Bill Laimbeer: Not a Fan of the Highlighter

Posted by nvr1983 on March 20th, 2009

We were granted the opportunity to speak with Bill Laimbeer, a 4-time NBA All-Star, member of 2 NBA Championship teams (“The Bad Boys”) and former team captain of Notre Dame as part of a promotion that Coke Zero is doing for http://www.TasteTheMadness.com.

I have to say going into this interview I was a bit apprehensive. I’m not the world’s smoothest sports interviewer on the planet (as Seth Davis can probably attest to) and Bill Laimbeer has a bit of a reputation although looking back now I can’t remember any Jim “Chris” Everett moments from Laimbeer so maybe my concerns were unnecessary. It turns out that he was much friendlier than I expected and actually laughed at a few of my jokes. Even though it was part of the Coke Zero campaign, we spent most of the interview discussing basketball (college, NBA, WNBA, and even Boston fans like Bill Simmons) and not just the promotion.

One of the things that stuck out when I reviewed the interview was that Laimbeer still seems to harbor some animosity towards Digger Phelps, who coached him at Notre Dame. Looking back I probably should have dug deeper into that, but we were on a schedule. If either Bill or Digger are reading this, shoot me an e-mail at rushthecourt@gmail.com and we can get to the bottom of this.

RTC: Coming from the West Coast, what made you decide to go to Notre Dame?

BL: Well, a few reasons. One was that my parents were moving from Los Angeles to Ohio at that time after my senior year of high school. That played a little part in it. The second part was that I thought Notre Dame was a national university both basketball-wise and school-wise, and I spent most of my life in the Midwest, but I spent my high school years in California so it seemed like a good fit. And Notre Dame was on TV every other week. There was only one game a week on TV.

Laimbeer at Notre Dame (Credit: Notre Dame Media Guide)

Laimbeer at Notre Dame (Credit: Notre Dame Media Guide)


RTC: Since he’s become such a big personality now I have to ask: What was it like playing for Digger at the time?

BL: [Laughter] Well frustrating at times. I only got to play 20 minutes a game because he played everybody. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on many different things and I’m a person who believes that it’s a player’s game. When I was in college it was the coaches were dictators.  That was Digger Phelps and Al Mcguire and Dean Smith and Lefty Driesell and Johnny Wooden. They were. . .The coaches were the dominant figures and I believe it should be more players.

RTC: Was he [Digger] as eccentric as he is now with the matching the highlighter and tie and all this stuff?

BL: You mean with the promotion?

RTC: Yeah. With the being kind of crazy?

BL: Yeah. Yeah. He was the same way.

RTC: Ok. What memories from your college days stand out? I know that you played in the Final 4 and I actually just finished reading a book by Seth Davis the Magic versus Bird championship game and he talked about how your team played Magic in the Elite 8 that year. Is it one of those memories or something else that really stands out for you?

BL: I think getting to the Final 4 and winning the Regional final against DePaul was the #1 highlight, but I have to say I didn’t realize it–college–would go away so fast. It was here today and gone tomorrow. I wish I could do some things over again because I didn’t realize how fast it was going to go by. I won a championship in high school, in the pros, and now I coach women who have won championships there. That’s the one piece that is missing.

RTC: I’ll preface this next segment by saying that I actually live in Boston so I just wanted to get that out of the way first. [Ed. Note: Fans in Boston have a special place in their heart for Laimbeer thanks to incidents like this (go to 0:45).] You had a good, but not great college career. How do you think you got to the level of an NBA All-Star because you weren’t expected to be that level coming out of college by most scouts? [Ed. Note: He was drafted in the 3rd round, 65th overall, and spent a year playing in Italy before going to the NBA.]

BL: Well that’s one of the faults that I had with the way college basketball was then. The coaches ran the show. There was no shot clock so we stalled all the time. You weren’t able to get out there and show what you could do consistently. It was very herky-jerky, but in the pros it’s the player’s game. If you’re successful on the court, you’ll play more time. It’s a business and I thrived in that environment.

RTC: Do you have any specific memories of playing agianst Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan? And also today looking at a player like LeBron James, who is probably unlike any player who has ever played before in terms of his physical ability, how would you compare playing against those three to a guy like LeBron?

