By Craig Pearson
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.
Offensively, Steve Nash leading that up-tempo offense in Phoenix is more fun to watch. I hope you all saw Ben Wallace reject Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday at Detroit. Big Ben came from the top of the lane to stuff Shaq, who had disposed of Rasheed Wallace with the force of his 325 pounds.
Maybe Ben and Rasheed inside, along with Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess off the bench is a stronger group than Laimbeer, Rodman, Rick Mahorn and John Salley.
I give the edge to the old-timers. Those days were great for the NBA. You went straight from Larry Bird’s Celtics battling the Lakers to the Bad Boys and then on to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls’ dynasty.
As much as a lot of people dismiss the NBA these days, the entertainment of this year’s playoffs has been hard to beat. There were a record nine overtime games in the playoffs before they even got to the Conference Finals.
Maybe Pearl Jam — the band’s first name was Mookie Blaylock after the former NBA point guard — would have made a stop in Indianapolis on the first leg of this tour if the Pacers had a team that could compete with Miami, Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix. Sorry Pacers fans, some work needs to be done, but, hey, Dale Davis is a Piston. Root for Dale to get a ring.
The best four teams made it to the Finals. Sorry San Antonio, Dallas proved deeper. How about that Devin Harris out of Wisconsin?
The Suns’ style of play has changed the game. Imagine Phoenix running all over Miami. Steve Nash deserves a ring, and if he can do it without a true big man (Amare Stoudemire), that would be an awesome accomplishment.
My picks are the Pistons winning two more with their backs against the wall to play Dallas, but a Phoenix-Detroit NBA Finals is my preference.
Pistons will let it reign with their second title in three years.
I I I
n MVC tournament in Des Moines — The Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball tournament will take place in Des Moines, Iowa, on the campus of Drake University in 2007, the Valley announced last week.
Drake will have the most talented and seasoned team in the league next season led by frontrunner for the next Jackie Stiles Award in 6-foot-1 Jill Martin. So perhaps the Missouri Valley Conference can send a quality representative to the Missouri Valley Conference this time around.
As you might imagine, Indiana State Coach Jim Wiedie has much to say on this topic. There’s not enough space in this column so watch for that soon.
Craig Pearson can be reached by phone after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4356 or by email at email@example.com.