News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Given to Fly

June 2, 2006

Given To Fly: Look for Pistons to play music of champions

TERRE HAUTE — I’ve been through Detroit before, but never had I entered the Palace of Auburn Hills until recently.

It’s not the Boston Garden, but there is some basketball tradition there.

When I was about eight years old, one of my first NBA memories was the Pistons taking down Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and the L.A. Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Standing through the Pearl Jam concert May 22, I was opposite the Pistons’ championship banners and probably not all that far from where Ron Artest jumped into the stands last season. (Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready did a little Artest impression, but he was welcomed into the stands.)

Five songs into the show and a day after the Pistons beat the Cavaliers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference playoff series, Eddie Vedder’s first words were in honor of the hometown team.

“I think a congratulatory toast is in order …,” Vedder began. “I know It’s harder than hell to find a job in this town, but you certainly have a good basketball team.”

Even though Detroit is partly responsible for the Pacers’ demise — Artest was the Pacers’ best player and gave them the toughness to compete with Detroit — the Pistons’ lineup of Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups is one of the best ever assembled.

They were good before acquiring Rasheed Wallace and, love him or hate him, he is the most versatile talent in the league. And I like that he says what he thinks. Yeah, he’s arrogant. But what athlete doesn’t expect his team to win every game. The key to Detroit’s success is Rasheed spreading out the defense with his 3-point shot.

I won’t argue that these Detroit Pistons’ teams are better than the days of Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars — at least not yet — but when they’re playing well, the 21st century Pistons play team basketball better than anyone.

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