ESPN 30 for 30: Bad Boys (2014)

Directed by Zak Levitt

The NBA of this day and age just isn’t what it used to be, and I say that with no definite favorite team from previous years. For whatever reason, my interest in the professional level of the sport of basketball has waned significantly, and I wonder how much of that has to do with personalities in the game today, and team dynamics. Let’s be honest, the 80s and 90s were the glory days (in my lifetime anyway). Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and the list goes on and on. Today’s game doesn’t feel like it has the same passion and stakes to me. Of course, I’m not sure who the villain is in the story anymore. LeBron? He might be the closest thing, but not for the reasons that make for really good sports villains.

The Detroit Pistons were true villains. The Pistons who had Isaiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars, those Pistons were villains. Why? Because they were villains who did the majority of their evil on the court. With hard fouls and a total disregard for the “professionalism” of the game, these “bad boys” of Detroit embraced their image and became world champions in back to back years. Outside of Detroit they were hated by players and teams alike, but for their hometown they were heroes beyond measure. There is a lesson to be learned from a team like the Pistons of the 80s, a lesson that speaks not only to team building, but to community building.

In this day and age we see the teams that are bought off the free agent market. The Miami Heat is one of the few success stories in recent years of the “bought” team. But look at many baseball teams for instance. The Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays were the most recent super teams that failed. Peg the San Diego Padres to the list this year and see where they land at seasons end. What the Pistons and GM Jack McCloskey and coach Chuck Daly did in the 80s what utilize some high draft picks and trade for not just good player, but players that would buy into their philosophy as a team, and succeed as a single unit. Seeing the way this team developed and evolved over the years really brings a level of appreciation to the art of team building, and arguably no one did it better in the NBA at the time.

For this reason, I have to give director Zak Levitt a lot of props for what he does here with this film. He is dealing with a lot of big personalities and controversial players, but he manages to make this film not only relatable in some fashion, but he manages to make some of these hated players likable. I don’t come into the film with baggage of hating this team from back in the day. I was too young to know any better. And after having seen the film I can say without a doubt I would have hated every single one of these player’s guts. They were awful, and brought the hate upon themselves in many ways. But what Levitt is able to do is shine a light into their talent, and the inner workings of the organization that made the team work together and succeed to the levels they succeeded. Not really and easy task, but Levitt structures the film in such a loving way to show the best sides of these Pistons.

With that in mind, he doesn’t shy away from the controversy either, depicting the hard fouls and harsh words that often followed this team around. Most notably in my mind was Isaiah Thomas’ comments regarding what Rodman had said about Larry Bird. Shame on Thomas for not just owning up to the fact that he made a mistake. For as talented as Thomas was in his career, and the miraculous accomplishments (his Finals game on a bum ankle), he, surrounded by these comments and his tenure as a Piston, is just not that likable of a guy, smile or not. The Pistons in general of this era are a slightly different story. After seeing this film, I would credit Levitt for convincing me that, while I may not think the Pistons are that likable of a team, I can respect the hell out of what they were doing, how they were able to do it, and all they managed to accomplish. I want a league back with players like Reggie Miller, Dennis Rodman, and Michael Jordan.

*** – Very Good


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