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Gift-wrapped

Game 5 drama provided perfect Father's Day nightcap

Posted: Monday June 20, 2005 11:51AM; Updated: Monday June 20, 2005 11:51AM
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Robert Horry
All eyes were on Robert Horry when Game 5 reached crunch time on Sunday night.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

DETROIT -- Greeting cards were invented to vex me. I'm not sure why, but for whatever reason, I'm horrible when it comes to sending out cards. Birthdays, holidays, whatever, I always forget until it's too late, and then I have to make a sheepish phone call on the big day and beg forgiveness.

Yesterday, I had to make that call to my dad. It was Father's Day, and I hadn't sent a present or a card. My dad didn't seem particularly upset, but I was. To make me feel worse, while my dad loves basketball, here I was getting to cover the NBA Finals, while he was missing most of the action because the games were finishing so late at night.

But the Spurs and Pistons gave him a heckuva present last night.

No matter how the game turned out, this was the last basketball game that would be played at the Palace of Auburn Hills this season. For the fans of Detroit, who've been lambasted, blasted and beaten down (literally) this season, this was their championship game.

The entire arena was painted in red, white and blue jerseys, and enough people were repping the name "Wallace" that the scene resembled the 1972 Democratic National Convention. But it went much further. After a midnight showing of Batman Begins on Saturday night, I counted six Pistons jerseys -- and that was just in the bathroom. At a Verizon store in a strip mall, all the employees wore Ben Wallace shirts. A little kid at Quiznos in the middle of the day on Friday sported an afro wig held on by a chinstrap. Out to dinner on an off night, Robert Horry asked for the check only to find it had been taken care of by a group of those notoriously hardcore Pistons fans.

While the city was hooked, the media was in a daze. One national writer I talked to has been on the road for 28 consecutive days. After the blowouts in Games 3 and 4, the media spent the time complaining about the series, the ratings, Detroit, whatever. Mostly, we just wanted to go home. Still, there was work to do. The players meet the media every day, and the same questions get asked over and over. When a reporter mentioned to Gregg Popovich that one of his players had called him "giddy" because he was so ready to get back out and play Game 5, Pop wanted clarification.

"Giddy means a lot of different things to different people," he said. "One can be giddy for a variety of reasons. Let's name a few. A bonus check makes me giddy. A glass of fine wine that's bought cheaply makes me giddy. And in a basketball sense, I'm trying to think about what would make one giddy on the court, and the only thing that would make my giddy get up would be a win."

Last night, 59 minutes and 43 seconds before tip-off, Rasheed Wallace jogged onto the floor and the Palace erupted in low-pitched howls of "Sheeeeeeeeeeed!" Without breaking his gaze from the court, Sheed flipped up a peace sign, which is about as much reaction as you'll ever get from him before a game starts. The stands were already nearly full, and everyone was raring to go.

Games in Detroit remind me of WWE matches, because the fans all bring signs, the pyrotechnics are blazing and P.A. announcer Mason is hamming it up, sounding sort of like Roger Rabbit. Covering the big NBA events, there's nothing but overload. You see celebs (Eva Longoria, Eminem, Kid Rock), athletes from other sports (Desmond Howard, Jerome Bettis, AC Milan's Massimo Ambrosini) and basketball players from other teams (Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Dwight Howard).

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