Friday, June 06, 2008

Red Wings vs. Pistons

Although my feelings on sports is nowhere near as strong as they were when I was young(er), it was exciting recently with my favorite NBA and NHL teams simultaneously in the playoffs. And now with both the Red Wings' and Pistons' seasons now over due to either winning the championship or elimination, I've come to terms not just with my feelings on either team but both sports in general.

First, the Pistons. Watching this team since their 2004 championship has been absolutely painful and infuriating. Although I wholeheartedly root for the Pistons, I've come to realize that I really don't like the team on a personal level...with the exception of McDyess, Hunter, Maxiell, and Prince. And I have to admit that I still love Rasheed Wallace...but that could be the Carolina fan in me strongly affecting my feelings...because Wallace is at fault as much as the others for failing. I still truly believe that if Larry Brown were still coaching the Pistons, he could have (and would have) squeezed at least one more championship out of these guys and/or at least got them into the finals during Flip's years. I mean, check out this from Stephen A Smith's article on Flip Saunders' dismissal:
Plus, Saunders wasn't Larry Brown.

"We still love LB," one player said, requesting anonymity. "LB was something special. He knew his stuff but also knew us to a tee.

"I remember one game [Pistons guard Chauncey Billups] put up like 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. He was one assist away from a triple-double, and ecstatic. Then LB walks up to him and says, 'You don't have a clue how to play point guard for me, do you?' [Billups] just bowed his head like a lost puppy.

"Then there's the time he calls us into a huddle like there's some emergency or something during the 2004 Finals against the Lakers. We're here thinking it's something drastic. And then he says, 'You know … I love you guys.' We all cracked up laughing and were relaxed the rest of the series.

"LB just knew how to touch us. Affect us. You don't teach that, man. You either have that relationship with the players or you don't. We respect Flip, but he doesn't have that. Curry does. And he will."

And that quote on Billups is something I've always felt. He puts up good stats, and 75% of the time he's a really good point guard. But every time I watch the Pistons play, he seems to make some of the most boneheaded moves, such as take dumb shots. He'll make some of these dumb shots, but when he did that with Larry Brown, he was reprimanded even if the shot went in. Under Brown's discipline, Billups was easily a top-3 point guard. Similar thing with Rip Hamilton. I read a quote from about a month ago where Hunter had to bring him back down to earth for taking too many stupid shots. The Pistons lineup is good enough that they don't really need a go-to guy, so Hamilton doesn't need to be taking (bad) shot after (bad) shot when he keeps missing...which I saw him do on many occasions. I love Rasheed Wallace, but it's clear that he doesn't have the mental makeup of taking over and dominating at will, as his immense talent would have you believe he could. He needs a coach he could respect, i.e., a coach he feels he isn't smarter than. That's what I believe is the main reason he respected Larry Brown so much and for the most part thrived (even though their UNC connection didn't hurt, obviously).

However, it's well documented that Larry Brown leaving the Pistons was at least half his fault (probably more). So the Pistons should've sucked it up and not been such brats under Saunders. Their playing down to the competition was real for anybody who really paid attention to them, and they definitely played like they were entitled to everything...hence, most players on the team always bitching and complaining after any call against them. So, unless Dumars can bring in a coach that can command the players' full respect (like LB), I say blow the team up. With the exception of Rasheed and McDyess, I don't feel a strong personal connection to any of them...because, as I said already, the team isn't that likable.

On the other hand, watching the Red Wings play was almost the complete opposite. The players (old and new) all played their hearts out, and when they did fuck up, it wasn't because of lack of effort, concentration, playing down to the competition, or just acting like assholes. Nobody bitched and complained even if they might have reason to do so. They played and were a true team, and a team/franchise fans can truly be proud of and make other fans extremely green with envy.

What the Red Wings franchise has really become since the mid-90s is the closest thing to a sports "family" as you can get in pro sports. It's somewhat easier in college sports, especially basketball...but it's a term that used way too liberally. UNC (and Duke to a certain extent) are the closest thing to family as you can get in college basketball. And the Red Wings franchise sort of reminds me of Dean Smith's Carolina program. Players are developed from within the franchise - whether they're a first round pick or a 10th round pick...and free agents come for less money than they can get elsewhere because not only do they have a chance to win, they're treated like a family by ownership. It's like, once a Red Wing, you're a Red Wing for life.

That's why the Red Wings are almost always contending for the Stanley Cup and the New York Rangers are either mediocre or just plain bad, even though their total salary matched or surpassed Detroit...pre-salary cap and salary cap eras.

Watching both the Red Wings and Pistons also got me thinking about just the sports themselves. I've always maintained that at every sports' most exciting moments, when they're played the right way with tons of drama and clean play, hockey is easily the most exciting sport. And my feeling on that is as strong as it's ever been. It's a shame that hockey is only a niche sport, even though I completely understand why that is. Despite the excitement of hockey, maybe because of sheer lack of exposure in the media, even I have to admit that I know less about teams and players even without being a diehard NBA fan. That's why I'd probably watch the NBA finals no matter who is playing, and that's why I'd watch the NCAA Tournament and championship no matter who's playing. If the Red Wings didn't play in the playoffs or Stanley Cup Finals, I'm not quite sure I would've watched it.


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