Top dozen lies of the revisionist "Bad Boys" documentary

June 4, 2014

Despite ESPN’s nonstop love-fest with LeBron James, and the inarguable fact that he is the best player in the NBA and has been for some time now, an astounding 72% of basketball fans apparently want the San Antonio Spurs to beat the Heat.

If this were some other relatively small market team going against the Heat, one might be led to believe that NBA fans were merely “rooting for the underdog” against the two-time defending champions. But of course, that is hardly the case here as the Spurs are perennial contenders and Tim Duncan already has four NBA championships.  Thus, this is no pity party for the Spurs, but a genuine dislike of the Heat.

Furthermore, many in the ECBM ("East-Coast-Biased Media") would suggest that the Miami Heat, now in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, should be included among the NBA’s greatest teams of all time if they beat the Spurs.

These thoughts led me to get around to finally reviewing the last significant documentary on NBA history that came out in April, the 30 for 30 documentary “Bad Boys” about the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a time remembered as a “golden era” by many NBA fans.

From this writer’s perspective, the current Heat team and the “Bad Boy” Pistons have two things in common: (1) they were disliked and (2) overrated.

In “Bad Boys” we get to hear history from the perspective of one of the most reviled teams ever in the NBA (outside of Detroit), the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons.

The movie does allow the Pistons to tell an engaging story, and it cannot be denied that any serious examination of history must take into account multiple narratives. However, considering the dearth of quality documentaries on that golden age of NBA basketball, there is the possibility that less informed viewers will accept “Bad Boys” as gospel truth.

Well here at the DSH we feel compelled to take “Bad Boys” to task for the instances we believed they stretched the truth, in chronological order.

The Dozen Lies of the Revisionist “Bad Boys” Documentary

12. Dennis Rodman was understandably confused when he made his infamous and ignorant comments about Larry Bird in 1987. Isiah was also somewhat confused because he was agreeing with a comment he had not directly heard.

“Larry Bird was God in the NBA, like the Great White Hope. So I said If Larry Bird was black he’d just be a regular old basketball player, and, I didn’t realize what I’d said.” – Dennis Rodman.

One can say “Bad Boys” is consistent in this way: The Pistons players are almost never apologetic or regretful for anything they did or said when they played. Thus, in “Bad Boys” neither Dennis Rodman nor Isiah Thomas express regret over their foolish comments – both still act like they were somehow victims of a misunderstanding.

At the time the original controversial comments were made Larry Bird had won the last 3 MVP awards, and in that particular 1986-87 season Bird averaged 28.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 7.6 APG. He had also just finished abusing the Pistons for 37 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists in Game 7.

The motivation for Rodman’s comments were as clear then as they are today: He had been torched repeatedly by an opposing player and had lost a highly contested playoff series. So when asked about Larry Bird, Rodman just lashed out and called him overrated – something sore losers like the Pistons of that era tend to do. Rodman was ignorant and stupid, and Isiah’s decision to back Rodman’s comments were equally so. But neither were unaware of what they were doing.

11. The foul on Bill Laimbeer against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 14 seconds to go in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals was universally recognized as an injustice at the time.

Only the blind do not see Laimbeer jumping forward and bumping Kareem as he is going up for the Sky Hook. In the words of Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham on the CBS broadcast matter-of-factly reviewing the replay a second after it happened: “There was the foul - Laimbeer bumping his left shoulder.”

(Kareem did travel though, the replay is also clear on that. However, getting away with travelling is hardly uncommon in the NBA and the real contention by the Pistons is that there was no foul).

It can be reasonably argued whether Laimbeer bumps Kareem hard enough to warrant a foul. However, few seem to recall that the late foul on Laimbeer for jumping forward into Kareem’s left shoulder as he shoots his patented sky hook was similar to several fouls Laimbeer had been called for doing the exact same thing to Kareem during that series. The most recent prior example was with 24 seconds left in the first half of that same game.

Whether or not you think the contact was sufficient enough to warrant a foul call, there should be no dispute that Laimbeer should have realized he might be called for bumping Kareem like that.

