And his name is Chauncey.
He was not the most famous guard on the floor Wednesday night. That distinction belonged to a guy named Kobe. You know Kobe? Best player in the NBA these days? Speaks Italian? Scores 40 points the way Sergei Fedorov skates a circle?
Kobe was the famous one, the richer one, the Chosen One. He came out of high school and has been with one team ever since, the L.A. Lakers, winning three championship rings by his 24th birthday.
Chauncey, by his 24th birthday, had been with five teams. Now, at 26, he’s with his sixth, the Pistons — and he signed as a free agent. Rings? He’s still waiting.
On paper then, this was not a fair fight. But games are not won on paper. They are won on heart and desire and sweat.
So here were the Pistons, in a tight game with the Lakers, and the fourth quarter came, and look at this: Kobe, the Chosen One, was left watching time after time, as Chauncey, the Disregarded One, threw dagger after dagger in the heart of the NBA champions.
“Too much Billups tonight,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson would say when it was over. “He made me want to throw up.”
Well now. There’s a compliment.
‘It was special,’ he says
How did Chauncey Billups do it? You got a few minutes? He hit three-pointers. His made steals. He slapped balls, keeping them alive for teammates. He made more three-pointers.
He drove on the famous Kobe and scooped underneath him for a lay-up. Just in case you missed it, he did it again. He found Jon Barry for another lay-up with a perfect lead pass, and he shuffled his feet on Derek Fisher before dropping a three in his face.
Billups was everywhere. He drove and charged and played with such abandon in the third and fourth quarters, you would have thought the last lights of his life were in that net.
Oh, and he also guarded the famous Kobe, helping keep him to a mortal 21 points.
“It was special,” Billups admitted after the Pistons’ rollicking 23-point victory, 111-88. “Kobe might be the MVP. He’s the guy right now. It was a challenge, and I wanted to step it up.”
His enthusiasm was contagious. Mehmet Okur, the Pistons’ rookie from Turkey, began lighting it up, hitting for a career-high 22. Ben Wallace, always a force, was suddenly even higher in the air, flying for 21 rebounds and denying Shaquille O’Neal.
The lead went from four to eight to 16 to insurmountable. At every major turn, there was Billups, keeping the heat on, inflating the margin. Finally, the subs came in. Billups sat down. The crowd was on its feet, roaring about his performance.
His stats, when the buzzer sounded, read this way: 33 points, six assists, three rebounds.
You know what that is? That’s a Kobe night.
But his name is Chauncey.
Not just another game
This was more than one win; this was an “A” on an important exam. The Pistons have the best record in the East, but their recent West Coast trip was embarrassing. They lost every game — including their annual Laker challenge at the Staples Center — and the whispers were Detroit was impressive only on the right-hand side of the country.
Wednesday not only stuffed that idea, it ended a terrible tradition. The Pistons hadn’t beaten the Lakers at the Palace since 1991, when the older Bush was in the White House. Wednesday gave Rick Carlisle one in his pocket over Jackson. It gave Wallace one over Shaq. It gave the Pistons at least a smattering of belief: If they can beat the best, they can beat the rest.
And Billups led the way. How fitting. Who better epitomizes this no-name squad? Overlooked? Underappreciated? Billups doesn’t know why he bounced between so many benches, but he has found a home here.
“This was the kind of night I thought I’d have when I came into the league,” he said in the locker room after most of his teammates had gone home. “It’s the first time in my career where I’ve been on this kind of a roll, where the coaches and teammates have as much confidence in me as I have in myself.”
Why shouldn’t they? Billups has been on a tear. He won the previous game against Golden State with a buzzer-beating trey. And Wednesday, from his coach to his teammates to those in the Lakers’ locker room, he was credited with being the backbreaker.
At one point during that electric fourth quarter, with a Detroit crowd once again yelling “BEAT L.A.!”, Kobe Bryant came off the bench, with his team trailing by 13. A fan yelled, “Hey, Kobe! Too little, too late!”
“Nuh-uh,” Kobe snapped back, smiling. “It’s my time.”
Wrong possessive. It was someone else’s time. His name is Chauncey. And he got it the old-fashioned way:
He played better.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).