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Billups Is Catalyst for This Team of Castoffs

Guard is MVP of the Finals, but it's the Pistons' chemistry that is the difference.

June 16, 2004|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Chauncey Billups was a kid with a far-fetched vision, playing until dark at the Skyland Recreation Center in northern Denver, always putting himself in the right place at the right time in NBA history.

"When I was 8 years old," he said, "I'm dribbling and going through the motions, saying, 'This is for the NBA championship ... five ... four ... three ... two ...' "


Billups was selected the most valuable player of the NBA Finals after leading the Detroit Pistons past the Lakers, the final touches coming on his 14-point effort in the Pistons' 100-87 victory Tuesday in Game 5 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Billups hurt the Lakers with his passing, shooting and symbolism. On his sixth NBA team in seven seasons, Billups was exactly what the Pistons represented -- a blend of veterans unwanted by a fistful of teams at some point in their careers.

And yet, they all came together in the playoffs, the Pistons' chemistry holding up better than the Lakers' season-long experiment.

Billups led the way by running the Lakers into the ground and finding open teammates, of which there were plenty.

It was a postseason to remember for Billups, who was selected No. 3 overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1997 draft and averaged only 11.3 points in his career, bouncing around from team to team, before being signed by Detroit in 2002.

Billups has since averaged 16.6 points in the regular season, elevating to 21 in the Finals.

"The way my career had gone, it seemed like my chance was kind of drifting away," Billups said. "I never gave up on what I felt I could do. And what I felt I could do was win a championship and have a chance to win this [MVP] trophy."

Coach Larry Brown, winning his first NBA championship in 21 seasons, compared his path to that of Billups.

"I think I might have been a couple more places than him, but he's still been through a lot," Brown said. "A lot of people told him he couldn't do certain things. This is a shining moment for him. And he played against some pretty darned good players throughout this series."

Billups wasn't the only bounce-back story for the Pistons, underdogs from the start against the Lakers.

Former Lakers Elden Campbell and Lindsey Hunter played key reserve roles for the Pistons, making more of a difference with their experience than scoring.

Richard Hamilton, selected No. 7 overall by the Washington Wizards in 1999, was ushered out of the nation's capital after only three seasons, the Wizards deciding they'd rather pry Jerry Stackhouse from the Pistons.

Rasheed Wallace, after more than seven turbulent seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for one game in February before the Pistons acquired him for next to nothing.

"That's the uniqueness of this ballclub," Brown said. "You can point to a lot of different individuals and feel pretty confident that they would have been a good choice [for Finals MVP]."

In the end, though, Billups carried the Pistons to their third title.

The court where he played as a child, now called the Hiawatha Davis Jr. Recreation Center, awaits him this summer.

Said Billups: "I never stopped dreaming."

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