10. The “unfair” foul call on Laimbeer in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals is the main reason the Pistons lost to the Lakers that year.

Not only are the "Bad Boys" apparently still crying about that call years later, true to character, they actually believe that the call is the only thing that denied them the Championship! Thus, the documentary gives you a taste of their whining ways on this subject and Thomas clarified his position on the subject after watching the documentary.

“Had that call not been [against Laimbeer] our place in history is totally different…LA got gifted one [NBA Title], so they ended up having five. Had we won that one, our team would have been looked at in a different light.”

The comment reveals Isiah Thomas’ continued lack of class. Champions don’t blame a referee’s call on one play for failing to win an NBA championship.

A review of some of the actual facts about that series that “Bad Boys” unsurprisingly omits adds a different perspective to Detroit’s imagined story of persecution.

First of all, the Pistons were actually up three with under a minute to go in Game 6 before Byron Scott hit a jumper to cut it to one. The Pistons missed their next shot, setting up Laimbeer’s foul on Kareem.

So Kareem hits the free throws, but oh yeah, the Pistons still had the ball with 14 seconds left after Kareem sank the free throws. So what happened next you might ask? Joe Dumars misses a driving layup attempt and Byron Scott is fouled with 5 seconds left. Scott misses both free throws but the Pistons fail to secure the rebound cleanly and Isiah is forced to jack up a 65-footer.

Game 7? The Pistons led at the half but let that lead slip away too. Then, after they rallied late in the game they had the ball down three with 41 seconds to go. Dennis Rodman inexplicably launched and missed a 20-foot jumper on the fast break, blowing the last reasonable Pistons chance to tie the score.

In short, the Pistons had numerous opportunities before and after Laimbeer’s alleged “phantom” foul that had a major bearing on them losing Games 6 and 7 of the series.

9. Byron Scott played in the 1989 NBA Finals for the Lakers.

When discussing the Pistons were going to face the Lakers in the 1989 NBA Finals, the video shows Lakers starting guard Byron Scott getting off the bus with the rest of the Lakers…as if he was about to play in the series. Although it is never mentioned in the documentary, Scott, who averaged 19.6 PPG and shot 40% from beyond the arc that season, never played a minute in that series due to a hamstring injury.

The Lakers had ripped through the 1989 Western Conference playoffs undefeated (11-0) and had more than a week off before playing the Pistons. An antsy and paranoid Pat Riley insisted the Lakers have a mini-training camp while they waited to play the Finals. Riley pushed the Lakers hard, resulting in Byron Scott’s season-ending blown hamstring before the series started. The Lakers players were all angry at Riley because they knew that his “mini-camp” was the cause.

8. The Pistons aggressive play and targeting of Magic Johnson on offense was responsible for his physically breaking down with a hamstring injury in the 1989 NBA Finals.

“[The Pistons] D led the way again to win Game 1. And in Game 2, the Lakers began to crack…”- Kid Rock (narrator)

“If we pushed them…we knew they were old and going to fold.” – Bill Laimbeer

The Lakers (without Byron Scott) indeed lost to the Pistons in Game 1 decisively. However, they were playing great in Game 2 when Magic Johnson (who had 18 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes), went down with a hamstring injury in the third quarter that effectively ended his series. Though they were up by eight after three quarters, without Magic the Lakers were outscored 24-13 in the final quarter and lost 108-105.

The previously mentioned Pat Riley mini-camp was the real reason Magic Johnson, like Scott before him, blew out his hamstring. Some may recall that Magic Johnson had averaged 22.5 PPG and 12.8 APG that season and was MVP of the league.

7. Dennis Rodman and Rick Mahorn shut down the Lakers frontline in the 1989 Finals sweep.

“In Game 4, ‘the master’ took his turn [guarding James Worthy] as the Pistons went for the sweep…” – Kid Rock (narrator)

“Rick Mahorn nitpicked and nitpicked and nitpicked until James Worthy broke down...”- John Salley.

Rick Mahorn handled James Worthy? Please.

