Why Detroit Pistons’ Rick Mahorn didn’t watch ‘The Last Dance’: ‘We whooped that ass’

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
 
| Detroit Free Press

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On Thursday, Detroit Pistons legend and former Bad Boy Rick Mahorn hosted the organization’s 16th annual Black History Month Scholarship Event. The long-running event, which took place virtually this year, awarded thousands in scholarship money to DPSCD high school seniors competing in two events — a poetry slam contest, and a poster contest — on the theme ‘Powering Humanity.’ 

Mahorn was joined by two current Pistons who have expressed their admiration for the Bad Boys era — Dennis Smith Jr. and Isaiah Stewart. 

It has been more than three decades since the Bad Boys won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990, but it feels as though that era is more prominent than it has been in years. The Bad Boys were featured in an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary in 2014, and last year’s 10-part Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance,” prominently featured the Chicago Bulls’ battles with the Pistons in the mid-80s and early-90s. 

Stewart, a 19-year-old rookie, said in December he watched documentaries on the Bad Boys and the 2004 championship team during a road tripWhen Smith, who is 23, was traded to the Pistons in February, he said he watched the “30 for 30” documentary with his girlfriend during his first night in Detroit

The current iteration of the Pistons is taking cues from the past eras of the team, and Mahorn appreciates the nod. The former Pistons big man, who played for the franchise from 1985-89, is a fan of what general manager Troy Weaver is building. 

Pistons’ Troy Weaver building team to honor city’s robust basketball heritage ]

“In order to be successful in this league, in the NBA, is to build the culture,” Mahorn, a longtime radio analyst for the Pistons and co-host and analyst on SiriusXM NBA Radio, said. “I think right now, the way that him and coach (Dwane Casey have come together to show that our record doesn’t indicate, just because we got all these losses doesn’t mean that we’re not competing. And they’re competing at a high level.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with the Free Press on Thursday, Mahorn talked about the legacy of the Bad Boys, what it’ll take for more five-star recruits to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and why he didn’t watch “The Last Dance.” Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

You had a couple of young Pistons on the Zoom earlier with Dennis Smith and Isaiah Stewart. It’s Year 1 of a rebuild. What have you seen from these young guys this season?

The thing is, in my mind when you say ‘rebuild,’ it’s like you know what? It’s trying to get better. When you put people like Dennis Smith Jr. and Isaiah Stewart, but also Saddiq Bey, you’ve got some guys that are hungry, and that’s the key about being in professional sports. Having the hunger to be better than, or what the naysayers tell you that you can’t do, or your position in the draft. Because if I had to look at it, I got drafted in the second round. I went to a historically black college (Hampton University). Ben Wallace went to a historically black college (Virginia Union). Those things were like, for me, was hunger. With these young guys that are playing right now, they’re not playing like rookies even though they didn’t go to the rookie camps and the transition programs. But it’s on the job training that, when it’s all said and done, this is just basketball. And to compete against the top players in the world is exciting to them, but not only exciting to them, but watching the guys that they played against is something to say ‘we’ll I’m competing against a LeBron James, I’m competing against a Zion Williamson last night. You know what? They’re no better than me, and I’m no better than them.’

NEW DIGS: Dennis Smith Jr. finding his mojo with Pistons and showing he belongs

Last year, Makur Maker made news by going to Howard and being the first top recruit to go to an HBCU in decades. What does it mean to you when you see young players wanting to bring a bigger spotlight to black colleges?

Going to a big college, going to the Kentucky’s, the Duke’s, the Michigan’s and then Michigan State, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing that. But if you’re trying to get better as a basketball player, we see guys coming into the league now, they’re like three years or two years from junior high school. The thing is, why not go to a place where you can compete and repetition makes you better? Maker going to Howard University just opens the door for a lot of these top recruits, they don’t have to go to a big school. Big schools are, when you look at it, their recruiting budget, they’re grabbing everybody. They get the top cream of the crop and it’s always something, ‘the big recruiting class of Michigan, this is one of the greatest.’ But then it’s like, some of those guys get on there and they don’t even play. Don’t be a small fish in a big pond. Be a big fish and you can get more repetition to learn how to play basketball because when you look at it, I’m going to go back to Earl Lloyd, guys that went to West Virginia State, guys like Ben Wallace, guys like Earl the Pearl Monroe, Willis Reed, Avery Johnson, Bob Dandridge, Al Attles, I can go on, Sam Jones, I can go on and on and on. Well they’re Hall of Famers. Some of these guys are Hall of Famers. What makes going to a D-1 school bigger than going to a D-2 or D-3? It’s all basketball and when you try to compete against the best, you’re going to try to bring your best game forward. And if you don’t make it, you’re going to come back with more aggression next year.

