"I'm only here because I was talked into it," Laimbeer told one teammate before the Pistons played at home against Orlando last Wednesday. "I'm
physically here, but not mentally or emotionally."
And you thought Dennis Rodman took all the strangeness with him.
The storm has subsided somewhat in Detroit. Laimbeer has played two home games with only a smattering of negative reception. The Pistons host the Sixers today, with Laimbeer on the court and Thomas in street clothes on the sideline.
Thomas was expected to be out four to six weeks as a result of punching Laimbeer in the back of the head at practice Tuesday and fracturing his hand. Thomas exploded in rage after Laimbeer put a body-block pick on the small Detroit guard, similar in intensity and force to the one that cracked one of Thomas' ribs three weeks ago. The two were separated, but Thomas then jumped Laimbeer from behind.
Laimbeer is one of the most widely hated players in the NBA, because of his penchant for cheap shots, flopping to draw fouls and generally repugnant demeanor.
"If you're going to break your hand, then you might as well break it on him," observed Boston's Robert Parish.
But despite that league-wide opinion, the Pistons have always insisted that the world never saw the real Bill Laimbeer, the nice guy and great teammate who helped make the Bad Boys back-to-back champions.
There were little spats, but nothing like what transpired last week.
"We fight every year in practice," Thomas said wearily. "Year after year."
This latest altercation was the result "of me being a strong-willed person and his being a strong-willed person," according to Laimbeer.
Thomas and Laimbeer met in coach Don Chaney's office the following day and hashed out their differences - or at least that's the party line. Then, Laimbeer went out that night and popped in 26 points as the Pistons beat the Magic and the Palace fans were willing to forgive and forget.
Thomas is helping heal the wounds by trying a quick comeback. Just hours after his hand was placed in a cast, he cut the cast off himself with "one of those ginsu knives."
Thomas is already shooting with the team and says he'll be back in uniform when he's eligible to come off the injured list next Sunday.
The confrontation between Laimbeer and Thomas came just two days after Laimbeer served a one-game suspension for nearly decapitating Karl Malone of Utah with a vicious swipe of the forearm.
"I was going for the block and he just got his fat head in the way," Laimbeer said.
"That's who he is," said Chaney of Laimbeer. "He plays that way. That probably has overshadowed what the guy has done as a player."
It has this season, anyway, as Laimbeer skids along being a jerk to both friend and foe.
LATER-THAN-YOU-THINK DEPT. Better sit down for this one. For the first time there are more players in the NBA who were born in the 1970s than in the 1950s. Generation X finally overtook the Baby Boomers this season and there's no turning back.
Only 17 players born in the '50s were on active rosters as the weekend began. Another five were creaking along on the injured list. Compare that to 65 players on active rosters who were born in the '70s, of whom 35 are rookies.
Here are the remaining graybeards: Robert Parish, Boston; Mike Gminski, Eddie Johnson, Charlotte; Bill Cartwright, Chicago; Bill Laimbeer, Detroit; Mark Aguirre, L.A. Clippers; James Edwards, L.A. Lakers; Danny Schayes, Milwaukee; Ron Anderson, New Jersey; Rolando Blackman, Herb Williams, New York; Moses Malone, Orlando Woolridge, Philadelphia; Frank Johnson, Danny Ainge, Phoenix; Ricky Pierce, Seattle; and Tom Chambers, Utah. On the injured list are Larry Nance, Cleveland; Kurt Rambis, L.A. Lakers; Frank Brickowski, Milwaukee; Rick Mahorn, New Jersey; and Mark Eaton, Utah.
The era of sock hops and Cherry Cokes still held a slight advantage over the era of discos and uncolas at the end of last season. But the usual retirements, intentional and otherwise, took their toll. Among some of the nifty '50s who took a last bow were Larry Smith, Lester Conner, Tree Rollins, Kiki Vandeweghe, Kevin McHale, Trent Tucker, Charles Jones, Maurice Cheeks and Bernard King.
And somewhere a high school freshman who will be the first NBA player born in the 1980s bounces a basketball and waits.
TELL HIM NYAH-NYAH FOR ME, TOO. Many teams were shocked when the Suns gave up talented young point guard Negele Knight to San Antonio for a second-round
draft pick this month, but no team was quite as stunned as the Houston Rockets.
Not only does Knight plug a gaping hole in the lineup of the Rockets' chief competitor, but the Spurs got the player for such a bargain-basement price. Privately, Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich's reaction was outrage, word of which got back to Cotton Fitzsimmons, now the Suns' senior executive vice president in charge of pin placement.
"Tell Rudy T. that if Negele Knight is the difference between them winning or losing the Midwest Division, then they don't deserve it anyway," said Fitzsimmons.
The Suns, apparently, just wanted to be rid of Knight, whose relationship with coach Paul Westphal was next to nothing. They were willing to make another championship run with only Frank Johnson backing up the fragile body parts of starter Kevin Johnson.
"He had basically quit on the coaching staff," Suns president Jerry Colangelo said of Knight. "It wasn't a good situation.
"I've always felt that he had the talent to be a starting point guard in this league. It's really extraordinary how few teams had any interest in him at all."
Knight moved right into the Spurs' starting lineup, displacing Sleepy Floyd. If he continues to perform steadily, San Antonio will have indeed filled, and very cheaply, its most pressing need.
ONLY IN AMERICA. Toni Kukoc of Chicago and Dino Radja of Boston, a pair of wild, crazy and talented Croatians in their first seasons here, met up on the court last Saturday. Kukoc missed a runner at the buzzer that would have turned around the outcome of the game, won by Boston, 98-97. Radja came into the Chicago locker room after the game, saw Kukoc surrounded by reporters, smiled and said, "He shoot the brick." . . . Also this from Radja: "We talk during the game. Every time he score on me, I say, 'Why you do that to me?' Every time I score, he say the same thing." And you thought the baddest trash talkers came from New York.
. . . FINALLY. Postgame, Ainge to Barkley: "How's your back?" Barkley to Ainge: "Like your face. It needs surgery." . . . Dallas is going to trade 6- foot-10 center Sean Rooks pretty soon. The second-year player from Arizona had a decent rookie year, but he reportedly doesn't fit the style of new coach Quinn Buckner. How can any coach platooning Darren Morningstar and Greg Dreiling at center claim to have a style?