In Game 3 of the ’89 Finals Worthy scored 26 points on 50% shooting against Rodman and 42-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had his best game of the season - 24 points, 13 rebounds – against the allegedly fearsome tandem of Mahorn and Laimbeer. In Game 4, Worthy, far from stuggling and suffering a “breakdown,” scored 40 points on 17/26 shooting.

The Lakers actual problem in that series was competing with Detroit’s backcourt, especially when their own starters were out with injury. Detroit’s backcourt trio of Thomas, Dumars, and Johnson badly outscored the Lakers backcourt in Game 3 (74 to 32) and Game 4 (51 to 19). But emphasizing the advantage of the Pistons backcourt talent doesn’t serve the documentary’s consistent desire to overplay the influence of the consistently overrated Pistons “physical” frontline.

Despite their enormous handicap, the Lakers were hardly crushed by the Pistons in either Game 3 or 4 of the 1989 NBA Finals. The short-handed Lakers actually led going into the fourth quarter of both of those games before losing to the deeper, healthier Pistons.

6. The Pistons 1989 Finals victory effectively ended the Showtime era in Los Angeles.

“Detroit swept the Lakers, ending another dynasty.”(Kid Rock narration in “Bad Boys”)

Another instance when Bad Boys chooses fiction over fact to meet its storytelling agenda.

The very next year, the 1989-1990 season, the Lakers finished with the best record in the NBA (63-19), four games better than the defending champion Pistons. In 1991, after the Bulls swept the Pistons (and actually ended that “mini-dynasty”), they advanced to the NBA Finals to play…the Lakers, who were still going strong and appearing in their 9th NBA Finals in 12 years. The real “end” of the Lakers dynasty was the day Magic Johnson announced he had contracted HIV.

5. The Pistons lost in the 1991 playoffs because they were just worn down from years of deep playoff runs (suggested by Joe Dumars).

Are you serious?

The Celtics had played in four straight finals before losing to the Pistons in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. The Lakers had done gone as deep as the Pistons had for six straight years (five NBA Finals, one Conference Final) before losing in the 1989 Finals to the Pistons.

 “Bad Boys” hardly considers that as a factor for the Pistons success in 1989 and 1990, but conveniently believes it to be relevant in justifying the Pistons drop in performance during the 1991 season.

4. The Pistons “walkout” on the Bulls while being defeated in Game 4 of the 1991 EC Finals was no different than when the Celtics starters walked off the court while being defeated by the Pistons in Game 6 of the 1988 EC Finals.

“Bill Laimbeer is all walking [upright]…and Isiah just dips around him. But the way it looked, it looked like Isiah was trying not to be seen.” – John Salley

When the Celtics walked off the court in Game 6, it was not translated as a lack of respect for the Pistons because it clearly wasn’t meant that way. If there were any doubts, one should review the footage of Kevin McHale vociferously slapping hands with Isiah Thomas as he walked off the court, imploring him to “not be satisfied” with just getting to the NBA Finals and to go out and beat the Lakers. Furthermore, there was no trash talk before or after that game between the two teams.

But no one can doubt that the Pistons were intentionally trying to make a statement to the Bulls by walking off? It was an obviously calculated decision to rebelliously spit on the Bulls.

Listening to John Salley try and explain away Isiah Thomas being caught on camera blatantly attempting to avoid eye contact with the conquering Chicago Bulls was classic. (Isiah was nowhere near close enough to Laimbeer to walk around him, but he was right next to the Bulls bench.)

 Additionally the bitter and childish comments made by the Pistons’ players after the game - Laimbeer’s terse mantra “they won” that he repeated to every question and Rodman’s refusal to credit the Bulls for anything – were consistent with the “sore loser” label they had earned.

3. Isiah Thomas was denied a spot on the 1992 Dream Team solely because of politics.

There is no doubt that politics played some role in Isiah Thomas not playing on the 1992 Dream Team. He was openly disliked by Michael Jordan, who did not want to play with him. But as Magic Johnson has pointed out in the recent"Dream Team" documentary, nobody on the team liked Isiah Thomas enough to insist that he should be on the team. Isiah Thomas had burned bridges with nearly every NBA player on the Dream Team.

