I was lying in bed late Wednesday night making some notes for this blog when I looked up from my pad and did a double take. I had my Toronto hotel room in mind’s eye and it took me a second to remember that I wasn’t there anymore. This was New York and that other room was yesterday.
Life on the road is a world unto itself.
The Pistons do everything in their power to give the players and the rest of us in the traveling crew the best of the best, and that’s why nobody complains. Things run like clockwork and many of the thorny logistics of travel are eliminated for us. But when you arrive in a city a 2 am after a long day and a game that night, it can be disorienting. We all wonder what travel must have been like years ago, when teams flew commercial, stayed in mid-range hotels and had to share rooms.
We took five bus rides in Toronto yesterday. True story. Back and forth to the Air Canada center for practice in the morning. Then it was back to the arena for the game and then back on the bus to go to the airport. We had to stop at US Customs in Buffalo – that blew an hour and a half -- and then after we landed in Jersey, we took the fifth and final bus ride to the hotel in New York City.
It was a nice win over the Raptors to start the road trip. The players were all pleased to see Mike James and congratulate him. James was on the title team in 2004, but like many reserve players, it’s hard to stick with a champion. James finally came into his own this year in Toronto, his 6th NBA team in five years after kicking around in Europe and the CBA. His is a classic tale of passion and determination. When team after team gave up on him, he never wavered in his self-belief. He’s also better off where he is. Chauncey Billups makes every point guard an automatic second stringer and James wouldn’t have been able to emerge here.
New York is always a fascination and the Pistons loss there was unexpected. Rasheed and Rip got tossed in the third period, letting the emotions of inconsistent officiating get the better of them. Everyone knows how tough it is to officiate an NBA game with all the contact and fast paced action. You get a bad call in the heat of the action and lose your composure.
Flip Saunders told me that Raheed and Rip need to play with a little edge. But you can’t step over that edge. Over 82 games, everything will happen at least once, and on this night, two guys got tossed.
The Knicks were emotional that night. The Larry Brown / Stephon Marbury dispute was spilling over in a very public and ugly way and the Knicks played very hard in an effort to take attention away from it. They wore green uniforms in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and utilized the motivation of playing the NBA’s best team to their advantage.
The Pistons haven’t played as well as they can for about a month or so, but in a strange way, I think that’s a good thing. Flip keeps saying that the key is to be playing your best after 82 games, and no team can be expected to play like the Pistons did the first half season when they went 36-5. Although they are in a virtual tie now, The Pistons will crank it back up and edge Dallas for the best record. The key is that the Pistons have 11 home games left to the Mavs seven. Can’t wait for them to come here March 28.
We flew to Charlotte Friday night after the Knick loss and beat the Bobcats Saturday night. Again, the Pistons played poorly but still pulled it out in the end to finish the trip 2-1.
David Thompson was at the Bobcats game and that was a trip down memory lane for some of us. In April, 1978, in the last game ever played at Cobo Arena, Thompson scored 73 points before a sparse crowd. He was battling George Gervin for the scoring title and Gervin got 63 in his final game to edge Thompson 27.21 to 27.15 points per game. I was a radio reporter on WJZZ-FM, George Blaha broadcast the game on WPON in Pontiac because WJR carried a Tigers game instead, and our director, Pete Skorich was a ballboy.
Thompson did an interview with me in the 4th quarter and remembered every detail of the game. He would have been an all-time great but succumbed to cocaine addiction. He’s written a book, “Skywalker” about his life and recovery and is also a motivational speaker.
We got back about 1:30 Saturday night on Roundball Two, which was featured in our halftime show. The plane makes the travel much more bearable. We eat well, don’t have to mess with airport security and there are no delays.
This first year as sideline reporter has been a terrific adventure. I’ve come to appreciate the professionalism of everyone in the organization: from the incredible preparation of the coaches; to the seriousness of the players; to the attention to detail to the logistics of getting 30 people and a ton of baggage from one place to another.
It’s all in the quest of a championship – a goal still well within the reach of this remarkable team.