A lot of athletes who have won multiple championships – in any sport, really – will tell you that winning the second championship was harder than winning the first. Staying on the mountaintop, they often say, is more difficult than getting there.
Bill Laimbeer, who won back-to-back titles with Detroit Pistons in 1989 and 1990, is the exact opposite.
“(The second one) was easier, actually,” Laimbeer said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “The hardest one is the first one because you don’t know how to do it. You’re learning and you’re stubbing your toe and it’s just a very difficult process. The second one is easier because you know how to do it because you just go about your business. You know you’re the best team going in. That’s half the battle when you know you’re the best team going in because you don’t have to worry about things, you don’t have to second-guess yourself. So the second one, I thought, was much easier than the first one. The first one was so difficult to get.”
Mainly because the Pistons had to get through the rugged Eastern Conference. But once they did, it was smooth sailing. They swept the Lakers in the 1989 Finals and beat the Trail Blazers in five in 1990.
When Laimbeer won his first ring, he felt more relief than happiness.
“You worked so hard and played so long that if (you didn’t win one), it’d be more disturbing,” he said. “So the second one is easier.”
The Pistons, dubbed “The Bad Boys” for their rough play, especially around the basket, rose to prominence in a much different era. Back then, basketball was all about the big man. Today, as seen with the Golden State Warriors, it’s all about the three-point shot.
Laimbeer doesn’t think it’ll be that way forever.
“Forever is the wrong word,” he said. “For the present, yes. Copy-cat league is a cliche about the NBA, and this is no exception. Teams are trying to get more perimeter-shooting bigs, movement, the whole package. There’s still a place for smash-mouth basketball. Some teams will come forth with a team that just dominates the inside and plays inside-out rather than outside-in, and some teams will copy that too in the future. But right now, it’s a perimeter game and everybody wants to be like somebody else.”
If you’re curious, Laimbeer, who has won three WNBA titles as coach of the New York Liberty, isn’t quite as menacing as he once was.
“You have to be of a certain age (to still scare people),” the 59-year-old said. “It’s been awhile since we played. The time that we played was a magical time for those that experienced it. But people look back on the time that we played, it was very intense basketball. It was intense rivalries across the board, which I think is lacking in today’s basketball. Players stayed with teams for so long and were identified with those teams for their whole life, as I was with the Pistons. People miss those days. They’ll always say, ‘I hated you, but that was so much fun to watch.’”