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Vintage Whine

Nov. 05, 1990
Nov. 05, 1990

Table of Contents
Nov. 5, 1990

Games
Breeders' Cup
Warren Moon
Holyfield-Douglas
NBA Preview 1990-'91
Scouting Reports 1990-'91
Perkins
Laimbeer
Books
Reminiscence
Point After

Vintage Whine

Bad Bill Laimbeer is the NBA's consummate actor and psych artist; he's also a top-notch player

It is road-trip time for the cutest couple in the Great Lakes and their pair of cute children. Time to suit up for the van ride from their house in Orchard Lake, Mich., to their house in Harbor Springs, Mich. That's right. There's a main home on a lake and a summer home high above another lake five hours away. The cutest couple in the Great Lakes may also be one of the richest. The night before in downtown Detroit, they had hosted, more or less, a Republican fund-raising dinner for 500 or so acquaintances, including the President of the United States, whose personally autographed photographs of himself on various occasions with them are framed and displayed throughout both houses. The cutest couple in the Great Lakes may also be one of the best connected. But now it's time to leave. Keriann, three years old, is tugging on the leg of a visitor, asking for some goodbye kisses. Eric William, 5, is getting dressed in the other room.

This is an article from the Nov. 5, 1990 issue Original Layout

"Dad, can you come in here and help me with my pants?" Eric William says.

"You come out here," Dad says.

"No way," Eric William says. "I don't want to show my naked butt."

Now there's a twist. Because, as the facts so plainly reveal, in order for the cutest couple in the Great Lakes to have become so rich and famous and plugged in, that is precisely what Dad has made a career of showing, more or less, for an entire decade. That and getting his particular, fully uniformed butt kicked from here to kingdom come and points in-between.

Oh, you may be one of the "80 million Americans"—his estimate—outside the villages of Orchard Lake and Harbor Springs who have made Bill Laimbeer the most passionately hated professional athlete of this or any other era because you think he has, in helping lead the Detroit Pistons to two consecutive NBA championships, kicked other people's butts. Namely, those of your own favorite team. And he has, he has.

But just remember: Your good guys get it from Laimbeer approximately once a month until the playoffs. "The villain"—his term—gets knocked around something fierce several times a quarter every...single...game. And in endless triplicate, come playoff time. And he keeps coming back for more. In this fashion, Laimbeer is somewhat like the sadomasochistic, sociopathic scam artist played by Michael Keaton in the movie Pacific Heights. Lying nearly comatose after still another bloody beating from still another suckered victim, Keaton murmurs, "The hardest part's over."

Like Keaton's character, however, Laimbeer knows it never is. "This is my job," he says. Also, like the movie con man, Laimbeer seems to make remarkably quick recoveries from his multitude of essential thrashings.

"I have seen [Laimbeer] stick his jaw out and take a punch, fall down, get back up and point to the bench, meaning that the guy had just been thrown out of the game as a result of hitting him," says Dallas Maverick coach Richie Adubato.

Has Laimbeer ever won a fight? "I don't fight. I agitate, then walk away," he says, grinning. Still, after his many years as pro basketball's favorite whipped-upon boy, only a small red welt lingers under Laimbeer's left eye to mar his finely groomed, yupster-toothed countenance. Is this a scar from the time Bob Lanier blindsided him with a crushing blow that broke Laimbeer's nose? Or when Steve Stipanovich connected with a right cross? Or when Robert Parish unloaded his wicked, one-two, double-punch-as-the-dude-is-falling, playoff whamma-jamma? Or when Charles Barkley delivered a lunging, frightening left hook? Or when Scottie Pippen flattened him with a neck-high tackle, the ramifications of which became so stark to Pippen that he suddenly came down with a—pardon the expression—"migraine headache," which rendered him useless in the seventh game of the Pistons-Chicago Bulls Eastern Conference playoff last June?