BL: Well you know different eras have different physicalities and talent levels. In the ’80s, when I played, in professional basketball it was a team game and a mid-range game. The 3-point line was just coming into existence. It was 5-on-5 basketball. Now it’s more an individual show. The players are bigger, faster, and stronger. There’s no question about it. I think LeBron is the most physical specimen we have seen in the NBA since Wilt [Chamberlain] probably. He is just phenomenal. He is fun to watch. He has a chance if he wins a few championships to go down as the best player of all-time, but he’s still going to be judged by championships as far as how great he is. As far as Bird and Magic and Jordan, they were great players on great teams, but LeBron is a one-man show.

RTC: Coming from Boston I have to ask you, do you have any thoughts on Boston fans like Bill Simmons of ESPN.com who still refers to you as the “Anti-Christ“?

BL: [Laughter] All you can do is go by the fans reaction. You know when I go to Boston, I was doing some announcing for a while and I run into Boston Celtics or Chicago Bulls fans you know they say almost the same thing: “You know I used to hate you. I yelled and screamed at my TV or at the games at you.” But then the next sentence is “Man, I really miss that time when everybody was playing like that.” They respect the fact that we were competitive and it was very entertaining basketball.

RTC: Do you have any regrets that people remember you more for the extracurricular stuff in your game rather than your accomplishments?

BL: No. I don’t ever look back on anything really. You do that and you’ll drive yourself crazy. You live for the moment and keep on going. Whatever happens happens.

RTC: I was just curious because I read a quote by Dennis Rodman of all people who said “He was more than a thug, but that’s what he’ll be remembered for.” Coming from a guy like Dennis that’s kind of strange because of all the things that he’ll be remembered for.

BL: [Laughter]

RTC: A lot of people have been critical of the WNBA and you have an image as being a pretty tough guy playing for the Pistons with the “Bad Boys”. What do you have to say about the WNBA experience to the people who haven’t really latched onto it yet?

BL: The WNBA. The ladies play hard. They play physical. They compete to win. They’re great athletes. They’re no different than the guys except they don’t have the athleticism that the guys do when they fly above the rim. That’s the only difference in the two games. The players are no less competitive. It’s fun to watch. The game in the WNBA today is just like it was in the NBA in the ’80s. It’s 5-on-5 basketball, solid fundamentals, mid-range games, specialists, and deep, deep teams that compete very hard.

RTC: Now, we’ll get to the Coke Zero stuff since this is what you’re promoting. How did you get involved with Taste the Madness and the Coke Zero promotion?

BL: Well, they asked me to get involved and help them out. It’s a great thing. You have fans taking video of their own fans and their rituals or individual fans taking videos of their individual rituals that these fans have. They can upload them at TasteTheMadness.com and see their videos on the website. There are a whole bunch already up there.

RTC: Since there are some fans bases that are more known for their antics than others. Who do you think would be the favorite for this competition?

BL: You know I think that’s a good question. I think that the Duke’s of the world and Kansas and teams like that will get a good amount of videos. You’re going to get some from smaller colleges that are really thought out, intense, and real. That’s how they are. And then you are going to get some videos that are wild and crazy with people dressed up and painted. You know stuff that is just fun to look at and laugh at. They’re going to pick some winners and get their videos shown on the championship game on CBS.

[Short break while I checked to see if he still had time to speak. Then I resumed my questioning, which is why we go into something different.]

RTC: You said the game is a lot different than back when you played. Do you think the NCAA is moving the right way with some of the things that have been doing? Like the NBA instituting the age rule and stuff like that?

BL: Well the age rule was something that the NBA collectively bargained. The NCAA can give their input, but they don’t have any say.  I think the game itself has exploded because of television. No question about that. The athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger. There are more teams that can compete and their fans think they can reach the Final 4. That brings a lot more fans to the game. I really think the one game and out is unique. It creates anxiety and a higher level of excitement.

RTC: I saw in one of your earlier chats that you said that UNC, UConn, Pittsburgh, and Memphis were your picks for the Final 4 [Ed. Note: This interview was conducted before the brackets came out so neither of us knew that UConn and Memphis would be in the same bracket.] so I’ll ask the next logical question. Who do you think will win?

BL: I’m picking North Carolina. I think that Tyler Hansbrough is going to dominate the action. He’s very long, fundamentally sound, and it’s his last year. I think he is going to have one heck of a tournament.

RTC: Is he a player that reminds you a little bit of yourself in terms of how hard he plays?

BL: I think he does in terms of how hard he plays and uses his body well and competes on every play.

RTC: Ok. Well thank you for your time.

BL: Ok. Thank you.

nvr1983 (1317 Posts)


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