My varsity basketball coach, Coach Bush, used to always preach “Offense sells tickets, Defense wins ball games.”
Spring 2003, NBA playoffs in session. My pops, my uncle, myself drove from Flint to the Palace of Auburn Hills to see the Detroit Pistons host the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference playoffs. What happened in the story is the spark for many things, including an NBA Finals win, and The Palace of Auburn Hills (Largest arena in the NBA seating 22,000) setting an NBA record for selling out every single game, 259 games in a row, over the next 5 seasons.
It’s Game 5 of the first round series between the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic. Orlando led the series 3-1.
There’s a lot of Tracy McGrady slander that goes on these days (post injury) where people clown him for riding the bench. I found this video yesterday of T-Mac scoring 13 points in 35 seconds. He hit’s four 3-pointers in a row including a 4 point play. Simple greatness.
TMac was my favorite player once upon a time. Halfway because he had the freshest logo and Adidas campaign, secondly because he was the most talented player other than Kobe Bryant… and he didn’t have ugly space shoes like when Kobe was with Reebok. In fact, I had on a pair of TMac’s that night, but of course I was representing my Pistons.
The Pistons were getting it handed to them, nobody. I mean NOBODY could stop T-Mac, until coach Rick Carlisle put in his rookie Tayshaun Prince in the game. Standing 6’9″, fresh off a dominating career at Kentucky, winning two SEC championships. The entire Palace was amazed, TMac himself was amazed, the entire basketball world was amazed. This rookie… this kid… SHUT TMAC DOWN. I think for the rest of that game he might have… just maybe scored 2 points. It was amazing how much defense Tayshaun had to offer, with such long arms. Tonight, the first of two stars were born.
Somewhere into the fourth quarter I did what any curious teenager would do, I began to wander. Orlando fans were leaving, knowing for sure that this was the game they’d close the Pistons out, disappointed as all hell. I get to the lower level, back where the bar’s and club are, I look on the steps on front of me and I see a press pass laying there.
My very first press pass… little did I know, the birth of a second star.
I didn’t know to put it in my pocket as a keep sake or put it around my neck. A voice in my head told me I knew exactly what to do with it. I went down the steps, security let me through, no questions.
WHAT?!?! You mean you just gave me the key and it works? Watch this.
I went into the tunnel and hung out near the post game press conference area for a while. All the assistant coaches saying their piece, answering preliminary questions. I went back into the hallway and I spot none other than Coach Doc Rivers. I reach in my pocket, pull out a piece of paper, fold it 4 times and instantly I have a press notepad (learned that in journalism class). I didn’t even know what to say to him. I barely even know how important this man was to NBA period. But I was a student (whether on official or unofficial business) and he was willing to give me a moment of his time.
I asked him how he felt about the loss, and what he was going to do to ensure they won the series. He spoke about hard work and closing out strong. He really believed (as any coach should) that they’d get that fourth win. That they’d take it to the next round. I ask him could he take me to the locker room [pause] to meet the rest of the players.
He looks up and says “Matter of fact here comes Tracy right now”
I look up, and standing there 6’8″ is none other than T-Mac himself. I shake his hand, I use the same red marker that I had from the interview with coach, and I immediately snatch the shoe off right my foot handing it to him for an autograph.
(How cool is it to have someone hand you your own shoes for an autograph???)
I walked back upstairs and found my dad and uncle, one shoe on my foot. One shoe in my hand, trying to explain to them the magnitude of what had just taken place. It was bittersweet because that was exactly my second time wearing them. Actually I take that back, it was sweet, just sweet. My uncle trying to playfully knock the shoe out my hand and into a puddle… calling the autograph a fake. Nah, I wasn’t going for that. Not today unc.
Tayshaun guarded Tmac the rest of the series and kept him very very quiet. The Pistons went on to beat Allen Iverson and the 76ers in the next round before being swept by Jason Kidd and the New Jersey [Brooklyn] Nets. San Antonio won the championship. It was NEXT year, that Detroit went to the finals and defeated the Kobe Bryant (who Tayshaun held to only 11 points in the final game) & Lakers. Don’t even get me started about “The Block“… Tayshaun Prince season saving block on Reggie Miller.
iIt gave the entire team hope. Matter of fact this gave the town hope, as a sports nation and as individuals. The Pistons went to the Eastern Finals for the next 6 years (I think) and won the a championship. That following year, Detroit sent 4 players to the All Star game plus their coach. When someone tells me it’s too late, I always find it hard to believe, because they haven’t seen what I’ve seen.
I feel as long as I’m breathing and there’s time on the clock, God on my side? It’s never too late. This was the greatest comeback I had ever witnessed.
I lived it.