"Nawww. I think one of the kids scratched me," says Laimbeer, laughing. "Chris [the other half of the cutest couple in the Great Lakes] says I should get a doctor to remove the thing, but it doesn't bother me."

As if anything ever did.

Not even his latest black eye, the result of a collision with Seattle center Olden Polynice on Oct. 20, which left him with a shattered cheekbone. Laimbeer missed at least three exhibition games but was scheduled to be in the lineup on opening night against Milwaukee.

Laimbeer laughs a lot...when he's fishing from the backyard pier with his children...playing golf...dealing poker with the guys...or donating large hunks of money to charity. Any time, in other words, that he's not around the public or—ugh, maybe even worse—Piston rookies.

At training camp each season the Piston staff is under Laimbeerian orders to erect some kind of barrier in the locker room, the better to cut off the veterans from the low-life newcomers trying to make the team, whom Laimbeer does not even want to cross his sight. "They'll be out of here by Wednesday, anyway," he shouts for all the nerve-racked, shaking-in-their-shorts rooks to hear.

In the same way does this curiously complex fellow pull the Laimbeer curtain behind him when he retreats into privacy, concealing his true personality, which happens to be that of a witty, wealthy jolly green giant (a $2.3 million, two-year contract in hand).

Laimbeer constantly lampoons his well-to-do background. When his current, equally wealthy black teammates reminisce about the rats in their neighborhood ghettos, he will recall his own childhood problems, such as figuring out which gourmet grocery to send the chauffeur to. Or something exaggerated like that.

Isiah Thomas, the Pistons' star guard, who along with Vinnie Johnson is one of Laimbeer's two closest and only friends in basketball—the two inner-city blacks and the suburban white joined the team in the 1981-82 season—remembers Laimbeer once regaling him with stories about Laimbeer's idyllic high school years in California, when he would catch huge, delectable lobsters off the Redondo Beach pier. "He actually asked me if I ever did that," Thomas says. "I had to tell Bill we didn't have lobsters in our neighborhood. I couldn't believe anybody could be so spoiled and naive at the same time."

Think about it for a moment. Given his color, wealth and ingenuousness, it's a wonder Laimbeer ever made it past his own NBA training camp, much less that he has become a man who has individually caused a change in style of virtually an entire sport.

Forget the fact that Laimbeer grew up sucking from the silver spoon in the leafy glades of Clarendon Hills, Ill., and Palos Verdes, Calif.; that William Laimbeer Sr.—of whom his proud son once said, "I'm the only guy in the NBA who makes less than his father"—a heady executive in the container-box industry, is working on his third golden parachute; or that Laimbeer himself married looks, brains, tonsafun and even some more money, namely the delightfully perky former Chris Skiver, a childhood semisweetheart with whom he used to go to dancing school! O.K., that's the lucky part.

Laimbeer is one of the very few athletes who has managed to flunk out of Notre Dame. (He studied his way back in.) He was so insignificant in the 1979 NBA draft that he was picked 65th, a "—— buffoon," says one former pro coach. Moreover, when he returned from a forced expatriate year playing European ball (long before out-of-country hoops was cool) he was still considered the worst of all the 49 players at the 1980 Olympic trials—even though "our teams always won all the scrimmages," according to a back-then colleague named Isiah Thomas. Finally, having made it to the pros, or rather to the Cleveland Cadavaliers, Laimbeer was unwanted even by that ignoble organization and was bartered away nine minutes before the trading deadline, on Feb. 16, 1982.

"Hey, who cared?" Laimbeer says today. "I never looked on basketball as a career. I never had any driving ambition to play pro basketball. I knew I'd be a success at whatever I happened to choose. My ambition was only to have fun."

Consistent with that attitude, Laimbeer now says basketball isn't that much fun, that it's just a job, that he doesn't even like the game. He doesn't touch a ball during the off-season, and Thomas, for one, acknowledges that: "Growing up, Bill didn't live and breathe basketball like most of us; I think he lived and breathed golf."