The fact that is not discussed in the documentary (and rarely anywhere else), is that by 1991 Isiah Thomas no longer deserved to be on the Dream Team because as early as 1989 he was not the same player he once was. In fact, by 1989 his own teammate Joe Dumars was considered to be his equal. Of course Zeke was NBA Finals MVP in 1990 and was still capable of playing at an extremely high level through the 89-90 season. But he still was not the consistently dominant player throughout the season he once had been.

After making Second Team All-NBA in 1988, Isiah did not make a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd All-NBA Team in 1989, 1990, 1991, or 1992. During that same time, John Stockton made the 2nd or 3rd All-NBA Team each of those years. So the question was no longer whether Isiah was better than Stockton when the roster was being put together in 1991 and 1992– he clearly wasn’t – it was whether, like Magic and Bird, Isiah deserved to be a “legacy” selection for his greatness over the previous decade.

Frankly, if Isiah Thomas was playing at a first or second team All-NBA level in 1991 and 1992, it would have been nearly impossible to keep him off the team regardless of the politics.

2. The Pistons are perpetually underrated and were in fact the best team of the era.

“People didn’t want to give us any credit.” – Dennis Rodman

Nobody denied the greatness of the Pistons from 1988 until 1990. Their vaunted backcourt is still recognized.

Isiah Thomas is universally regarded as one of the top 5 point guards of all-time, and I would personally rank him third (behind only Magic and Oscar Robertson). Joe Dumars was a clutch player and the consummate professional (and, unlike the other Bad Boys, is actually liked by most opposing fans) and Vinnie Johnson was the ideal scoring punch off the bench.

Further, Rodman’s frenetic energy was impressive to every opposing team’s fan base even as he stifled the stars of those franchises.

You can’t find anyone who disputed those facts then or now.

Partly because Detroit was recognized as so talented it made it all the more perplexing to opponents why the Bad Boys chose to resort to dirty tactics as well.  Despite what the documentary suggests, the Pistons did not need to play the way they did to win games. They were just jerks who chose to play like that.

“We were the most devastating in the most devastating era.”- Mark Aguirre

This quote by Aguirre is probably the most laugh-out-loud ridiculous thing that anyone says in the documentary. He is suggesting that the Pistons were better than the Celtics and Lakers championship teams that preceded them, and the Bulls teams that proceeded them. No rational observer can take that seriously.

Perhaps my favorite scene in the documentary is when Lakers great James Worthy is asked about whether the Bad Boys intimidated the Lakers. The incredulous amusement on his face is priceless.

“Playing against the Celtics...it didn’t get any tougher, no one got any badder. You could call the Celtics bad boys back in the early 80’s.” But the Pistons? “We knew they were a good team…but Bad Boys?" Worthy asked with a big smile,"Nah, they didn’t get much respect from us.”

Amen.

1. The Pistons were a tough team, but not a dirty one. They were really hated only because they were successful at defeating the more popular franchises such as the Celtics, Lakers, and Bulls.

What a load of BS. Indeed this is the biggest lie of the "Bad Boys" documentary.

Let’s set the record straight: The Detroit Pistons of that era were hated by fans of other teams not because they won, but how they did.

The Pistons were less talented than their rivals in Boston, Los Angeles, and later Chicago. To make up for this fact, they convinced themselves that they needed to play by a new set of rules to obtain a needed psychological edge.

The methods to obtain that edge went far beyond the usual “trash talk” that many NBA players used to get opponents off their game – which the Pistons already took a step further by trashing opponents in the media as well. No, the Pistons made it clear that they were willing to injure an opponent to win the game.

As Magic Johnson once said, “It was a line you shouldn’t cross, and the Pistons crossed it all the time.”

In addition to a litany of stray elbows, slaps, and shoves, the “Bad Boys” were notorious for countless examples of poor sportsmanship, including the following:

(a) The pounding after the whistle. One player fouls you hard and as the expected whistle is blown that same player or a second player takes another free shot;
(b) The grab or jab in the, ahem, more private areas;
(c) Laimbeer’s practice of putting his foot under a jump shooter hoping he will turn an ankle. (Larry Bird noted that when he did it back to Laimbeer one time the practice stopped against him – classic Laimbeer faux toughness.)
(d) Rick Mahorn intentionally trying to step on McHale’s broken foot; and
(e) Rodman intentionally undercutting or shoving Jordan and Pippen while they were in mid-air.

