Goliath‘s laughs raining down on David. The irresistible force versus the immovable object. Beauty and the Beast. Almost any image you can dream up of two diametrically opposed antagonists applies to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Detroit Pistons.
Very few experts are giving the Pistons a chance to win their championship series with the Lakers. Detroit is a 5-1 underdog to the mighty Lakers... and why not? Los Angeles has a star-studded lineup of four future hall-of-famers, including the two greatest players in the game today - Shaq O‘Neil and Kobe Bryant.
To make matters worse for the Pistons, Los Angeles has the most successful coach in history - Phil Jackson. Coach Jackson has won nine NBA championships and is not lacking incentive for a tenth - it would an NBA coaching record. Jackson has never lost a series in the NBA finals.
By contrast, the hard-working and gritty Pistons have zero super-stars, nada. As pointed out in Sports Illustrated last week, a miracle Detroit triumph over Los Angeles would be the first time in at least 25 years that a team won the NBA championship without a dominating player.
What the Pistons do well is play ugly. A suffocating, scoreboard-deflating defense is their M.O. Grueling, rugby-style slugfests are their only hope to keep the games close for Rip Hamilton or Chauncey Billips to prevail at crunch time.
Most experts dismissed the Pistons chances to beat Los Angeles the moment they eliminated Indiana. At 7‘1“, 350 lbs Lakers center O‘Neil is superman. No two other opposing players can stop him. Detroit will alternate several 7-footers, fouling the big guy while forcing him to face his kryptonite - free throw shooting. Pistons benchwarmer, 18 year-old Darko Milicic, may even get playing time just to join in the hack-a-Shaq party.
Unfairly, in addition to Superman, the Lakers also employ superhero Batman. Kobe Bryant is near Michael Jordan in how he seemingly flies around the court, playing a step ahead of everyone else. Bryant is fearless, an incredible athlete, and usually scores at will when the game is on the line.
On the other hand, Detroit‘s Ben Wallace typifies the Pistons team. He may have wild hair (braids, dreads or the mega-fro change day to day) but his playing style is strictly blue-collar. Wallace was undrafted by the NBA after a quiet college career at Virginia Union - where? After bouncing around with several NBA teams, the Pistons forward is now their best player.
How pathetic on the surface - Detroit‘s top performer makes less than 50% of his free throws and averages less than 10 points per game (O‘Neil and Bryant both average over 20 points). Of course, Wallace makes up for his shortcomings by guarding opponents, blocking shots and rebounding ferociously. In fact the entire Pistons team has been molded by coach Larry Brown into the best defense in the NBA.
Watch actor Jack Nicholson and the numerous starlets that litter the Lakers sideline grimace in pain when these games slow down to a grinding halt. When the court turns into virtual trench warfare, we will see how tough the celebrity Lakers are while the relentless Pistons pound away at their glitzy image.
Maybe justice does prevail because David will defeat Goliath - once more. The Detroit Pistons will shock the world as they beat the heavily- favored Lakers in five games. I can feel it in my bones - the series will be WLWWW.
In fact, in the spirit of Joe Namath, Douglas McArthur ,and Rasheed Wallace, I guarantee it.