Without practicing that game much either, Laimbeer was a one-handicap golfer long before he became a scratch-and-claw pivot person. But, wait, who says Laimbeer doesn't have even a hint of blue collar in him? He absolutely loves bowling; when he finally retires from basketball he has vowed to join as many weekly bowling leagues as Chris will allow. That's not all. During his college years while in London on an overseas tour with the Notre Dame basketball team, Laimbeer took up the game of darts between rounds of lager in a local pub; he became quite an expert and used to carry a personalized set with him on Piston road trips.

What is most interesting about all of this is that the temper Laimbeer tries to hold so closely in check amid mayhem in the NBA veritably explodes in other sports. Last summer he triple-bogeyed the 18th hole in a tournament at the Boyne resort in Harbor Springs and immediately snapped his putter in half. And Laimbeer's prized personalized dart set? An airport security guard in Indianapolis gave him one too many hassles over the darts last season. "I was so p.o.'d, I just left them there," Laimbeer laments. "That was a great set of darts, too."

As in everything else about the fellow, contradictions abound. Through all the slings and arrows, the broken bones and separated shoulders, the unveiled threats and imminent dangers of being the ultimate hatchet man, lunatic enforcer, cheap-shot artist, raving mad-dog fiend and/or Simply Baddest Boy, there is always this: Laimbeer has never missed a regular-season game because of injury.

"Even the most avid fan can't know what it means to a coach," says telecaster Hubie Brown, who has coached three different pro teams. "To know you can put down the guy's name on that lineup card every night, to know he'll be there. In this league Bill Laimbeer's attendance record is nothing short of unbelievable!"

Ten years...lotsa pain...no DNPs...little gain. Except, naturally, the vow-to-the-death enmity of just about anybody who has ventured into the lane and run smack into the Pistons' 6'11", 245-pound center.

In addition, Laimbeer can be proud of a couple of other accomplishments posted in his personal scrapbook. He has played in the NBA All-Star Game four times. He won the league rebounding title in 1985-86. And here's a fact that might surprise Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and a few of the other ultra-legendary shoe salesmen of our time who have been bounced around by Laimbeer—Bird has refused to shake his hand on several occasions (perhaps because he thinks Laimbeer might have a whoopee buzzer in it)—and tend to denigrate his playing skills: In the eight full seasons Laimbeer has been a Piston, nobody (not Moses Malone, not Buck Williams, not the old Abdul-Jabbar, nobody) has controlled more rebounds off the defensive board than the lionhearted fellow his teammates call, ironically, Lam.

Then, too, Laimbeer does possess those two championship rings and the extreme satisfaction of knowing that were it not for the league's suspending him for one game for fighting in each of the last two seasons, he would be working on a streak of 810 straight games played and bearing down on the NBA iron-man record of 906, held by Randy Smith. As it is, his 685 games in a row is the fourth-best mark in history.

(Footnote: In Cleveland on Oct. 22, 1980, then Cav coach Bill Musselman forgot—either he forgot or Laimbeer wasn't good enough—to put him in a game until there were only a few seconds left. Laimbeer was at the scorers' table ready to check in when the buzzer sounded. That and his two suspensions are the only times Laimbeer has missed a game in his career.)

"Pain, injuries, that's all in the mind," Laimbeer says. "You have to play through the pain and then the basketball takes over. We don't sit out games on this team."

So much for sticks and stones. Words also seem never to have made a dent on Laimbeer's no-harm-no-foul psyche, no matter how penetratingly harsh and personal the attack. He's been called "the prince of darkness" by a Milwaukee writer and a "street thug" by one in Atlanta, where some industrious fans put his likeness on a wooden cutout and carved him up with an actual chain saw. The Seattle SuperSonics' Xavier McDaniel refers to Laimbeer as "a pansy." Former Celtic Cornbread Maxwell once said, "The guy flops around like a fat lady at the circus; he couldn't knock out my wife."

