NAPLES — Bill Laimbeer is a nice guy. Really.
At the Mike Ditka/Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Invitational dinner and silent auction Friday at Golf Club of the Everglades, the towering Laimbeer mingled delightedly with many in attendance, talking fishing and golf.
There was a time, however, in the 1980s and early ’90s, if the Detroit Pistons were in town that even the most casual basketball fan would pay top dollar just for the opportunity to boo Laimbeer, once dubbed the NBA’s “Prince of Darkness.”
Despised by players and the public alike, Laimbeer was a sharp-shooting center for the championship “Bad Boys” Pistons teams in 1989 and 1990. A master of the elbow and the defensive flop, Laimbeer, a four-time All-Star, played 14 seasons in the NBA, much of it before irate fans calling for his head, or worse.
Isiah Thomas, Laimbeer’s teammate on those Pistons teams and still one of his closest friends, once told the Detroit News, “I wouldn’t say fans hate him. They love to hate him. It’s a love-hate relationship. Tell you the truth, if I didn’t know Bill, I wouldn’t like him, either.”
Now living on Marco Island, Laimbeer, who retired during the 1993-94 season, does occasional studio work for NBA TV. After his playing days, Laimbeer coached the WNBA’s Detroit Shock from 2002 to 2008, winning three league titles.
Though rumored to be a candidate for several NBA head coaching jobs, Laimbeer has yet to be hired, serving as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009.
He spends much of his time fishing and golfing, but Laimbeer still yearns for a place at the top of an NBA bench.
“I’m still interested in coaching,” Laimbeer said. “I’m enjoying doing what I do now, which is nothing. I have this burning desire to show what I can do. We’ll see what transpires.
“Coaching is not that hard. It’s having the players believe in you. Once they believe in you, they’ll do whatever you say. I enjoy being around the players, it’s a players game, not a coaches game.”
And if he were to start an NBA team, there’s one player Laimbeer would love to have.
“(Oklahoma City’s) Kevin Durant,” he said. “He can play multiple positions and makes big shots.”
Laimbeer thinks Durant’s team has the best shot at winning the NBA title this year.
“I like Oklahoma City,” Laimbeer said. “They are young. They want to do it. If they win once, they’re going to win a lot. It’s fairly wide open in both conferences. San Antonio is playing great but I don’t think they’re going to get it done.
“In the East, I really don’t want to see Miami win, but …”
“I just don’t like them,” Laimbeer said. “Chicago probably doesn’t have the inside game to beat (Miami), but don’t discount Boston.”
As for the legacy of the “Bad Boys” teams, Laimbeer talked about the lasting impact they made.
“Defense,” he said. “We changed the game. It was always an offensive game. We changed it to a defensive game. It’s still a defensive game. You don’t see 120 (points) anymore and it’s 20 years later.
“(We’ll be remembered) for our will to win and that chip-on-the-shoulder mentality we brought to the game every night. At the end of the day, it was a relief that we won because we worked so hard. If we hadn’t won, it would have been a failure.”