Laimbeer Era: New York Beckons

Lady New York has wooed a select few highly accomplished masters of X’s and O’s into a relationship with her sports teams and fans. Notorious for her brutally high expectations, she is also passionate and loyal. At the moment, she is newly inspired.

This time three decades ago, Bill Laimbeer made a name for himself banging on the court with the Detroit Pistons. Now, the two-time NBA champion, four-time NBA All Star, three-time WNBA championship coach, and 2003 WNBA Coach of the Year is banging through the blogospheres, down Twitter timelines and Facebook feeds as the news spreads of his return to the WNBA as the new head coach and general manager of the New York Liberty. Retweets, likes and thumbs-ups flooded the @nyliberty social media accounts where Liberty fans and the organization interact over the web. Rants of “the Bad Girls are back!” and “New York just got tougher!” echoed from a championship deprived, hardware thirsty New York Liberty fan base.

While the Liberty have been no slouch in the league, advancing to the post season in twelve out of sixteen seasons, “the Chip” has eluded them. The 2012 season had many ups and downs and injury battles, yet through it all, the Liberty and superstar Cappie Pondexter fought to a 15-19 regular season record before finally falling in a frustrating first round Game 2 playoff exit. Now, with one final year at Prudential Center before returning to Madison Square Garden for home games, the Liberty franchise marches forward, led by a new GM, a new coach, and into a new era.

What was the man with a reputation that floats in the realm of basketball greats, whose legacy is recognized for winning and toughness, doing before joining the Liberty? Fishing. And golfing. “My wife and I decided it was time to go back. I had been competing against the fish and the golf course long enough,” Laimbeer said of his inability to stay away from the court.

Still, it wasn’t a straight path to New York; he’d flirted with other cities. “It got out that I would be receptive to coming back to the WNBA. I originally started conversations with another team, then New York jumped in, and it happened very quickly with the Liberty”. New York, the temptress, the siren of sports glory, batted her eyelashes at a restless Laimbeer… and the rest was history. He was ours.

His reputation precedes him. Already, fans have projected what the Detroit Pistons all-time leader in career rebounds and the big man who could step back and pop a trey would bring to New York. In his playing days he was called one of the Pistons’ “Bad Boys” and as a coach of the Detroit Shock, his players were tagged “the Bad Girls”. Laimbeer says the nicknames, which can be interpreted both positively and negatively, are not something he pushes; rather, they come with the territory. “Highly competitive individuals who play to win sometimes rub people the wrong way. They are often looked upon in a different light. And that’s too bad. The key is to win,” he explains.

With the public’s projections pushed aside, Laimbeer confides his own expectations, “Historically, my teams, have been high scoring teams, and with the Shock, we were arguably the best defensive team, too. We will play hard-nosed and competitive basketball. I don’t care if the players are older or younger. My question is, can they play? They don’t need to buy into me; they need to buy into winning, and my offensive and defensive structure. I am a very demanding coach. Making playoffs isn’t good enough. That is not what this is about. Just getting there isn’t enough”. New York, intrigued, cocks an eyebrow.

Bill is familiar with the current Liberty personnel, having coached both Plenette Pierson and (unrestricted free agent) Kara Braxton on the Shock, and he watched the team closely during the playoffs. “Most of the players on the team now were playing when I was still coaching with Detroit,” he said. While Laimbeer gets excited about the strengths of the Liberty roster, the players have reason to embrace the new coach, too. “I am a players’ coach, always. Without the players, there is no game, no coach,” Laimbeer expresses adamantly.

“My goal is to hit The Garden and have a team that everyone embraces. We have to build the team. This season will be interesting. I am trying to figure out, can we compete for a championship this year and how,” Coach Laimbeer pontificates.

Laimbeer will choose the pieces he has to work with as both general manager and head coach for the organization. Looking back on what he did in Detroit he recounts, “I came to Detroit in the middle of the season and I evaluated what we had. We were 0-10. I evaluated from the best player to the least talented. I identified cliques, the demeanors of players, players who were professional about their job, and who could play with whom. And then, in that situation, at the end of the season, I made big changes, I cleaned house trading about three quarters of the team. I’m not saying that is what will happen with New York. But everything is open for discussion. We didn’t win the championship… so something has to change”.

Known for love/hate romances with the best minds in sports, the fiery and passionate New York looks at her newest protagonist with hope, yet, she is still ever so tentative… “Fans should buy in because we are going to put a good product on the court. And that starts with me! It is important that when we go back to Madison Square Garden the New Yorkers know who we are, what we’re about, where we’re going, and are excited about all of that. When we get back to The Garden, everyone should feel, think, and believe, HERE WE COME”.

New York, unable to resist, nods her approval and welcomes the Bill Laimbeer era, the latest chapter in her book of sports lore, wins, losses, heartache, and jubilation.

Look out for “Laimbeer Era: Part Two” where Coach Laimbeer analyzes the current Liberty personnel, strengths, and weakness, and gives an outline for his plan of attack.