GUTS AND GLORY by Nicholas Garton
A few years ago there was a show called “NBA’s greatest games” on ESPN2 featuring a game from the 1988 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Pistons. During the 3rd quarter of Game 6 Pistons guard Isiah Thomas had badly sprained his ankle and scored 16 points in a minute and a half with his ankle hanging by a thread. The Pistons ultimately lost both the game and the series but Isiah’s performance remains the most memorable thing from those Finals, as well as one of the greatest displays of courage in sports.
The ESPN show was being hosted by Dan Patrick and, of course, Isiah Thomas. When the game action being shown went to a break they cut to Dan with Isiah to break down what was being shown. Isiah was crying. He had never watched a tape of that game and he was in tears remembering his effort and the togetherness of the Pistons. He was in tears seeing his coach Chuck Daly and his teammates- his friends- fail so painfully on their quest for a championship. He kept saying to Dan Patrick “You just wouldn’t understand, you just wouldn’t understand”. Isiah had no words with which to make the audience understand.
“We weren’t the Lakers. We weren’t the Celtics. We were just little Detroit” Isiah said with coughs of tears interrupting every word. He talked about what it was like looking at himself, his teammates, and coach knowing what they had been through together. Knowing what they would go through together later and the experiences that had bound them together as a team. He looked at himself and the other Pistons and knew what they had gone through to get to where they were. It was one of the most moving television segments ever produced.
Isiah cried at the reminder of a game he lost over a decade ago. It still hurt him to see himself try to win, just out of love. Pure love. Love for his place in history, his teammates, his city, his coach, but most of all love for the game. That is what the game meant to Isiah Thomas.
Watching that segment one can’t help but wish that’s what the game meant to every player. Those Pistons teams were not fan friendly. They were not cuddly. They were not loved or even liked. But what they had was a spirit and a toughness that was not fabricated. It was not even planned. It was the results of every slight, hurt, setback, and loss each one of the players on that team had experienced. Even their captain Isiah. The resolve, physicality, and toughness they exuded weren’t the result of some bombastic preseason fireworks display like the Miami Heat had. No one blamed anyone else for failing or losing, the way today’s stars like LeBron James do. No one on the team wondered genuinely what he could do better the way that Lakers forward Pau Gasol did during the playoffs, looking absolutely clueless about his own uninspiring play.
“You just wouldn’t understand” Isiah kept saying. In today’s NBA we have to admit he’s probably right. Today when we lose we just blame our teammates for not being good enough. Then we skip town and celebrate championships we haven’t won yet, ridicule other superstars in front of TV cameras, and when we lose again we just make it seem like everyone else in the world is living lives that are beneath our own. That’s how things are today. Guts and glory? Not a chance.
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