After The Last Dance, the Bulls were dismantled following the 1997-98 season, and Western Conference powerhouses such as the San Antonio Spurs and the L.A. Lakers stormed to win the next five NBA championships!
But in 2004, a new force rose in the East, inspired by their champion predecessors, 1988 & 1989 NBA champions, the Detroit Pistons. A team loaded with talent on every position had to fight their way to the NBA championship title by beating the L.A. Lakers, who were just phenomenal that year.
The 2003-04 Lakers featured a core of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, surrounded by perennial All-Star veterans such as Gary Payton and Karl Malone. The Pistons were also loaded with talent, but Larry Brown knew that for them to go all the way, he would have to eventually outwit the Lakers’ Zen Master, Phil Jackson.
To reach his goal, Brown had to go down down memory lane to recall his experience with the 2001 NBA finalists, the Philadelphia 76ers, who were beaten by the L.A. Lakers 4-1.
“Everywhere I go, people look at me, and they don’t know my name, but they know that I coached Allen. More people had told me that’s their favorite team – the Sixers 2001, and that’s why we beat them [the Lakers] in 2004. I told our team, you know, that we [Philly] were good enough, I thought in 2001, to give them a run for their money. But I thought that the 2004 team in Detroit was so much deeper.”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
In the first two series-opening games in Los Angeles, both teams showcased their full potential, thus splitting the wins. At that time, the Finals were played in a 2-3-2 format; the next three games were in Detroit. Still, most people were confident the series would end in the last two games in LA.
“We won game 1. I blew game 2 because we should have fouled, we were up 3 with 8 seconds to go, and I couldn’t get them to foul, and Kobe made a great shot. We lost in overtime.”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
Just before the return trip to Detroit, Brown sensed the potentially shifting momentum and decided to address it right after Game 2. That bus ride brought memories from ’01, and Coach Brown used it to send a powerful message.
“I told the guys, I said: ‘You know, I took the same kind of bus ride, we were 1-1 leaving the Lakers when I was with Philly.‘ And I said: ‘We can’t have this happen again.‘”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
It was the 2002-03 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, who then made a vocal point in front of the entire team, convincing Brown to sit down, relax, and enjoy the rest of the ride. For that Pistons team, the glass was glass full. They may have let Game 2 slip through their fingers, but they knew they were the better team.
“Before I finished, Ben Wallace said: ‘Coach, we ain’t Philly. And we ain’t comin’ back.’ And they told me to sit my butt down and, you know, enjoy the flight.”Larry Brown, Maccabi USA
The Pistons never looked back, winning the next three games in The Palace of Auburn Hills in a convincing fashion. Brown firmly believes that his experience with the 76ers was significant for winning the title with Detroit.