In the 10 years since he retired from the NBA, Bill Laimbeer has
come to this conclusion: Screaming is for losers. It's been an
epiphany for the former Detroit Pistons center, whose temper
tantrums and shoving matches with opponents earned him the
reputation as one of the nastiest players in the NBA from 1980-81
through December '93. In his second season as coach and director
of player personnel of the WNBA's Detroit Shock, the 46-year-old
Laimbeer has found enough self-control to change his image from
Bad Boy to good coach.
After taking over an 0-10 team in the middle of last season,
Laimbeer has transformed the Shock into a championship contender.
Detroit, which had not finished above .500 the last four seasons,
was leading the Eastern Conference through Sunday with a 18-6
record. "Being out of basketball helped me become more patient
and understand that not everyone thinks the same," says Laimbeer,
whose only coaching experience was guiding daughter Keriann's AAU
team. "I'm still demanding, but I get my point across by using
playing time and not by getting in someone's face. I never wanted
a screamer as a coach."
Laimbeer's calm but pointed approach has worked with Detroit's
players, some of whom were too young to see him win two NBA
championships and were unaware of his hard-nosed reputation.
After taking over last season (he led the team to a 9-13 finish),
he tried to learn as much as he could about his players'
strengths and weaknesses. "He's very focused," says forward Swin
Cash, who leads the team in scoring with a 16.6 average. "We go
in and get our work done, and we get rewarded. He's very
sarcastic, but he's not a yeller, and that's why the team
responds to him."
So far this season the Shock leads the WNBA in several
categories, including scoring. (They average 74.5 points a game.)
Much of the credit goes to Laimbeer, who is not only a good
teacher but also a solid evaluator of talent. In the off-season
he overhauled the team through the draft and trades. He added
much needed size by taking 6'5" center Ruth Riley with the No. 1
pick in the dispersal draft and then 6'3" rebounding whiz Cheryl
Ford (daughter of Laimbeer's Utah Jazz foe Karl Malone) with the
third selection. Later he upgraded Detroit's backcourt by dealing
for guard Kedra Holland-Corn.
Laimbeer has also used his celebrity to help the business side of
the Shock, calling season-ticket holders and asking for their
support. His work has paid off: This year attendance has
increased nearly 30% (the team averages 7,378 fans a game),
ticket sales revenue 44% and sponsorship revenue 10%. "He's a
front-office executive's dream," says Shock vice president of
business operations Kristin Bernert. "He understands the business
and is committed to growing the fan base and getting us in the
black. He doesn't approach the team with just on-court
performance in mind."
After the Shock won four of five games following the All-Star
Game, Laimbeer said, "We are relentless, we'll attack you at all
times. I think we can win a championship this year." Meanwhile
Laimbeer, who has surpassed Nancy Lieberman for the best winning
percentage among Shock coaches, is continuing to build his
reputation as a gifted coach and crafty front-office
decision-maker. Unlike the Laimbeer of old, he's doing it
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: ALLEN EINSTEIN/WNBAE/GETTY IMAGES (2) TALKING POINT Cash (left) says the Shock responds to Laimbeer because he's not a yeller.
COLOR PHOTO: JUAN OCAMPO/WNBAE/GETTY IMAGES (COOPER) Cooper
Becoming the Bench Boss
Like Bill Laimbeer other former NBA players have become coaches
in the WNBA. Here's how they have fared.
Player in NBA WNBA Team, Year Record
Dee Brown 1990-2002 Orlando Miracle, 2002 16-16
Michael Cooper 1978-90 Los Angeles Sparks, 2000-present 99-23
T.R. Dunn 1977-91 Charlotte Sting, 2000 8-24
John Shumate 1975-81 Phoenix Mercury, 2003-present 5-19
Darrell Walker 1983-93 Washington Mystics, 2000 5-7
Orlando Woolridge 1981-94 Los Angeles Sparks, 1998-99 25-17
Records through Sunday