- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2014


ESPN must be running out of “30 for 30” documentary material, or had some film they had to use up. They devoted nearly two hours to one that examined — no, celebrated — one of the worst so-called beloved teams in NBA history, the Detroit Pistons, the “Bad Boys” who bullied the league at the end of the 1980s.

Those Pistons teams filled the void following the Magic and Bird era, and did so with elbows, fists, and bad basketball. There is nothing to celebrate about those championship teams. They should be buried, not praised.

But, of course, if you are of a certain age, growing up as a basketball fans, those Pistons teams define the time you probably fell in love with NBA basketball. Consider yourself an abused fan who continues to embrace the abuser, because it was your first love.

Look around, children of that time, for something better — something that was beautiful. Something that truly took the NBA to a new level and raised the game to an art form.

Watch another documentary about NBA basketball, another upcoming “30 for 30” film that recently opened the Tribeca Film Festival in New York — “When the Garden Was Eden,” a film by actor-director Michael Rapaport about the New York Knicks teams that won two NBA championships in the early 1970s and helped NBA basketball take a big step forward on the main stage of Madison Square Garden.

Watch “When the Garden Was Eden” to see how the game is played at its best — not at its worst.

The Bad Boy Pistons battered and bruised their way to NBA championships in 1989 and 1990. The playground player in us who may remember slugging it out with our friends on the court might actually believe this is the way the game should be played.

Consider this: If the Pistons‘ style of play resembled anything you found familiar to your own, that should tell you something.

If it is great basketball — truly the highest level the game can reach — why would it look like anything you played on the playground?

The Bad Boys set the game back, and it was only by the grace of Michael Jordan that the NBA managed to save itself from banging and slamming its way out of the hearts and minds of the families of the next generation of American sports fans. And even Jordan wasn’t nearly enough.

Pat Riley had his Showtime Lakers teams victimized by the Bad Boys style of basketball, and decided when he went to coach the Knicks that he would build on it with even more physical style of play.

Those Anthony Mason Knicks teams are an abomination to what happened at the Garden 20 years earlier.

Those Knicks teams — the 1970 title team, with Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier and Dick Barnett, and the 1973 championship squad, with the additions of Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas — still resonate more than 40 years later.

It was a style of team basketball — played by a team full of future Hall of Famers — that thrived on finding the open man offensively.

Bad Boys fans will tell you their teams brought defense back to the league, after the Magic-Bird era and the Lakers’ Showtime teams.

But those Knicks teams were built on defense as well. Walt Frazier was a relentless defender, a steal machine. And if you want bruising and banging under the basketball, there was no better showdown perhaps in the history of the league than DeBusschere and Baltimore Bullets forward Gus Johnson in the playoff wars between those two.

That was defense. That was where the cry, “Defense, defense,” first began in NBA arenas, as New York fans borrowed the chant from Giants football games and brought it to Madison Square Garden.

When Monroe, the flashiest player in the league, arrived in a trade with the Bullets during the 1972 season, there was concern about how he would fit in with the Knicks‘ style of play. Monroe not only fit in but thrived, helping lead the Knicks to the 1973 title over the Lakers.

That’s because this was Eden.

There was nothing Eden-like about those Bad Boy Pistons. Their players, even the great ones like Isiah Thomas, remain despised figures, and, based on the documentary, still embrace the hate — like WWE wrestlers.

There is nothing to celebrate there, nothing to immortalize.

Watch “When the Garden Was Eden” — and see what you missed.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.



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