Detroit’s ‘Bad Boys’ were legit

Not long ago, the Detroit Pistons held a night to commemorate the 1989 NBA championship won by the so-called “Bad Boys.”

For a franchise that has basically turned into a train wreck over the past decade, it was a highlight in an otherwise drab season.

The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pistons’ home floor, was filled for the event. It was a sharp contrast to the rows and rows of empty seats seen there in recent seasons.

As late Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray once noted of a sparse crowd in Houston: “There’s a lot of people disguised as empty seats here tonight.”

I firmly believe the Bad Boys have long been greatly undervalued by sports observers around the country.

Maybe it was because they ended the stranglehold the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers had held on the league throughout most of the 1980s. Many people didn’t like seeing media darlings Larry Bird and Magic Johnson handled by the roughhouse tactics of the Pistons.

But those Detroit teams were more than thugs in basketball shorts … they could play the game.

Guards Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were superb backcourt leaders, and the sometimes mercurial Thomas was capable of big scoring explosions.

They also had burly Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer to clean up things in the middle, something they did with enthusiasm.

Laimbeer was a partcular target for opponents because he openly relished throwing elbows and doing the dirty work underneath.

Forward Dennis Rodman — a fierce rebounder – was another key part of that team’s success.

Of course, this was long before he became a painted freak who looked like a fishing lure with all his jewelry and well before he became a zany self-appointed ambassador to North Korea.

There were other key parts to the squad, including my favorite Piston, Vinnie Johnson. He was nicknamed the “Microwave” because of his ability to come into a game and immediately light things up.

I particularly liked his attitude that there was no shot he didn’t like. That philosophy was one I embraced (I was once launched 27 shots in one game) during a speckled high school career.

But Vinnie could come into a game and miss his first five or six shots, and then hit the next seven in rapid succession.

During a trip downstate in November of 1989 to cover Lake Linden-Hubbell in the state football finals, I had the chance to see the Bad Boys in person at The Palace.

The opponent that night was the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that didn’t belong on the same floor with the Pistons.

But Cleveland managed to hang around until late in the third quarter when Johnson came in to nail five jumpers in a row.

The lone remaining highlight in that game came when reserve Scott Hastings, an earlier version of the Human Victory Cigar Darko Milicic, hit a couple of baskets.

ESPN will carry a segment of its 30 for 30 series this week on the Bad Boys. It’s something any Michigan sports fan should take in.