And in Boston, pro basketball's capital of intellect, Laimbeer has been called everything from "the consummate provocateur" (by Celtic general manager Jan Volk) to "the ax murderer" (by recently retired Celtic radio frogvoice Johnny Most).

"I have recently given Laimbeer the sobriquet His Heinous," says Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. "If it sticks, you heard it here first. If it doesn't, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Has Laimbeer's notoriety come about because he seems to be a stiff who's dirty, clever, smart or just what? The Mavericks' Adubato says, "I think he combines all three. He's intelligent. I think he's dirty. He's a great actor. I think he's a fierce competitor. I think he's a winner. To sum it up, he's a guy everybody hates. But you'd love to have him."

Thomas (Hit Man) Hearns, another Motown mauler, showed up in Boston for a playoff game once and announced he was there "because I heard Bill Laimbeer needed a bodyguard."

Laimbeer was in the locker room off the Pistons' home court at The Palace in Auburn Hills a few seasons ago when he stopped to comb his hair "to get good-looking for all my fans out there," he said.

"Yeah, all two of them," a teammate said.

"I have to assume his mom and dad like Bill," says Phoenix Sun forward Kurt Rambis, "but you would have to verify it."

Verified. Laimbeer's parents, having recently moved back to Chicago, were urged by their son to get an unlisted telephone number—"worst fans in the entire universe," says Bill Jr.—and to not show up at Chicago Stadium in any Piston gear. One of his sisters, Susan, 25—"formerly a bartender at a redneck motorcycle dive in Bowling Green, Ohio," says Laimbeer—made herself conspicuous at the Los Angeles Forum a couple of playoff seasons ago by wearing Pistons' paraphernalia and bearing a broom, for "sweep." When a local gentleman challenged her about it, she handled the occasion with characteristic Laimbeer aplomb. She slugged the guy. Lee Ann, 29, Laimbeer's other sister, gets far less agitated about the Pistons. She works for the Program for Art on Film at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—"you know, one of those 18-thou-a-year jobs," says Laimbeer, assuming you do know.

NBA sociologists could have a field day exploring the economic and racial connotations of the Hate-Laimbeer phenomenon everywhere in evidence around the league. "But the feelings don't divide along racial lines," says one assistant coach. "The hatred is based on skill level. The running and jumping athletes in this league know the same things Laimbeer knows. He can't run and can't jump and can't block shots. So he goes after guys, then whines and pleads his case. That's dangerous to their livelihood."

A laughing, not doubting, Thomas, says: "Sure, more black guys hate Bill. Most of the guys we play against are black guys."

But vagabond forward Scott Hastings, who is white, pays tribute to a rainbow coalition. "We all hated Lam, blacks and whites," says Hastings, who is currently a Piston and now loves him.

Respect, though, is really all a tough, no-elbows-barred, on-the-edge character like Laimbeer is looking for. Sun center Mark West, who is black, says, "I respect the guy. He'll do anything, whether it's flopping to get a call or agitating someone to get them out of their game or hitting a big three-pointer. You've got to give him credit. We're not out here to win popularity contests. Everybody tries to do a little holding, grabbing, intimidating....I don't think he's as hated by other players as he is by other fans. Personally, I get geared up to play him. I know he's going to push, shove, grab, hold, elbow. I love every minute of it."

Rambis, who is white, says, "I don't think he's dirty, but he does whatever it takes to win. If he gets you upset about something, he's done his job. As soon as you start worrying about Laimbeer, he's won. He's got you."

In the Pistons' 4-1 pasting of the-Trail Blazers in last season's NBA Finals, Thomas was the MVP. But it was Laimbeer who got to the Blazers. Throughout the series the losers' Kevin Duckworth, Wayne Cooper, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams were so frustrated by Laimbeer's setting screens and taking charges, not to mention his usual holding, grabbing and Fosbury Hopping, that Portland coach Rick Adelman could be heard spending valuable seconds in the Blazers' timeouts wailing for his troops to "stop worrying about Laimbeer!"

