Indeed, from Jan. 27—when Mahorn returned to the Pistons' lineup after having missed 10 games because of a recurrence of back pain—through last weekend, the Pistons went 27-5 and overtook the Cavaliers for the best record (53-17) in the league. "We have our game," says Laimbeer, who has been fined $6,000 for rough stuff this season. "We cut a place in this league."
They certainly do, which is why Laimbeer and Mahorn have such deserved reputations and why the Pistons are known as the Bad Boys around the NBA. "Rick protects me," says Laimbeer. "There are a lot of guys in the league who might want to fight me, but they hesitate when they see Rick there."
While the 6'11" Laimbeer is grateful for Mahorn's protection on the floor, he thinks Mahorn's notoriety is unwarranted. In fact, Laimbeer will tell you that Mahorn is just a big teddy bear away from the court. "Rick is one of the warmest people," says Laimbeer. "There's nothing he wouldn't do for a friend or a person in need."
Mahorn is from Hartford, Conn., where he and his older brother, Owen Jr., and his sisters, Audrey and Pam, grew up in an apartment with their mother, Alice. One day, when Rick was eight months old, his father, Owen, who was a dock manager at a local milk plant, walked out. "He was always well liked," says Alice. "He had other things on his mind. Responsibility wasn't one."
When Alice went off to do what she called "day's work" in the finer houses of Hartford, she would admonish Owen Jr., who is five years older than Rick, to be his brother's keeper. Owen was an athletic kid, but Rick was fat and weak as a youngster. "As soon as she got out of the house, he'd beat me up," says Rick. "But when I couldn't take care of myself, when the boys would say, 'What are you doing here, fat boy?' my brother took care of me. I can beat him up,' he'd tell them, 'but you will leave him alone.' "
Owen later played basketball at Fairfield University, while Rick grew from 6'1" to 6'7" during his 16th summer. He became a tight end and defensive end at Weaver High but didn't start for the basketball team until his senior year. He could take care of himself by then. Although he received far more scholarship offers for football than for basketball, he decided to play basketball.
"It was my second year in college before I finally beat Owen in one-on-one," says Mahorn. "That was the sweetest feeling in the world. Now I'm living Owen's dream. He doesn't know he could never be as proud of me as I am of him."
"Ask Horn about being institutionalized," says Laimbeer with a laugh. Mahorn grimaces at Laimbeer. "I'll get old Lame Butt for that one later," says Mahorn. Laimbeer has the role of the weak little brother now. Mahorn can beat him up, but he won't let anyone else do it. As for being institutionalized, Mahorn went to college at Hampton Institute. By the time he graduated, with a degree in business administration, he had become the most successful basketball player in the history of the school.
The Washington Bullets picked Mahorn, the first player from Hampton ever drafted by the NBA, in the second round of the 1980 draft. A year later the Bullets signed 6'11", 275-pound Jeff Ruland, who had been playing in Spain, and for four seasons he and Mahorn formed an intimidating inside tandem, one that Boston Celtics announcer Johnny Most dubbed McFilthy [ Ruland] and McNasty [Mahorn].
"If anybody is my beef brother, bruise brother, whatever, it's Ruland," says Mahorn. "We had the same kind of dog—black Dobermans. Our kids were the same age. His license plate was GTM 677. And by coincidence, mine was GTM 877. We were the same kind."