Pistons Firing in the D

I’m keeping my Pistons love separate from my general basketball love – the sport is wonderful as a whole, but sometimes, I just gotta support my team. Or critique them, as any loyal fan has a right to do.

I wasn’t always a Pistons fan. In fact, growing up, I viewed the Bad Boys moniker as more description than source of pride. I liked the Jazz with Malone and Stockton, possibly the greatest combo in league history; I liked the Kings and Warriors, because I had family in Sacramento and San Francisco, and Run TMC – the most exciting offense until Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” teams in Phoenix. Dominique Wilkins was my original Human Highlight Reel who made the Hawks always a pleasure – and Spud Webb was my size.

And of course, Jordan and the Bulls. I lived in an area without a “home team” (the Timberwolves came close), and Jordan was transcendent at a time when Bird and Magic were bringing the league to national prominence.

Then there were those Bad Boys. I liked the 1989-90 team that knocked off Portland for their back-to-back title, as if the repeat was necessary for me to respect them – and I don’t think I was unique in that. Maybe it was Magic being limited by a hamstring injury in the 1989 Finals that made you wonder, but probably it was because it felt like Jordan should have been the one to end the Lakers-Celtics era.

But the Bad Boys were more than a transition from the Showtime of the 1980’s to the Jordan-dominated 1990’s. While they didn’t have the long run that the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls would all have, a team doesn’t just show up for three consecutive Finals from nowhere. The way they ended may have played a role in their reputation, but after going to three Finals, who wouldn’t have the desire to just walk off rather than watching the annointed one celebrate on your court? Outside of Pistons fans, it looked petty, and marred their legacy.

I was away from basketball the last time the Pistons won a championship, which came before the latest annointed one was able to dominate the league. Yet those Pistons were also sneaky-good, playing in back-to-back Finals (again ending a Lakers mini-dynasty), and appearing in six straight Eastern Conference Finals. Ben Wallace quietly won 4 Defensive Player of the Year awards, and not-so-quietly had the best ‘fro in the league.

Then they struggled, again. Joe D., crucial to the first two titles and architect of the third, made gambles that stopped paying off, the biggest being the trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. They turned into a team that felt like it should have been decent, but on the court they were more dysfunctional.

I’ll admit, I didn’t like the Stan Van Gundy hiring, especially with the power he was given over the roster. I had liked Brandon Jennings, I had liked Josh Smith, and I was convinced that the team’s struggles were more to do with the coaching. Reggie Jackson staying as starting PG once Jennings was healthy? Was he nuts?

Nope. Like he did in Orlando, SVG is building a team around a dominant, uniquely talented center, putting the right pieces around him and defining the team through a defensive grind.

This is a great time to be a Pistons fan. If Andre Drummond can learn to shoot free throws, he’ll be one of the best overall players in the league; even without the free throws, he’s in the top 2-3 centers in the East, if not the league. Tobias Harris will not be the biggest star on the team, but like Draymond Green in Golden State, he can be the player who contributes in the most ways, and who you don’t want to lose for any time. Reggie Jackson is our best PG since Billups.

But it’s not just what happens on the court that endears the Pistons to me. More than the other Detroit teams, the Pistons are trying to identify the team with the community. It’s not just that “the team has stars, you want to buy jerseys and overpriced tickets,” it’s that the team understands the grind of coming back from the bottom, putting in the work to try to inch ahead. That attitude is why we can love a team that squeaked into the Playoffs to get swept by the Cavs – the “King” might have been 4-0 against this crew, but we made him work for it.

Now it’s time to get back to work, to build on last season. Detroit Basketball. Nothing I’d rather watch.

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