November 5, 1990
He has been gone from the NBA for four years, but Bill Laimbeer still enjoys boxing out the competition, "in business I'm trying to be the same as I was as a player," says the 40-year-old president of Laimbeer Packaging, a company in Melvindale, Mich., that makes corrugated containers. "I enjoy the mental challenge of trying to figure things out and get an advantage. My style before is my style now."
Not that SI's two-time cover subject (June 27, 1988, as well as Nov. 5, 1990) is giving purchasers forearm shivers or slamming rival manufacturers to the hardwood. As the baddest of the Detroit Pistons' Bad Boys in the late '80s, Laimbeer was as famous for being a crybaby jerk as he was for his contributions to the Pistons' back-to-back championships. The list of players Laimbeer, a 6'11", 260-pound center, provoked is an NBA Who's Who of that era: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Sidney Moncrief, Robert Parish, Scottie Pippen, Dominique Wilkins, teammate Isiah Thomas.
Laimbeer retired as Detroit's alltime leading rebounder, and instigator, early in the 1993-94 season and joined his father, also named Bill, in the box business. "People miss how I...we...played the game," says Laimbeer, who lives in suburban Orchard Lake with wife Chris, son Eric, 12, and daughter Kerriann, 10. "We were entertainers. Look at basketball today—low scoring, lots of physical defense—and that was all the Pistons' doing. When we were winning, people moaned how we were ruining basketball. Actually, we sort of defined its future."
Although this may not necessarily be a good thing, it does suggest that Laimbeer was more than a goon. He was one of the league's best weakside defenders, as well as a rugged rebounder, a solid scorer and an all-star actor (no one did a better flop). Villain or no villain, he could play, and there's a number 40 hanging from the rafters of The Palace of Auburn Hills to prove it. "Actually," he says, "I think people who saw me regularly recognize that I wasn't such a bad guy."
Sure, Bill. Though Laimbeer considers the 1989 and 1990 titles the highlights of his 13 years with the Pistons, he rarely breaks out his championship rings. "Just winning was enough for me," he says. "If you've got it, why show it off? People will remember the fun times."
Fun? Laimbeer? Somewhere, Robert Parish is laughing.