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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

NBA wrong to withhold Pistons' due

Apparently, the Detroit Pistons are too good for their own good.

For all of their recent success, the Pistons remain largely unappreciated outside of Detroit.

The Pistons personify the true definition of a team.

Individually, they are great.

Three starters - Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace - are capable of averaging 20 points a game, but their individual talents have been modified because the Pistons promote substance over style.

Collectively, the Pistons are virtually unbeatable.

In fact, the Pistons are so good that when they lose, it's more about what they did wrong than what their opponent did right.

But good luck trying to convince the NBA's powers-that-be that the Pistons deserve top billing over the Cleveland Cavaliers and their superstar, LeBron James.

Disrespected by a league that scheduled some of their first-round playoff games on NBA TV and relegated then to second-class status when their close-out game against Milwaukee started at 6 p.m. so James and the Cavaliers could be televised in prime time, the Pistons should have no trouble with motivation against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Prior to the series, Billups said to reporters about James, "It's his showcase, pretty much. We come off playing on NBA TV, now we're on ABC. It isn't because of us.''

Motivation won't be a problem for the Pistons against Cleveland. The Pistons are heavy favorites to win this series, but the national media attention received by James guarantees the Pistons will give the Cavs their full attention.

Detroit coach Flip Saunders said it's ironic how the NBA slights the Pistons, who are favored to appear in their third straight championship series, while rewarding the Cleveland LeBrons, who are making their first playoff appearance in eight years.

"We always seem to be on the [television] jayvee schedule," Saunders said.

Until now.

Thanks to LeBron, the Pistons are no longer on the back-burner.

Some national commentators believe the Pistons aren't fun to watch because they play boring basketball.

Since when has team play and winning been considered boring?

Mixing sports metaphors, the Pistons are the New England Patriots of the NBA.

The Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in four years, don't play exciting football, but they're immensely popular because, unlike the NBA, the NFL markets winning.

The NBA markets individuals. Since the heyday of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the league has promoted individualism over team play. It just so happened that Jordan, Bird and Magic were great players who won championships.

The NBA hasn't swayed from that concept, even though only three teams have won championships since Jordan's Chicago Bulls took the title in 1998 - Detroit, San Antonio and the Lakers.

A more sensible solution would be for the NBA to entice fans back to the game by promoting the overall quality of the league rather than trying to focus on a couple of marquee names.

The NBA needs to stop looking for the next Jordan and promote superstars like San Antonio's Tim Duncan. Far from flashy, all Duncan does is win.

The Pistons and defending champion San Antonio, who have combined to win the last three titles, should be the face of the league.

Instead, they're an afterthought.



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