LOS ANGELES — The Wings and Pistons aren’t close to contention. But then, you knew that.
What you may not have known, at least until the last couple of weeks, is how much the city’s winter teams are beginning to embody Detroit. Yes, we’re not even a week into the NBA schedule and barely two weeks into the NHL’s — but the physicality and toughness both teams have displayed isn’t an accident.
It’s by design, specifically those of Steve Yzerman and Troy Weaver. Even in the small sample size of five combined games, it’s easy to see.
Whether it’s Dylan Larkin dropping his gloves after taking a swing at Tampa Bay’s Mathieu Joseph in the season opener or Givani Smith curling three left hooks into Calgary’s Milan Lucic on Thursday night, the Detroit Red Wings aren’t taking anything.
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Fisticuffs come with more consequences in the NBA, but I’d imagine few would dig duking it out with the Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey or Isaiah Stewart. The second-year forwards aren’t the only physical players on the team. But each seeks out contact as a kind of strategy: Bey to score; Stewart to defend.
In Wednesday’s opener against Chicago, Stewart stuffed Nikola Vucevic into such a tight box that the offensively gifted center — who has four inches and 30 pounds on Stewart — lost his composure a couple of times.
Again, no one expects either team to make the playoffs. Yet each team’s identity is emerging in the most perfectly Detroit way. This should make for compelling theater as the leaves begin to fall and the sun begins to drop in the late afternoon.
The winters are long and often unforgiving around here. They’ve been especially long the last half decade, as neither team offered much respite.
Yes, it’s early. And, yes, there will be plenty of losing. The whiff of hope, though, is unmistakable. So is the attitude of these young and prickly teams.
An ice-cold honor
The NBA released a list of its 75 best players ever to commemorate its 75th anniversary this week. Folks took to social media to argue immediately.
Where was Dwight Howard? Tracy McGrady? Vince Carter? And why did Kyrie Irving and Reggie Miller and George Gervin make it?
Wait, George Gervin?
The Detroiter and Eastern Michigan alum made the list of the 50 best 25 years ago. There was no way he was going to get bumped. No one from that list did.
And while you can nitpick his lack of playoff wins, his scoring numbers (26.2 points a game in his NBA years), his All-Star appearances (five) and his first-team All-NBA nods (four) give him more than enough résumé to fortify his selection. But Gervin isn’t on the list because he got buckets.
He’s on the list because of how he got buckets. He was cool — still is, actually. He moved to his own score, fluidly and gracefully.
He invented the free-throw line finger roll, an iconic, underhanded flip that spun and rose to an impossibly high parabola before dropping into the net. Even his release was cool — so cool it earned him the nickname “Iceman.”
Gervin’s style resonates today. And in a game defined by artistry as much as anything else, he remains an original.
He played most of his career in San Antonio, in the ABA and eventually the NBA, and he retired with more than 25,000 total points. He enjoyed a cultural renaissance in the 1990s when he sat for Nike’s series of “Barbershop” commercials, most memorably explaining his game this way as Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” grooved in the background:
“One thing I could do … was finger-roll.”
Go back and watch the commercial. The pause in the sentence mimicked his flow on the court, the half-beat just before the payoff. He should’ve made the list just for that.
This place has the (beef) jus
The Freep’s Dave Birkett recently asked Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown what he would eat if he had one meal left. His answer:
“I don’t know if you guys have heard of In-N-Out. Have you heard of that?”
This isn’t all of his answer, and we’ll get to the rest of it in a moment. First, though, some context for those of you who’ve never tried In-N-Out or haven’t heard of it: It’s a fast-food (yes, fast food) burger joint that originated in California and built its reputation on “fresh” ingredients and a secret special sauce.
Mostly, it built its reputation on its California-ness. And that’s fine; most of us are attached to local joints that go big.
The truth about In-N-Out, however, is less than its legend. Yes, it’s burgers are solid (OK, fine, I had a double with cheese and onion Thursday after landing at LAX), a cut —or three — above regular fast-food burgers. And, yes, its shakes are fine, too.
But there is a reason St. Brown added this when asked about his last meal:
“Either In-N-Out burger with their fries, a Five Guys burger with their fries, or a Shake Shack burger with their fries.”
And that’s about right.
All three offer similar burger-fry combos. All three market their food as (relatively) fresh. All three include geography in their sales pitch (Five Guys and Shake Shack come with notions of Maryland/Washington/Virginia and New York City respectively).
None of them invented the burger, though. And at least Five Guys and Shake Shack have decent fries … sorry, southern California.
Don’t fret if you’re from sunny Los Angeles, however, because y’all gave the rest of us something far sturdier and, frankly, tastier: the beef dip. Or French dip, if you prefer.
You can still find the original at the corner of Alameda and Ord, on the north edge of downtown L.A., in a joint called “Philippe The Original,” a cafeteria style eatery that claims to have invented the French Dip. Another restaurant called Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet also stakes that claim.
Philippe’s is where you want to be if you’re looking for a little beef in L.A. Folks line up for the roast beef, layered on a crusty roll and dipped in the beef’s roasting juices. You can order it single-dipped, double-dipped or wet. You can also squeeze a line of nostril-opening mustard on it and call it a day.
If you go, try the coleslaw and any of the homemade pies, and then take a seat at a communal table — don’t worry about the sawdust on the floor — and dig into the heavenly offerings.
But then, so is In-N-Out. How else to explain its sodden, salt-less, tasteless fries and the diehards who swear by them?
The next time you’re out in L.A., give Philippe a shot, and celebrate the sandwich for which “The City of Angels” should be known.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.