When Dennis Smith arrived in Detroit a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned he watched the “Bad Boys” 30 for 30 for the 10th time. That has been a constant this season. Isaiah Stewart watched the Bad Boys and a Goin’ to Work documentary to learn more about the past eras. What does it mean to you to see these young guys on this Pistons team want to learn more about the Bad Boys era, and take inspiration from it?

What’s crazy is I was blessed and fortunate enough to win the first championship here in Detroit. One thing that I did before I even got into the league, I did my history. I looked at the Wes Unselds. You look at people, where you’re going, and understand that we’re a championship team. We have three championships sitting up here in Detroit. It’s like, ‘ok, well you’re going to the Pistons, it must stink.’ No, you’re going to a team that has the foundation of having three championships. Not a lot of teams out there have one chip. We’ve got three. It’s fun and exciting because you learn your history of how we, as players, developed to be better players. I respect the ’04 boys just like they respect the 89 boys. We’re a fraternity and we’re a fraternity for the NBA, but we’re also in a fraternity because we’re champions and we can look at each other and talk a whole lot of smack and say ‘you know what, Rasheed (Wallace), I would’ve bust you,’ or whatever, or Bill (Laimbeer) would say it’s about matchups. And it’s fun. It’s engaging. But with these young guys, understand what it is to be a Piston, and how are we going to change the culture to get it back to what it was before. 

The Bad Boys have been in the national spotlight a lot these past seven years, looking at “The Last Dance” last year and then the Bad Boys 30 for 30 in 2014. Have you seen more of a national focus in the last decade compared to the previous decade?

I do. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t watch the Jordan doc because I wouldn’t give a damn or hell about what Jordan did. We whooped that ass, that’s all that matters. But it’s a respect. I finally watched the 30 for 30 probably this year for the Bad Boys because it was something that, I said, ‘I already know about all that.’ But you learn about the players that are around you. It keeps us in contact. It’s nice to get that. We were never acknowledged as one of the best teams in the league, it was always the Celtics, the Lakers and then it was Chicago. You skip over two teams that won back-to-back with the Pistons and also the Houston Rockets. You gotta give these teams their due, because we’re in history. It didn’t skip from the Lakers to Chicago. It was a blip in all this stuff. The thing is, I’m glad that we’re finally getting the respect and the NBA is giving it to us.

You mention that you didn’t watch “The Last Dance” and you just watched the 30 for 30 this year…

I ain’t watching no Last Dance, the hell? Plus when the Pistons did lose, I wasn’t here! I wouldn’t have shook their hands. It’s basketball, c’mon man. ‘Thank you for kicking my ass, I gotta keep walking.’ Man, please. I’m walking off that court, man. You beat us, bye. I’m done.

One thing Isiah Thomas said about the documentary is you have to consider the source. Obviously it was a Bulls documentary. What did you hear through the grapevine at the time, and what do you want people to know about the Bad Boys that may not have been conveyed?

When people don’t look at little things. To me, the way the Palace (of Auburn Hills) was built, our bench was the furthest away from the locker room. Not in every place you can walk across someone’s bench to get back to the locker room. When you look at these little things, if our locker room was over here to the right, nobody would’ve walked by there. ‘Ah, that’s disrespectful.’ I’m sitting here going like, nah it wasn’t disrespectful. It was built differently back then. But now you see when the team loses, they go exit left, the other one exits right. What I take from the documentary, being the voice we all talk about, is it is what it is. They promote what they want to promote. We were good, we were champions and they’ll never take that away from us

What will it take for the Pistons to get a fourth championship?

Right now, they’re in the right direction. They’re competing. And the thing about the NBA is to build that culture, to make someone say that ok, if this is one of the best players and they got an opportunity to go somewhere, you can come to Detroit and be accepted. But you have to abide by what the culture is. You can’t just come in here and say I’m so and so, no. You have to work just as hard as those people that are here already.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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