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Grampa Celtic Weighs in on Bill Laimbeer
Boo him, swear at him, invoke evil spirits in his behalf -- Bill Laimbeer doesn't care.
"My image isn't going to change," he shrugs. "There's nothing I can do about it."
Even if he could?
"That's just the way it is," says The Man You (And Everybody Else In The NBA) Love To Hate. "I don't need 200 million friends."
The way Laimbeer sees it, the problem isn't him; it's everybody else. It's the rival players who don't like to be bumped around. It's the fans who hate his guard-like offense almost as much as they hate his aggressive defensive posture. Or as much as they hate the inevitable Laimbeer histrionics when a call fails to go his way. He thinks he's aggressive, but not dirty, and he knows that neither Larry Bird nor the Boston fans will ever believe he wasn't trying to hurt No. 33 that fateful Saturday afternoon in the Silverdome.
He knows it all adds up to a big "V," which stands for Villain. Say this for the man: He can handle the heat.
"Real competitive people get stuck with that kind of image," he explains. "You people in Boston experienced that with Danny Ainge. It's been that way for me since high school."
Anyway, it's really not as if everybody hates Bill Laimbeer. "Rarely do I receive a bad letter," he claims. "It's only when there's an incident like the Bird thing. Ordinarily, people write to say they appreciate my style of play. Maybe a couple of times a year I get one that says, 'Hey, I hate the way you play; you're a real so-and-so.' " So there.
Laimbeer has done pretty well in this league for a guy who jumps as if he's got the London Philharmonic strapped to his back; who averaged 7.4 points per game in college; who was the 65th pick in the draft; who was so coveted after being drafted that he wound up playing a year in Italy; and who came home one evening during his initial training camp to announce that he probably would be cut.
"I would have been happy just to make it in any capacity," he says. "Backup center would have been fine. I didn't come back from Europe with very much confidence I could play in the NBA."
His prediction that Bill Musselman would cut him back in that 1980 training camp proved to be inaccurate. Ten games into the season, he was the Cavaliers' starting center.
Which means what?
"Which means that there is always a place in the NBA for a team basketball player," suggests Laimbeer. "You examine my assets. I rebound aggressively, and that's always going to be valued. I'm a good passer, and I don't get the credit for that. I'm not flashy, but I can pass. I set picks. I shoot from the outside. I think there are enough people out there who would say, 'I'd like that guy on my team.' "
Laimbeer quickly figured out all the keys to NBA desirability. "Not only do I play smart," he explains, "but I don't cause problems for an organization. I'm a company man all the way. I'm my own person off the court, but as far as anything that has to be done within a team structure, you can always count on me.
"For example," he continues, "I am never late. If I'm late once every other year, that's news. And when somebody else is late, they hear from me."
As with almost any NBA player, there is a "but." The first thing his technical detractors always say about him is, "Why doesn't he act like he's 6 feet 11 inches?" True enough. Why does he insist on hanging around the three-point line like a bloated Michael Adams?
"Half and half," is his reply. "It's half because that's the way our offense is structured, and it's half because that's where I operate best."
Laimbeer may be 6-11 and 250-odd pounds, but his favorite song has never been "Please Mr. Postman." He has no affinity for operating in the trenches, a la Mikan, McHale, Abdul-Jabbar or even Tiny Archibald. He much prefers facing the basket.
"I posted up in high school," he says, "but then I took turnaround jumpers, rather than inside power moves. A lot of centers do that. I'll bet 80 percent of Robert Parish's shots are turnaround jumpers. It doesn't really play to my strengths. I'm big bodywise, but I don't jump well and I have slow feet."
You may have noted that Bill the Bruiser hasn't hesitated posting up the variety of Celtics' little men he's encountered, either straight-up, or on switches, during this series. "I've got the confidence to do that," he says. But don't look for him to be wheeling and dealing on Messrs. Parish, McHale or Kleine.
"If I went down there and missed a couple of shots," he contends, "they would never come back to me."
So he'll stick to his basic offensive repertoire, which means little tippy-toe set shots and assorted followups. He'll continue to move people out under the boards, body up on defense and just basically aggravate the more gifted athletes he has to compete with.
And the man Jan Volk once called the "consummate provocateur" will continue his reverse Pied Piperish romp across the nation's hardwood, infuriating opponents and fans, and laughing about the consequences.
After all, who has place settings for 200 million, anyway?
- #05 (Walton)
- #08 (Wedman)
- #12 (Sichting)
- 1971-72 Lakers
- 2007-08 Scores
- Banner 17
- Grassy Knoll Network
- Green Mile
- Larry & Magic
- NBA Scoreboard
- Russell v. Chamberlain
- Walton Gang (1977)