When I heard the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 NBA championship team had been selected as the latest classic team to appear on 2k16, I couldn’t help but smile.
It is a nice honor for a team that is largely overshadowed in Motown by Isiah Thomas’ legendary ‘Bad Boys’ back-to-back championships, and overlooked around NBA circles because they beat the heavily favored Lakers, in five games. People talk more about what happened to the Los Angeles Lakers, which started four future Hall of Famers _ Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton _ than what the Pistons’ actually did to them.
Detroit’s Rasheed Wallace, as only Rasheed can say it, made it plain before the series started that the Pistons would not be intimidated: “We ain’t scared of those cats, man.”
The Lakers ran into a team that was, first and foremost, totally dedicated to playing defense relentlessly every second of the 24 second clock. First year coach Larry Brown stressed a defensive philosophy that his team totally embraced. At one point in the season the Pistons held five consecutive opponents under 70 points. Holding five straight teams to under 70 points is the same as an NFL team shutting out five straight opponents.
The Pistons were a unique collection put together by Joe Dumars with some smart moves, and one big stroke of luck. The Pistons were desperate to keep their franchise player, Grant Hill, from becoming a free agent in 2000. But Hill wanted to go, and they traded him to Orlando for two journeymen players, Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace.
Atkins played better than expected, but it was Wallace who turned into the pillar of the franchise. His blue collar work ethic, defense and rebounding led the Pistons, and he became a star. Meanwhile, Hill got hurt, and only played 47 games in Orlando. So, what looked like a terrible deal, became a steal of a deal for the Pistons.
Dumars added Chauncey Billups in free agency, got Rip Hamilton in a trade, and drafted a skinny kid out of Kentucky, Tayshaun Prince. The four jelled perfectly, and the Pistons suddenly became a good team.
Midway through the 2004 season the Pistons went from a good team to a great team when they traded for Rasheed Wallace. Wallace brought skill, passion, scoring defense and the aforementioned swagger (“We ain’t scared of them cats.”) to the Pistons.
And despite his volatility at times, his high IQ fit right in with the team. The Wallace Boys, were superb at reading opponents offensive tendencies, and taking away the things they like to do. Prince was a lock down defender, who at 6-feet-9, had the wing span of a 7-footer. Billups, was a smart, physical defender, and Hamilton was long. And Brown used his bench, featuring Corliss Williamson, Lindsey Hunter and 7-foot Memet Okur, superbly.
The Pistons dominated the series, holding the powerful Lakers offense to 78 points per game. Only a dramatic game-winner by Kobe Bryant in Game 2 kept the series from being a sweep. In fact, back in the Motor City the series was referred to as the “Five Game Sweep’.
While the ‘upset’ shocked the basketball world, it did not come as a surprise to at least one Laker, Rick Fox. “I knew we’d get exposed,” said Fox , in a recent interview with Bleacher Report. “But I remember back in January or December, watching the Detroit Pistons and having the utmost respect for them in the regular season. They held six or seven teams in a row to under 70 points. I was listening to our team and I personally felt we didn’t have enough respect for the Pistons. We thought we were going to steamroll them. And that’s how we, as a group, behind the scenes, were talking about it.”