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Thursday, August 9, 2018

'Bad Boys', the villains of basketball

Bad Boys
The Bad Boys Pistons… how I hated them! They more or less dethroned the mythical domination of Lakers and Celtics during the 80s, when this (then quite little) kid felt in love with basketball. And they did it by playing a very rough, at times straightforwardly violent, heavily defensive style of game. For me, that team was the antithesis of heroics although, somewhat, history has elevated that hard-nose, extremely gritty type of play as the most perfected tribute to that modern euphemism of “whatever it takes to win”. But there’s a history behind that team. A great, compelling, shocking one. And that’s what this documentary addresses with brilliance.

Directed by Zak Levitt, ‘Bad Boys’ is one of the best episodes of the ESPN30 for 30’. It works just admirably as the chronicle, quite a ride, of the Detroit Pistons’ rise. From the early days when they were one of the worst teams of the NBA, playing in a near empty arena to the cornerstone moment of drafting Isaiah Thomas, followed to the progressive assembly of an unforgettable (for good or bad) squad, with names such as Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Joe Dumars, Adrian Dantley (later replaced for Mark Aguirre) and, of course, without forgetting it’s architect, head coach Chuck Daly. Blood, sweat and tears...

Because it was a long, extremely demanding trip to success, with a Championship run that each year went a little further, like climbing a very high ladder one step at a time, until they managed to win back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. A journey that included frustration (Celtics and Lakers early domination), drastic measures (that Dantley-Aguirre trade), tragedy (the death of Joe Dumars’ father), famous mistakes (the iconic Larry Bird steal), heroics and bad luck (that Isaiah injury and his gigantic Game 6 in the 1988 Finals), plus all sort of antics, despicable arts (leaded by tandem Mahorn-Laimbeer hard-fouls tandem) and dubious choices (summed up in that controversial, "class act", walking off the court against the Bulls once the defeat was evident) all in the same receipt. Absorbing is a word that falls too short to define the experience of any basket lover watching the movie.

But that’s not all, folks! Because ‘Bad Boys’ is not just a very interesting summary of a most celebrated and hated team. It digs deeper, trying to find the essence, the mystery behind those Pistons in their quest to the top. Wisely, Levitt lets the characters do the talking, and the cast, gathered and interviewed in full (with the exception of Daly, who passed away before the film was made), pays dividends to a memorable level. Misfits, lone-wolves, hard-workers and tough guys, snubbed and controversial stars, funny characters… Each one of them would deserve a documentary on his own (well, Rodman, Laimbeer and Thomas could have a longer series than Game of Thrones), showing the viewers the complexity, fearlessness, determination, and improbable coalescence of that unusual bunch of human-beings, becoming a family bonded to fight against all odds, and particularly battling against those 'transatlantic teams' of 80s Celtics, Lakers and Bulls.

The amount of scenes, one-liners and breakout moments is mind-blowing (not just from the Pistons’ roster, but also from journalists, broadcasters and players who fought against them, including Jordan, Pippen, Drexler or Ewing). Isiah Thomas, one of the best point guards ever, with a Magic Johnson kind of smile outside the court getting into several jams (with Bird, Jordan and the whole league); Rodman breaking into tears when receives his first best-defender award; Mahorn smashed into pieces in front of the camera when remembers how he was forced to leave the Pistons; John Salley proving he’s the 'coolest cat' ever to get into a basketball court; and the caustic Laimbeer not ready to bury the hatchet yet. I could go on and on…

Through these anecdotes, first-hand informations and revelations, ‘Bad Boys’ talks about something more than basketball or a radical way of playing, one that seems to be long gone compared with today's softness in the NBA. It's offering us a powerful & affecting statement on embracing an attitude, a behaviour, an identity that connected with fans, the city of Detroit, channeling a spirit of toughness and resolution that endured long after the team uglily disbanded (and the Jordan era began), resonating within American popular culture. What lies behind that image of villainy and rebellion (as Public Enemy would sing, a 'Fight the Power' kind of attitude) is competitiveness, even rudeness, passion, and a relentless obsession to achieve a goal.Have to admit it: even a proven hater like the one writing has begun to love the 'Bad Boys' after watching this documentary. Mandatory, both for basket lovers as well as people interested in striking human stories.  

SCORE: 8/10

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