In the first game, in Detroit, La Lam had 15 rebounds. In the second—Detroit's only defeat—he scored a playoff-record six three-pointers among his 26 points. (His 26-footer would have been the game-winner, but Clyde Drexler made two free throws at the buzzer.) With the series tied 1-1, with the Pistons' injured Dennis Rodman virtually useless, and with the next three to be played in Portland, where Detroit was winless in its last 20 appearances, Laimbeer made as big a contribution off the court as he did on it. Responding angrily to Chuck Daly's suggestion that the champs could split the next two games and take the series home, Laimbeer erupted. "Bill told us we didn't come out there to lose at all," remembers Hastings. "We came out there to win all three. There was nothing else to say."

It is a Detroit tradition that Laimbeer lead the Pistons out in their pregame layup line; moreover, at road games he usually crash-dunks the first shot as hard as he can lefthanded—Attention! Slow, fat, cement-shod youngsters! Laimbeer cannot dunk righthanded!—to show the home crowd who's the boss. This is in addition to Laimbeer's regular routine of berserk snorting and stomping, his fists clenched, his cheeks puffed, his eyes rolling back and forth in a revolting cranial disruption as if he has just escaped from a padded cell. On this night, with the crowd going equally nuts and the Blazers starting to take the court, Laimbeer momentarily recognized what planet he was on long enough to notice that the home team was about to break through the Pistons' line. Uh-oh. Picking up the ball, Laimbeer lowered his shoulder and roared straight ahead into the path of the Blazers' Terry Porter.

"I was going to knock Porter on his ass, but he got away," Laimbeer says. "Ran right around us. So I aimed for Cooper, but he saw me, ducked and veered off down the side." Unfortunately for Michael Lloyd, a 150-pound local newspaper photographer who was back-pedaling trying to capture the Blazers' dramatic entrance, he didn't see Laimbeer and couldn't duck or veer. "If I'm going to get in a collision, the other guy is going to get the worst of it," Laimbeer says. Boom! Shooosh! Splat! "He was in the way. I had to run over him. He went flying." Luckily, the photographer wasn't hurt badly.

When the Pistons recovered from their laughter, the tone was set for the rest of the series. That night Laimbeer drew five charging calls on the home team and fouled out Williams. The Blazers were never the same. Laimbeer had 41 rebounds in the three games in Portland; the series seemed to validate him as an established NBA star, or at least as something other than a goon.

The resentment of Laimbeer always has been based on the perception that he plays the man instead of the ball. "Actually, it's my lack of quickness," he says. "When I try to block a shot, I usually get the guy in the face." Then, of course, there's Laimbeer's follow-through—call it the collapsing body block—a sneaky kind of attack partly responsible for the adoption of a new rule this year giving referees the authority to banish players for "hard" fouls.

The irony is that the so-called hard-foul rule was probably forced on the league not so much by the Piston center as by the new-wave, Roller Derby knockabouts perpetrated by the 76ers' out-of-control Barkley, who, coming under the wing of Laimbeer's former Piston poster partner in Bad Boyism, Rick Mahorn, gathered up four ejections and more than $35,000 in fines over the course of the year.

As the season went on, bad feelings engendered by the Laimbeer-Mahorn split simmered. "It was fun to play with [Laimbeer]. But it's even more fun to play against him," says Mahorn.

"At one point after I was traded I called and said, 'Lam, what's up? Why don't you pick up the phone and call me?' He just said, 'You're the enemy.'

"You know, I'll play against my mother, but I'm going to play in a competitive way. But I couldn't handle this. Life is too short. You should be friends forever. Basketball is not going to be for the rest of your life. I hope this gets in the magazine. Maybe [Laimbeer] will read this and wake up and smell the coffee."

