by | May 22, 1992 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

So there I was, asleep in my hammock, when my boss calls and says, “I know you’re on sabbatical, but as long as you answered the phone . . . how about attending the Ron Rothstein press conference and writing about the turmoil with the Pistons?”

My first reaction was, “Sorry. The number you have dialed is no longer in service . . .” But I actually said, “OK,” because it’s time we all wiped the sleep from our eyes when it comes to this once-proud basketball team.

Are you ready for some truth?

First of all, any press conference that begins with the general manager announcing he is interviewing for another job can’t be very promising. The fact that Jack McCloskey already has his Bloomfield Hills house up for sale further suggests a quick exit. Heck, he might make that trip to Minneapolis this weekend and never come back.

And Rothstein can’t be happy about that, because Jack hired him — after keeping him on the taxi squad all year. Hey. I really like Ron. He’s an excellent coach. But anyone who thinks he got this job under normal or even respectable conditions needs a cold shower. The way McCloskey used him — putting him in as a TV analyst to hover over Chuck Daly like a vulture — was not nice. It was ruthless.

(By the way, I find it funny both men deny this job was earmarked, when Jack admitted, “Ron has scouted every team in the West for me this year.”)

Hmmm. Is that normally part of a TV analyst’s job?

Did I mention Tom Wilson? He’s the new Pistons president. He was all smiles last week. Now he might be left without a GM — or a scapegoat. Remember, if the team goes plop next year, fans won’t point to McCloskey. They’ll look to the new prez.

So Tom can’t be too happy.

Neither is Dennis Rodman. He doesn’t want to play here anymore.

In fact, the only person happy, near as I can tell, is Isiah Thomas. And there’s a reason for that:

This is what he wanted.

Look. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble. But it is about time people realized that what Isiah wants with this team, he pretty much gets. He was not sorry to see Chuck Daly go, given what happened with the Olympic team.

Chuck’s gone.

And he is happy to see Rothstein get the job, because he likes Ron and feels he can still get his way, because Rothstein knows who the real power is in Pistonland.

Ron is hired.

As for McCloskey? Well. Remember how Bill Laimbeer’s outburst late in the season just “crushed” Jack’s spirit? That outburst was done with the blessing and encouragement of Isiah Thomas, who — although he won’t admit it — will be happy to see Jack go.

Which will happen soon.

As for Wilson, the new president? In some ways, he and Isiah are alike: They both are favored sons of owner Bill Davidson, who has rewarded each with enormous power. It is that unique relationship with the owner that allows Isiah to swing his weight all over this Pistons franchise.

And he does.

Am I shocking you here?

Maybe so. And maybe that is our fault. We all loved the Pistons during their glory years. They were great for our city. But maybe all of us — including the media — were too much in love to pursue aggressively what was really going on. We all wanted to believe things were hunky-dory, players were sweet, management was kind, everyone was happy.

But that simply isn’t so.

Look around you.

James Edwards is gone. Vinnie Johnson is gone. Daly is gone. And there goes McCloskey — who two years ago was considered a genius around here. He is 67 years old, stubborn as an old car on a cold morning, and suddenly, he is told to answer to Wilson, an apple-cheeked president with no NBA basketball experience?

Hell with that, he figures. He doesn’t need this job. He doesn’t need this abuse. There are plenty of teams that would love to have him.

“You won’t get me to say anything bad about this franchise,” McCloskey told me Thursday, shaking his head vigorously. “No, no, nuh-uh. I will never say anything negative about what happened here. I won’t bad-mouth them ever.”

Funny thing is, I didn’t ask him to.

Does that sound like a man who plans on staying?

Of course not. Why would he? He now knows the players — not just Thomas and Laimbeer, but Rodman and John Salley and several others — truly despise him for what they perceive as team-destroying actions. Why stay under those conditions?

As for Rothstein, the man McCloskey nurtured until Daly walked away? I hope Ronnie succeeds. I am not bothered by his poor record with Miami. For one thing, that team stunk. Besides, Daly was a pretty bad coach statistically when the Pistons hired him.

But I wonder if Rothstein will even get a full-shake effort from disgruntled Pistons players such as Rodman.

“No offense to Ronnie, but what he and Jack did to Chuck Daly was wrong,” Dennis told me Thursday morning, before leaving for Texas. “I don’t feel comfortable playing for the Pistons right now. I may hold out of training camp.”

Hmmm. Under such a cloud, Rothstein announced he will soon begin three-a-week workouts during the summer. “Optional for all players,” he said.

So I guess Dennis is excused.

And I’m sure Mark Aguirre and William Bedford will be delighted to give up their summer mornings to run drills in a gym.

Listen, I know this is no fun to hear, and I don’t particularly enjoy writing it. But I could name five players or front-office types who said of Thursday’s developments, “This is a joke” or “This is ridiculous.” I could name them, except none of them would say anything for the record. Nobody wants to come out and state what’s really going on here, perhaps because of fear of repercussions from Isiah, or Wilson, or Davidson, or . . . well, take your pick.

But like the old saying goes, “You have not converted a man just because you have silenced him.” And you do not own the public just because you have fooled it.

The Pistons are being operated with a lot of back-stabbing and smiling faces that lie. That’s ugly. But it’s the truth.

I figured as long as I was jolted out of a comfortable sleep, you might as well be, too.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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