Oh yeah, and they seemed to complain about the foul every time too. Real charming stuff.

The Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls of that era were equally fierce competitors, but each of those teams has subsequently earned a degree of respect from their other rivals as the years passed. This respect is noticeably absent for those Pistons teams and the “Bad Boys” are clearly bothered by it – a fact unsuccessfully hidden by the 30 for 30 documentary’s false bravado.

Too bad. That’s the price of being a team that took pride in cheap shots and exemplified a reckless willingness to injure opponents. It’s the price of wanting to be “bad boys” rather than good men.


By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for the TheDailySportsHerald.com

21 comments:

  1. Everyone knows that the Lakers really should have had 7 rings. 84 they gave away with the Henderson pass, kinda the equivalent to the Spurs losing game 6 last year on Ray Allen's shot. But even more clear was 89. LA was killing everyone and had an even better bench with Orlando Woolridge's addition, but they ONLY lost because of the 2 hamstring tears by Scott and Magic. Detroit fans are clueless when they say they should have 3 rings. They were lucky to get two with the "gift" Laker injuries. Truly they only deserved one ring when they beat weak azz Portland

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    1. Weak azz Portand took game 2 in Detroit and then lost at home because the Pistons pulled the same BS as usual, the only difference was that The Blazers are a small market team and got screwed when Detroit flopped and whined themselves into those wins like they did against The Lakers and Bulls. The Blazers were the better team, but got F-ed much more than LA or Chicago. Detroit was the most shameful example of NBA basketball ever. So don't defend one team, especially LA when Portland has been jacked by the NBA more than any team over the last 30 years.

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    2. Anonymous,

      Portland jacked by the NBA more than any other team??? What a joke!! Half of Portland's problems are their own. Bad luck with injuries, drafting Bowie over Jordan, putting together those Jail Blazer teams with a bunch of young guys who weren't ready to win. That's not the NBA. Blame your GM.

      As for the Lakers, David Stern himself vetoed the CP3 trade. If that is not blatant league interference then nothing is.

      One last point, those Drexler, Ainge, Duckworth, Porter, Kersey, Buck Williams teams were fun to watch and exciting as hell, but had no discipline and were not better than Detroit (and i agree Detroit was overrated). How many times did they come down on a fast break, make not one pass, and launch a 3 with no one there to rebound and with no effort to get in an offensive set. All the time. You can't win rings playing like that

      Delete
  2. the hundred lies of this article...

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  3. the hundred lies of this article...

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    1. Isiah,

      I saw 80s basketball and I saw the documentary, and that movie was filled with bs. They try to make it seem like they were the best team in the league. 89 was a gift ring because the Lakers lost Magic and Byron in games 1 & 2. They only had a legit win in 90. And the 88 game 6 with Kareem being fouled. What a joke. They were up 3 with a minute left. Two words: Just execute Bad Boys.

      That team Choked in the clutch repeatedly. Did it against Boston. Did it against LA. Winning is a learning process in the NBA and they had to go thru it.

      Delete
  4. Only an idiot would call a team that went to the NBA Finals three straight years and won back-to-back titles "overrated."

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  5. Anonymous,

    I think the writer is calling them overrated relative to the other true dynasties in the NBA, like the Showtime Lakers or Russell Celtics. In that sense, they simply do not measure up, and the author is correct.

    I don't think anyone believes he is trying to compare the Bad Boys to the Clippers. So in that sense, you completely missed the boat on a very obvious point. Maybe you are the "idiot"

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  6. This article is trash...no facts behind it AT ALL

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  7. I clearly remember the travesty inflicted upon the NBA by the Pistons in the 80's. They changed the game for the worse with their brutal physical tactics that sought to injure players as much as stop them. The flagrant foul rule was introduced because of them. The game became an ugly low-scoring affair because of them.

