I am standing on a basketball court, before a dozen young women dressed in miniskirts and boots. They are dancing to the music of the Isley Brothers. I am looking at my clipboard. I have decisions to make.

“Piston Girls,” I say.

“Piston Girls?” you say.

You heard me. Laker Girls? Piston Girls. That is the way we think from now on. Tonight, at the Silverdome, will be the first sneak preview of this year’s NBA finals, a rivalry that will steal the headlines this summer. Lakers-Pistons. We need Piston Girls.

“Aren’t you jumping the gun a bit?” you ask. “Isn’t it still the first half of the regular season?”

“You, you, you, and . . . you,” I say, pointing to the dancers when the music stops. “The rest, thanks for coming. Next?”

I am looking past the regular season. I am looking past the preliminary series with Chicago and Atlanta and Boston. I am looking past the Dominiques and Michael Jordans and Larry Birds and to a Magic Man and a balding center. I am looking down the barrel of the NBA finals.

I see Detroit and Los Angeles.

“Celebrities!” I yell into a courtside telephone, “get me celebrities. They have Jack Nicholson, Walter Matthau, Rob Lowe. No problem. We get Bob Seger and Diana Ross. We get Eddie Murphy to wear the Lions jacket he wore in his movie. We get George Peppard. We get Madonna . . .”

“Madonna?” you say. Rivalries in their infant form

Read my lips. B-I-G T-I-M-E. Think it. Feel it. Live it. No more of this kowtowing to the Celtics. The Celtics came in here a little while ago and got hammered. Doesn’t Los Angeles have the best record in the NBA? Isn’t Detroit right there, just barely behind?

Isn’t the matchup between Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson the most natural of all season-ending conclusions, a battle to see who can smile the most during a 48-minute game? I see Magic spinning to the hoop for a reverse hook, and Isiah shaking his head and laughing. I see Isiah driving to the basket, banking it in backwards, as Magic rolls his eyes and makes a joke.

I see the rivalries in their infant form. Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, the aged, thoughtful, spider-legged center, versus Bill Laimbeer, the moose man. Adrian Dantley on the same court as A.C. Green. A.C. vs. A.D.? Too good. Too good.

“But the Pistons don’t even have a lock on their division,” you say.
“They’re going to have to fight just to win the Eastern Conference. It’s too early for this. It’s too early for–“

“MUSIC!” I say to the man who has arrived with a crate full of tapes. “At last! Quick. We need a song. Something we can play every time they play ‘I Love LA.’ Something original.”

“How about ‘I Love Detroit?”‘ he says.

“Work on it,” I say.

This is what I see: the defensive gems of Michael Cooper and Joe Dumars; Rickey Mahorn and Kurt Rambis in a bumping match; Mahorn saying: “Get off my back, Clark Kent.”

I see Chuck Daly, the Pistons coach, taking on Pat Riley, the Lakers coach, in a battle for sartorial superiority. Daly opens with a Giorgio Armani suit, while Riley counters with a Perry Ellis. In a bold move, Daly retreats to the locker room and emerges — like Riley — with his hair greased back. Only on Daly, it looks like an Irish bartender from 1947. I see this. I see all this.

“There’s still over 50 games left,” you say. “How can you prepare for anything with 50 games left? How can you even think about–“

“ARETHA!” I say, greeting the woman in the long mink coat. “Good to see you! You know all the words to the national anthem, right?” Oh, ignore the consequences

Think big, be big, my friend. These great rivalries don’t just happen. You work at them. Might as well begin tonight. That way, you have a full head of steam come the playoffs.

So let us see a few harmless growls between John Salley and James Worthy. Let us plant seeds of friction between Dennis Rodman and Mychal Thompson. Let us hear Byron Scott call to VinnieJohnson: “Yo, flathead.”

Let us re-paint the locker rooms “Hatfields” and “McCoys.” Give everyone a pair of sunglasses. Charge triple for tickets and make believe there are none left anywhere . . .

“Hold it! Hold it!” you scream. “This is really going too far. The NBA season is very long. Anything can happen. Injuries. A losing streak. Think about the consequences.”

“Maybe you are right,” I say, looking at the tapes, the banners, the dozens of scantily clad applicants for the Piston Girl jobs. “Maybe this is a little premature. Maybe I’m moving too fast. I’ll cool off a bit. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

I watch as you nod approvingly, then take your coat and walk down the hall. I hear the click of the door knob behind you.

“Next group?” I say.

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