Bill Laimbeer is haunting the halls of the Palace of Auburn Hills. Again.
Following a triumphant return to his old digs as George Blaha’s play-by-play sidekick for the Pistons last season, Laimbeer was named the new coach of the Shock, Detroit’s WNBA team, on June 19. Yep, the man who once held court as Bad Boy No. 1 now finds himself in charge of a dozen twentysomething women.
It’s surreal seeing him at the head of the bench, players crowding around him during timeouts as he once did with Chuck Daly. You can bet that’s what Shock brass were counting on when they hired the man most recently seen playing the role of out-of-shape b-baller Firewall in a brilliant series of IBM commercials.
Sure, he knows the game inside and out from 14 years of thugging his way through the NBA. But more importantly, Detroit knows him — and the team is no doubt hoping that’ll translate into increased ticket sales.
As for the man himself, there are bound to be some changes from the Laimbeer of the past to the Laimbeer of the present. We probably won’t be seeing any flop fakery (every Pistons fan knows that Vlade Divac stole all his moves from Lambs) now that he’s on the sidelines. There’s no need for him to wear that face mask, unless Robert Parish turns up as an opposing coach and decks poor, innocent Bill. It’s too much to hope for that he’ll use his Super Nintendo game, “Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball,” as a teaching aid. And he definitely can’t fit into his old uniform, which now hangs from the Palace rafters. How can we possibly recognize him?
Easy. Just look down — way down — and the old Laimbeer is in full effect: He’s still wearing those gumpy, shin-high, white Converse high-tops. Not the Chuck Taylors — he stands tall in the sneaks sported by Zack Morris in “Saved by the Bell.”
“They’re still the best made. I don’t care if they don’t look like the modern high-tech stuff,” the newly minted coach said just hours before his new team lost by 31 to the Orlando Miracle. But even handing out the retro kicks to the Shock players as a solidarity move — when I suggested this, he first chuckled, then promised, “No gimmicks” — might not be enough to salvage the season, which, as we go to press, finds the team a horrific 1-13.
But don’t tell him that. Laimbeer has exuded confidence since the day he was announced as Greg Williams’ replacement in the wake of Williams’ 10 straight losses. “I wouldn’t get into this if I wasn’t going to be successful … I’m not going to lose. I’m going to look the other team right in the face and say, ‘You are not winning,’” he said at his press conference.
Two days later, at the Shock’s morning shoot-around, Laimbeer’s faith was unshaken.
“Everybody said I’d be a coach one day, and I believe that. Now’s my chance to prove it. I’m going to keep us all on an even keel throughout the year, win or lose, as long as we come every night and compete. The team hasn’t been beaten badly in every game. They just are young and they need to learn how to win in order to become successful. And that’s hopefully what I can bring and try to teach them.”
The most important skill the team needs to master, he said, is (no surprise here) maintaining its confidence. “We’re in every game. We’re leading a lot of games, and we just seem to die down the stretch. We need that confidence so that we can actually win.”
And despite being a 45-year-old, old-school player charged with guiding a group of youngsters — women, no less — Laimbeer sticks to his self-assured script and makes it clear that his days as an intimidator have taught him to fear nothing and no one.
“I’m not their age so I don’t listen to some of their music, but I command a respect. Not only because I’m older than them but also because in professional athletics I was very successful.”
We’ll see who gets a Fubu sweat suit in his Christmas stocking this year. And hopefully another notch or two in the win column.
The Detroit Shock plays the New York Liberty (Wednesday, July 10, 11:30 a.m.) and the Minnesota Lynx (Friday, July 12, 7:30 p.m.) at the Palace of Auburn Hills. For tickets, call 248-645-6666 or go to www.wnba.com/shock/tickets.E-mail Erin Podolsky at firstname.lastname@example.org