worthy signs his sneaker deals and Kareem stops acting and Mychal Thompson stops talking, the dance will be over. Detroit will have won.
“Detroit. With John Salley and Dennis Rodman, who, in their silly youth, still almost beat you in the deciding game last year. With Joe Dumars, who has been living with one lousy shot the whole summer, just waiting for another chance. With Bill Laimbeer, whose shoulder will stay in its socket this time, and Rickey Mahorn, who no longer has to lie on a towel to watch the game. If you reach the NBA final, La-La breath, they will be waiting. Same goes for the rest of you.
“Can we talk here, NBA? The Pistons are hungry. They are gifted. And they are snappy dressers. What’s fair is fair. What’s due is due. There is only room for one champion a year. Guess who gets the overwhelming nod from the court?”
“Me! Me! Me!” scream the others.
“Us,” I answer.