SI Vault
Edited by Jack McCallum
November 29, 1993
Zeke and Lamb
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November 29, 1993


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Negative Impact

Irrelevant Detail

Babe Ruth

Encouraged bad dietary habits and nocturnal carousing

Possibly greatest all-around player in history

Willie Mays

Demonstrated poor fielding fundamentals with basket catch

Third on alltime home run list; winner of 12 Gold Gloves

Jack Nicklaus

Showed contempt for par 5s with prodigious drives; spent far too much time hunched over putts

Winner of 70 tournaments, including 20 majors

Muhammad Ali

Brought politics and horrific rhymed couplets to the sweet science

Three-time heavyweight champion; premier showman of all time

Michael Jordan

Set dangerous precedent of tongue-wagging; eschewed the two-hand set shot

Seven-time scoring champ, three-time MVP in nine seasons

Wayne Gretzky

Virtually destroyed hockey as Don Cherry knows it

Eight-time MVP; nicknamed the Great One

Zeke and Lamb

The news that Isiah Thomas punched teammate and alleged best buddy Bill Laimbeer at a Detroit Piston practice on Nov. 16 brought to mind a moment from the 1985-86 season. As the Pistons waited out a fog delay at Sacramento Metro Airport, there were Thomas and Laimbeer jammed into a phone booth, laughing and gesturing and passing the telephone back and forth as they chatted with a mutual friend.

What brought Thomas, the finesse-oriented black kid out of the Chicago ghetto, and Laimbeer, the monied white kid from the suburbs, together? And what kept them together through the championship years of the Pistons in 1989 and '90?

The answer is this: a compulsive desire to win. Yes, they enjoyed each other's company—the locker room jokes, the insults, the sweat and the hard knocks—and that certainly qualified them as friends. But more than affection, what Thomas and Laimbeer shared was a mutual power base. All the Pistons, to one degree or another, answered to both of them. Working together, Thomas and Laimbeer cultivated an aura of arrogance and intimidation that even Michael Jordan and the Bulls could not overcome until 1991.

It was not surprising, then, that their relationship began to wane as the Pistons began to wane. When Laimbeer was demoted to second team last season, it was Thomas who became the recipient of his hard screens and flying elbows during scrimmages. And it was a few too many blows (Laimbeer broke one of Thomas's ribs with an elbow in practice last month) that prompted Thomas to sucker-punch Laimbeer in the head two weeks ago and, in the process, break his own hand.

Those close to the team expect a tired and discouraged Laimbeer to retire when Thomas returns from his injury in about six weeks; Laimbeer would have already done so, says one source, but believes that it would look bad to leave with Thomas on the shelf. And Thomas will almost certainly hang it up at the end of this season. Both players are understandably frustrated with the decline of the Pistons, for both realize that history will probably not give them their due. If and when they get together in their dotage, though, they can remember the time when nobody on the NBA's baddest team dared cross them.

Straw Poll

It all seemed so perfect last year when, in its rookie season, the college football bowl coalition did just what it was designed to do—facilitate a matchup of Nos. 1 and 2 on New Year's Day. Alabama upset Miami in the Sugar Bowl, and the college football world felt a sense of closure. The bowl coalition could luck into a dream matchup again this season, but that doesn't change the fact that there are almost as many flaws in the system as there are bowl reps with bad sport coats.

One of the biggest flaws is the coalition's own poll. That's because Auburn, which is on probation and cannot go to a bowl this season, is inexplicably included in the poll. The coalition rankings are determined by combining the point totals of the AP and the USA Today/ CNN polls. The latter (the coaches' poll) does not include teams on probation, but the coalition decided it would rank probation teams by doubling their AP points. In this week's coalition poll Auburn is ranked fourth.

"It was an innocent enough move [to include Auburn and other teams on probation] that could come back to haunt us," says a coalition official. "If Auburn got to be Number 2, it would be a disaster."

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