The road to the Pontiac Silverdome, home of the Detroit Pistons and Bill Laimbeer, is lined with factories, often decorated in the winter months with black snow and discolored with industrial smog.
The road to Palos Verdes High School is a startling contrast. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean, is decorated by palms and pines and is brightened by a powder-blue sky.
Laimbeer knows and has affection for both places
In 1975, in the CIF semifinals, he led underdog Palos Verdes High past the supposedly unbeatable Verbum Dei Eagles--winners of 39 games in a row (28 in 1975) and six consecutive 4-A CIF championships. Then PV beat Marina in the title game.
Laimbeer, now 30, could help pull off another miracle--but on a much larger scale. He is in a position to help lead his Pistons to victory over the mighty Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Assn. Eastern Conference finals and, perish the thought, maybe even over the Lakers, if both make it to the finals.
Not bad for a guy who many thought couldn't play in the NBA, despite an impressive career with solid Notre Dame teams.
Players who can't glide effortlessly like deer or spring to soaring heights usually don't last in the NBA. Laimbeer can't do either.
His vertical leap? Said his Palos Verdes coach, John Mihaljevich: "Eighteen inches, giving him the benefit of the doubt."
"I can't run or jump," Laimbeer admitted.
Yet he has been named to the NBA All-Star team four of his seven years in the league. Last year, with no jumping ability, Laimbeer won the NBA rebounding title, averaging 13.1 per game.
Mihaljevich said that "many people come up to him today and are amazed that he's accomplished what he has."
Laimbeer's explanation. "I got bulk."
He is an impressive physical specimen at 6-11 and 245 pounds. "I play physical. I knock 'em hard on the boards."
Aggressive on defense, Laimbeer is passive on offense. Unlike at PV where he softly laid a lethal 10-foot turnaround baseline jumper over opponents like Verbum Dei's David Greenwood and Crespi's Paul Mokeski (now NBA players on the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks), the bulky center doesn't post up opponents anymore but plays 18 feet from the basket.
"I can't jump over NBA centers," Laimbeer said. So he's Mr. Outside.
He hit enough from the outside this season to average 15.4 points a game. He also pulled down 11.6 rebounds a contest.
Said Pistons Coach Chuck Daly: "He's a hell of a shooter." Laimbeer sets picks for Piston guards Isiah Thomas and Vinnie Johnson, then floats outside and buries the perimeter jumper. If they drive, he charges for the rebound.
"He's probably the only NBA center who takes charges from guards flying through the lane," Daly said.
Mihaljevich said all of the '75 PV players go to every game Laimbeer plays in Los Angeles."
Laimbeer says Mihaljevich is the biggest influence in his basketball career.
What Laimbeer would like most is to bring the Pistons an NBA championship.
"The expectations are the same as with PV. Nobody expects us to win the championship but only to do well," Laimbeer said. "I'd say we've got a 25% chance. We've got good guys and we like each other, like with PV. If we stay healthy I think we have a good shot."