Laimbeer apparently only smells a rat. "That's him," he says. "I'm me. I can't have relationships with opponents off the court and maintain the edge I need. Now you want to talk thugs and enforcers? Charles Barkley used to be a physical player. I don't want to say Mahorn was responsible, but with Ricky over there, Barkley took a big step over the line to something else. It probably cost him the MVP award." On the night of April 19, 1989, Barkley sent Laimbeer an inflammatory note, then taunted him by mumbling things like "Something smells. It's you, you——," which didn't exactly help prevent one of the more brutal donnybrooks in NBA history. The Malice in The Palace between the Pistons and the 76ers wound up costing players and the teams a total of $162,500 in fines, said to be a pro sports record.

Alas, it's not as if Laimbeer takes on only bantamweight photographers and sewer-mouthed media hounds to the exclusion of Hall of Fame immortals; since both Jordan and Bird have thrown the only punches of their careers Laimbeer's way, he must be doing something wrong. Jordan, in fact, said that Laimbeer threatened to "break my neck" in a playoff game last spring.

"But that was after Pippen had clotheslined me and hadn't even gotten kicked out," says Laimbeer. "As I was going to the foul line, Jordan walked by. I told him if the league allows Pippen to do that, I could dump Jordan on his head. These skirmishes seem to get out of hand."

Actually, the most serious, career-threatening incident involving Laimbeer was caused more by his nasty reputation than by physical contact. On May 14, 1989, as Milwaukee's Larry Krystkowiak was going in for a layup with Laimbeer trailing him, Krystkowiak heard not so much footsteps as Laimbeer-clomps. He tripped, his knee blew out, and he has played sparingly in only 16 games since. "I never touched him," says Laimbeer. "He heard me coming and braced too hard." Though Laimbeer was called for a foul on the play, after reviewing the tape the NBA cleared the Detroit center of any wrongdoing.

But Krystkowiak remains doubtful. "O.K., you don't give up layups in the playoffs. I didn't expect flowers," says Krystkowiak, "but the guy gave me a hand check on the hip and pushed me. Not only did [Laimbeer] say he didn't push me, he said he didn't foul me. He's such a Bad Boy he couldn't even handle it differently."

On the positive side, Laimbeer's primary legacy to his era—apart from making fashionable the Bouncer as Hero—may be that he has brought a more definitive role to the two-man game, as ugly as that style can sometimes be. The Pistons' variation, because of Laimbeer's canny outside shooting versatility, is that instead of pick-and-rolling to the basket, Laimbeer brushes (hah!) off his man and slides or flares sideways or even farther backward for the three-pointer.

Recognizing the Pistons' pluses, the Bulls' G.M. Jerry Krause—whose team came the closest to knocking off Detroit in the playoffs—has signed Cliff Levingston and dealt for Dennis Hopson. "Levingston to be our [John] Salley, Hopson to be our [Vinnie] Johnson," says Krause. "But you know what? Where do we get our Laimbeer? I still think he's the key, and it does no good to keep talking about 'dirty.' Was Jerry-Sloan a dirty player? Sloan was the toughest s.o.b. I ever saw, and Laimbeer is a lot like Sloan."

Tough, all right, and complicated to the point of being weird. Laimbeer is so withdrawn sometimes, he will fail to say hello to the Piston coaches. Of his bellwether center, who is an agnostic, Daly jokes, "How is Bill supposed to believe in me when he doesn't even believe in God?"

On other occasions Laimbeer will hurl enough abuse to make teammates cringe. "People are always coming up to me and saying how nice I am and how could I be married to such a jackass?" says Chris Laimbeer.

And the answer is...

"You just have to get to know him. Don't take any of his——. You just can't let him bug you," Chris says.

Thomas adds, "What you must understand about Bill is that he is a good-hearted person, he just has no conscience. There is nothing really to hold him within the bounds of everyday life. The only thing that constrains him is that he fell in love."

