Even NBA champs in awe of Bad Boys

Former Pistons great Isiah Thomas addresses the crowd during a half-time celebration of the 1989 NBA championship Friday.

Duane Burleson/AP

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — How great were the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys?

Well, even the best team in the current NBA isn’t sure what would happen if they went head-to-head with them.

"If they played us with our rules, I think we would beat them," Miami’s Dwyane Wade said. "But if we played under their rules? We wouldn’t have a chance.

"That was a great team, and there’s a reason they won those two championships (in 1989 and ’90)."

LeBron James has never lacked for confidence, but on the night the Bad Boys reunited for a 25th-anniversary celebration of their first NBA title, even he wasn’t going to pick against them.

"I never want to say anyone would beat us, and if they had to play under today’s rules, I don’t think they could play their style of basketball," James said. "If we played them back then? It would be a very physical game.

"I don’t know who would win, but I’m pretty sure there would be some fights and ejections."

Even though the Pistons never played for other people’s respect — Bill Laimbeer said Friday that the only people they cared about were each other and the Detroit fans — there’s no question they’re remembered as one of the best groups in NBA history.

That’s why the Palace was packed Friday and why players from both teams came out early for the second half in order to shake hands with the likes of Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.

As always, Thomas got the biggest ovation, but fans stood and cheered for role players such as Fennis Dembo and Micheal Williams, as well.

"I want to thank the fans for everything you gave us over the years," said Thomas, the only player from the team to speak during the ceremony. "There were a lot of obstacles that we had to overcome during those seasons, and we couldn’t have done it without your love and support."

After the ceremony, Thomas talked about how hard it was to win championships in the years before NBA rosters were depleted by expansion.

"We were beating giants back then," he said. "The 1986 Celtics are probably the best basketball team that has ever set foot on an NBA court, and we had to get through those guys.

"And then we had to get through the Lakers, with Magic and Kareem and James Worthy and all over those guys. And then we had to get past Chicago, who had the best player in the history of this league.

"There aren’t teams like that any more. Not like the ones we were beating."

Laimbeer agreed, saying that 21st-century NBA teams don’t have the same talent level as when he and the Bad Boys were in their pomp.

"The game is bigger and faster now, there’s no question about that," he said. "LeBron is 6-8, weighs 280 pounds and runs like the wind. We never saw anyone like him when we were playing.

"Our advantage is that we had really good players from 1-10 on our roster, and you can’t do that any more. Since expansion, teams are lucky to have six players like that."

A day earlier, the Bad Boys got together for a charitable event downtown, and many of them did more volunteer work on Friday morning.

"We raised a lot of money for charity last night, and a lot of us went to work as a soup kitchen today," Laimbeer said. "Isiah did a great job of organizing all of the charitable stuff, and that’s pretty much the only reason I’m here. I see these guys all the time."

Laimbeer hasn’t changed — he shrugged off a question about whether the ovation he received touched him, saying he isn’t big on nostalgia — but Friday was definitely a night of memories, from the moment "The Final Countdown" played over George Blaha’s introductions to "We Are The Champions" escorting the players off the floor.

For one night — even during a 32-point loss to the Heat — Pistons fans had a chance to remember what it was like to be champions.