    As for facts and history. The Lakers won 5 championships in 8 years with their style of play. The Bulls won 6 in 8 years. The Pistons managed only 2 during their so-called dynasty. What is really remarkable about their second championship is that the league allowed them to bully their way to the top again.

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  8. Before anyone demonizes the Bad Boys, they should remember that a defense-oriented, dirty, physical style of play was common during that era.The Celtics did similar things during their seasons. It seems that alot of people are still sore about those Back-to-Back championship years. However, that is no reason to say that the team was sub-par or bad for the game of basketball.

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  9. This is a complete trash article. calling a team that went to the finals 3 straight times overrated is a completely false statement. The pistons were one of the greatest NBA teams of all-time, there is no disputing that. Also, the Bad Boys were not the only team using that style of play. James Worthy said that himself when he called he Celtics the "original" Bad Boys.

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  10. And also, since were talking about "dirty play", what about Kevin Mchale's clothesline of Rambis? is that any diffrent than any of Laimbeer's fouls?

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    1. Darren StevensonJune 8, 2016 at 2:27 PM

      Mr. Jones,

      You are both right and wrong on this. You are right that all the teams were physical in the 80s, the Lakers too. Yes the Celtics had a lot of dirty plays. But you are also wrong too because everyone watching basketball at the time also knew that the Pistons took physical stuff further a couple of notches compared to all the other great teams of that era. They had to because they had less talent across the board. The writer is accurate about that.

      I think the "overrated" argument is relative here too. The Bad Boys were a great team, and they could probably take out today's Warriors no problem. But the documentary tries to make it seem like they were the best of the 80s era almost. That specific notion is a flat out joke. Anyone who saw the games knows the C's, Sixers, and Lakers were better. I would put the Bad Boys above LeBron's heat, Duncan's Spurs, and Rasheed's Pistons. But those other 80's teams were better. So in that sense they are overrated (not the best team of that extremely talented decade).

      Delete
  11. And also, since were talking about "dirty play", what about Kevin Mchale's clothesline of Rambis? is that any diffrent than any of Laimbeer's fouls?

    ReplyDelete
  12. And also, since were talking about "dirty play", what about Kevin Mchale's clothesline of Rambis? is that any diffrent than any of Laimbeer's fouls?

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    1. Taken in isolation, that one play by McHale is not different, and may be worse. However, Laimbeer and Mahorn habitually were dirty and went beyond normal physicality every game. McHale did not.

      Delete
  13. This is the dumbest thing on the internet.

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    1. Sage,

      WTF? The dumbest??? What are you some Pistons fan boy ? Anyone who watched the NBA during the late 80s knows this documentary was pure propaganda to make the Bad Boys look better than they were. They played well in 88, but choked royally in the last minute of Game 6. Blundered away Game 7. They were lucky the Lakers were injured in 89. And then they picked it up , raised their game, and beat a weak Portland team. They had a short run and were fortunate to get 2 rings when they were much weaker than the NBA's other elite teams.

      Delete
  14. The writer of this article, like many of you commenting, is nothing but hypocrite. Calling out this documentary as being disingenuous (yes I realize most of you will have to look that word up) yet are making the same claims that the article makes about the documentary and the Detroit Pistons ("The Lakers only lost because of injuries," "The mean old Pistons called out opponents in the media." The only negative thing about the Bad Boys era and those Piston teams is that because of them, the top brass pussified the NBA. You can't even call it a contact sport any more with the way the rules are now. The NBA, and the rest of you short-sited, band-wagon, WEAK, fan boys, are just miffed that Detroit crashed your party. So they did the only thing they could: they changed the rules and made the game a joke. Anyone can drive the lane without worrying about paying the price all so the fans can watch a Bayy Fitness bodied sissy dunk a basketball. Hey, that's what you dorks want,so they gave it to you. Hope your satisfied with a league where a chest thumping, whiny, b^*%# like LeBron can dunk and yell and pound his chest and answer to noone for being an egomaniacal a-hole. And Mr. Panda, you should be embarrassed by all the hypocrisy in this piece. Morons.

    ReplyDelete

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