Laimbeer acknowledges that until Thomas he never had a close friend in basketball, never had a lot of friends at all, never wanted them. He was the butt of jokes as a schoolboy and even now he is uncomfortable in large crowds—though he did a creditable job as master of ceremonies at that Republican dinner attended by his close personal friend President Bush. Could public service be in Laimbeer's future? Hardly. He says he isn't sure what he'll do when his playing days end. He's never happier than when alone or with his family on his beloved boats. Just like the days back when his own mom and dad moved to Palos Verdes and he could skip off from the world down to the pier and go fishing all daylong.

"I'm not good at the little basics in life," Laimbeer says. He means eating and sleeping and taking care of himself. As the Pistons have discovered, Chris is the real rock of the household. The team can tell whenever she goes out of town, leaving Laimbeer without a rudder. All-night poker. All-night VCR. "Without her, I don't think I'd be out on the street," Laimbeer says. "I'm not sure I'd even be out of the NBA. But I'm positive I wouldn't be a success."

Laimbeer nearly retired after the Pistons' first championship season when, with Mahorn gone, he knew his burden would be magnified and the pressure increased. Thomas, his confidant and his leader, reminded him of the financial rewards of repeating and of the challenge. He told Laimbeer that to stop now would be to go back to his old self, the self-satisfied person settling for the status quo. "It would have been great to quit on top," Laimbeer says, "but that's basically what it would have been, quitting."

He did that once, at Notre Dame, where he quit going to class his freshman year and flunked out. Though Laimbeer still complains about the restrictions that Irish coach Digger Phelps placed on him and the team after he returned—Laimbeer averaged about 20 minutes a game primarily as a sub his junior and senior seasons—he does acknowledge that Notre Dame may have saved him from himself.

"The school shaped me more as a person than as a player," Laimbeer says. "A lot of universities would have looked the other way, but Notre Dame put the heel down. They squashed me when I was going to do my own thing. If I'd gone unchecked, who knows where I'd be now."

Notre Dame '78 (Laimbeer was a junior) was one of the great trivia teams of all time. No fewer than eight Irish made the NBA, and yet the team lost in the national semifinals to Duke. (And the next season, virtually the same squad lost in the regional finals to Magic Johnson and Michigan State.) "Phelps was too shell-shocked," says Laimbeer. "He kept saying how great it was to be in the Final Four. Hell, we didn't care about that. We wanted to win the damn thing."

But Bill Laimbeer, 33, seems to have a lot left. More than a decade later, he is a world champion twice over and on the brink of belonging to a three-peating dream team; a white man who outgrew his naivetè in a mostly black world; a wild, spoiled rebel who has accepted responsibility on the contrasting levels of team and family. "What's fascinated me is that Bill's always been willing to dig down and plant his feet just as hard as I did," says Isiah Thomas.

Which is something quite special for a guy who's so often between lakes.

FOUR PHOTOSTHEO WESTENBERGER/SYGMAPHOTOJOHN BIEVERLAIMBEER WAS ALWAYS BEEN A TAKE-CHARGE GUY WHO CAN PICK HIS SPOTS SO AS TO INFURIATE ANY CROWDPHOTOALLEN EINSTEIN[See caption above.]PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH[See caption above.]PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHLAIMBEER WAS TOUGH UNDER THE BOARDS IN THE '90 FINALSPHOTOJOHN BIEVERTHOMAS APPRECIATES LAIMBEER FOR KEEPING THE HEAT ONPHOTOJODI BURENAT LEAST ERIC (LEFT) AND KERI GET A KICK OUT OF THEIR DADPHOTOJODI BURENCHRIS AND BILL HAVE A PERFECT VIEW OF LIFE AT THE TOPPHOTOJODI BURENPRESIDENT BUSH GOT A HAND FROM BILL IN DETROITPHOTOANDREW BERNSTEIN/NBA PROPERTIESTHE LAIMBEER FLOP HAS BECOME A HATED NBA ART FORM