Meanwhile Barnes, a 24.1-point scorer with St. Louis, was giving everybody something quite different to think about. The problem with Barnes was that in 1972 he had conked a friend over the head with a tire iron and received a suspended sentence and three years' probation from a Providence, R.I. judge. So one of his first moves in Detroit (after showing up with a broken ankle) was to try to get a .38 past the metal detector at the airport. For violating probation, he was hit with a one-year jail sentence, which the Pistons managed to delay until after the end of the season.
Brown tried to put a stop to the whining on Christmas Day when he slapped a $1,000 fine on Porter for not sitting next to him on the bench. "All I ask," says Brown, "is for the guy to sit next to me so if I have something to say to him I don't have to walk all the way down the bench." Five days later in Denver, of all places, Money argued with Brown on the floor, and at halftime they really went at it. Brown fined Money and made him stay in the locker room the entire second half. Back in Detroit Porter leaned over the press table and told Curt Sylvester of the Free Press, "Write this: I want out. He is not man enough to say that the problem is him and me—well, I am. Nothing is going to get solved here. He treats me bad." Two weeks later, in Washington, Porter was fined again after nearly coming to blows with Brown.
"They're not angry at me," Brown keeps saying. "Any coach would have the problem. You got Kevin Porter, who comes here to replace the most popular guy ever to play in Detroit. Porter gets hurt and has to prove himself all over again. You got Money, 22 years old, third year in the league. He knows he's a starter. Chris Ford is playing the best ball of his life, and Simpson is an Ail-Star. Everybody's all over me, because I'm the easiest one to get. Listen, I'm a jerk before I even walk out on the court, so what do I have to lose? I'm paid to win and I think it's better to have everyone talking than to have it all boiling up inside. At least we're loose. Believe me, there's a method to my madness."
"Yeah," says Money, downplaying the turmoil. "We may gripe on the sidelines but we perform on the court. What's wrong with that? That's human. The Oakland A's won the World Series that way. We can say what we want. Herb's a liberal guy. He may not like what we say, but he lets us say it."
A week after the Washington incident, Brown, Porter and Porter's lawyer attended a peacemaking Sunday brunch at the home of the general manager. "Most of the players have no-cut multi-year contracts," Feldman said. "Why they can't be happy in winning whether they make a contribution or not is beyond me."
When the Pistons were fighting at Christmas time, Feldman was on a two-week vacation in the Virgin Islands. At the brunch "The Mighty Oz," as some of his employees call him, told Porter he would not be traded, told Brown he would not be fired—this year at least—and declared at a press conference the next day that the Brown-Porter feud was over. A hard point to prove, since Porter did not attend.
A couple of days later, however, after sitting at the end of the bench during the entire second half in a win over Cleveland, Porter said in the locker room for the 300th time, "I got to get out of here. I don't even enjoy putting on the uniform anymore." In another corner, Money was cursing out the officials, Ford was stone-faced, Simpson sullen.
Lanier looked around and said, "Look at you dudes. All mad. What good is that going to do you to be getting mad all the time? I ain't getting mad. When that stuff starts happening I walk away."
Suddenly Barnes shattered the tension, filling his most important role on the team while he waits to get more playing time. "Of course you ain't mad," he yelled at Lanier. "This is your team! I never get mad when it's my team. At St. Louis I never got mad, except about my money."
Already the room was laughing, except for Kevin Porter.