Bill Laimbeer wasn’t well-liked or respected – at least on the court – when he suited up for the Detroit Pistons back in the Bad Boys days. He was always in fights. He always played hard, but hardly ever was a good word said about him by an opponent.
Even his teammate and close friend, Isiah Thomas, once said, “If I didn’t know Bill, I wouldn’t like him, either.” Why was he so hated? He gave his opinion during his playing days, but there is a whole lot more to it than his belief.
Bill Laimbeer developed a reputation of being an instigator with the Detroit Pistons
While Thomas and Joe Dumars got a lot of the glory during the golden years of the Pistons, Laimbeer was doing the dirty work – dirty being the key word. The 6-foot-11 center always found himself in the middle of a scrum, fight, or ejection. Although he was usually the recipient of several left hooks, he said he wasn’t a fighter.
“I don’t fight. I agitate, then walk away,” Laimbeer told Sports Illustrated in 1990.
His antics riled up opponents, especially members of their bitter rivals, the Boston Celtics.
“I was always taught if you can’t say something nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all. So I’m saying nothing at all,” said former Celtics center Robert Parish, who had his share of tussles with Laimbeer.
Bill Walton added, “You want me to say something about Laimbeer, eh? But you can’t print it.”
While many disliked Bill Laimbeer for his cheap shots, he had his own theory why he wasn’t liked
Laimbeer was actually born in Boston, but that certainly didn’t endear him to any Celtics players or fans. He played high school basketball at Palos Verdes High School in California before playing at the next level at Notre Dame. Laimbeer was academically ineligible after his freshman year and left. He returned for two years as predominantly a role player. The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him in the third round of the 1979 NBA Draft.
Laimbeer wasn’t the most athletic guy on the basketball court.
“Bill’s the epitome of the guy running in sand,” legendary Pistons coach Chuck Daly once said.
Even Laimbeer poked fun of himself. “Now that the Whopper (Billy Paultz) is gone,” says Laimbeer, “I can’t think of anyone I can outjump.”
Maybe it was that lack of athletic skill that forced Laimbeer to resort to his antics of flopping and cheap-shotting, which resulted in drawing the ire of opponents and opposing fans. During his playing days, Laimbeer believed he was not liked for another reason.
“I’m used to being disliked at a national level because I went to Notre Dame,” he said in 1986.
The lack of Laimbeer love went well beyond Notre Dame
Laimbeer’s reputation was never a good one. Maybe the Notre Dame theory plays a small role, but it pales in comparison to the real reason. Opponents were sick of the cheap shots and those antics caught up with him.
“I was having breakfast with an NBA coach and his wife recently when Bill’s name came up in passing,” said Detroit assistant coach Dick Harter in 1986. “As soon as the wife heard it she slammed down her fork and asked, ‘What’s the deal with that guy? I mean, does he beat his wife or what?’ I couldn’t believe how fired up she was.
“But I’ll tell you the main reason people don’t like Bill. He plays hard all the time. He comes at you, and he doesn’t give an inch.”
Even Laimbeer’s teammates mocked him for how much he was disliked.
In the late 80s, Laimbeer was in the locker room The Palace in Auburn Hills when he was combing his hair “to get good-looking for all my fans out there,” he said.
“Yeah, all two of them,” a teammate said.
Kurt Rambis, then with the Phoenix Suns, questioned whether Laimbeer’s parents even liked him.
“I have to assume his mom and dad like Bill,” he said, “but you would have to verify it.”
So was Laimbeer smart, dirty, or clever? Former Sallas Mavericks coach Richie Adubato summed it up best.
“I think he combines all three,” he said. “He’s intelligent. I think he’s dirty. He’s a great actor. I think he’s a fierce competitor. I think he’s a winner. To sum it up, he’s a guy everybody hates.”