By Mitch Albom
They sit next to each other in the Pistons' locker room. One reads the newspaper. The other unties his laces. Neither says a word. Practice is over. Reporters swarm, teammates holler, music blares.
One flips the newspaper. The other removes his shoes. Neither says a word.
"YO, MAN, I--," Bill Laimbeer yells.
"HEY, MAN, GIMME-," John Salley yells.
"LOOK, CLOWN, I-," Rick Mahorn yells.
One puts down the newspaper. The other takes off his socks.
Neither says a word.
Try to guess what Adrian Dantley and Joe Dumars do for fun. Let's see. They sit in the hotel room and stare at the wallpaper? They fill out tax forms? They count the dots on a basketball? Wait, don't tell me -- they meditate. Dantley crosses his legs and goes "hummmmmm" and Dumars crosses his legs and goes "hummmmmm" and for the next four hours they can't be reached on this planet?
"Not quite," says Dantley, in a voice so deep it surely comes from underground. "Just because people are quiet doesn't mean they don't have fun."
And you know. He's right. This is a story about A.D. and Joe D, a no-frills basketball friendship based on respect, silence, good Italian restaurants and Sanford and Son -- Joe Dumars' favorite TV show. He has every episode. On tape. Laughs like crazy.
Surprised? The whole thing is surprising. People do a double take when they find out these two are not only buddies, but, at times, almost inseparable. Isn't Dantley, 32, the old man on the team? Married with children? And isn't Dumars just 25 and single? Isn't Dantley the consummate one-on-one offensive star? And isn't Dumars the off-guard specializing in defense?
And then there are the reputations: Dantley came to Detroit with a brooding, complaining, mercenary image; Dumars was so quiet and unassuming, I'm surprised the team plane hasn't accidentally left without him once or twice. What is it you like so much about Dumars?" Dantley was asked the other day, as the Pistons awaited the outcome of the Atlanta- Boston series to determine their opponent in the Eastern Conference final.
"He's straightforward, he's not stupid, he has his priorities right," Dantley answered.
"What is it you like about Adrian?" Dumars was asked, separately.
"He's straightforward, not a lot of hoopla. He's about as straightforward as you can get."
The key word then is straightforward. Which fits. Talk to Dantley or Dumars and you'll see the concentration of 10 men in their eyes. Organized? Intense? These are guys who lay out tomorrow's clothes the night before, guys who never leave the toothpaste oozing out of the tube. If they were electronic gadgets, they'd be word processors, while some of their teammates were pinball machines.
"I always say, how do you want to be known in this league? As a guy who's loud and talking trash all the time, or as a guy who thinks before he speaks?" says Dantley.
It hasn't hurt their work. Dantley is arguably the best player on the Pistons right now, and Dumars, always steady, is coming off a remarkable defensive effort on Chicago's Michael Jordan. Let the other guys scream, "In your face!" You want A.D. and Joe D? Check with the concierge. Find the best Italian food in the city. Make a reservation. They'll be there.
The quiet guys in the corner. Which is not to say they don't have fun. On the contrary. Dantley swears he has seen Dumars yakking, dancing, singing ("He gets into the car and goes
'AHH BEE DOOO WOOP!' "). Dumars swears he has seen Adrian laughing in movie theaters, on the court, even at the scene of an accident.
"One time this year we were in a cab in Seattle, going to a movie, and we got in a wreck. Another car hit us. I got thrown across the cab. A.D. says,
'You all right?' and I say, 'Yeah,' and then he starts laughing. Five seconds later I'm laughing. The cab driver says, 'You guys OK?' and A.D. says, 'Yeah, just call us another cab.' He called us another cab and we were out of there before anyone even knew what happened."
There was the time Dumars introduced Dantley to crawfish ("They were OK, I ate 'em," says Dantley), and the time Dumars said he was going to learn Dantley's patented spin move ("You'll never do it, you play too unselfish a game"). There were plane rides and car rides and meals -- there are always meals -- in Boston, Milwaukee, Dallas, Los Angeles, Portland, New York, San Antonio.
"Who picks up the check?" Dumars is asked.
"We split it right . . . down . . . the . . . middle," he says, grinning. Dantley is known by his teammates for being a tad tight with the buck. Fortunately, Dumars is not exactly Leona Helmsley.
"If I owe A.D. 10 cents, I pay him as soon as I see him. If he owes me 15 cents, he pays me as soon as he sees me."
"Is it true he still has the first dollar he ever earned?"
"I don't know if he has his first dollar. . . ." Dumars says. He smiles.
"But he has his first paycheck." Friends, yes. But they are not the same people. Dumars grew up in the moist heat of Lake Charles, a sleepy Louisiana town heavy on the Creole influence -- zydeco music, crawfish, neighbors speaking French. When he became a star at nearby McNeese State, he was a hero in his tightly knit neighborhood.
Dantley, meanwhile, grew up on the streets of Washington, D.C. -- playgrounds, street corners, one of hundreds of kids trying to jump-shoot their way to a better life. He found it at Notre Dame, and now, with a long all-star career. "I've been to that town where Joe lives," he says, grinning.
"We played an exhibition there. I stayed one day and left. I said, 'Joe, I love you to death, but I'm not going down there again. That place is dead.' "
"Is it true that he's treated like a god down there?" he is asked.
"Yeah. But hey. I told him, 'You're an All-American in a little town like this? You ought to be treated like a god.' "
When Dumars first joined the Pistons, you'd find him sitting alone, never saying a word. Dantley arrived in 1986 and, in his meticulous fashion, began to quietly scope out his new associates. He is really the first "pal" Dumars has had in Detroit.
"When people see someone who's private or quiet they think he's boring, or he doesn't have anything to say," says Dantley. "But if someone asked me what Joe Dumars is like I'd say, he's just like you. He likes to do the same things. Have fun. Talk about things. . . .
"One thing we don't do is run around on the road and go to clubs. I'm in my 13th year in the league. I've seen all that. They're nothing new there. . .
"Joe's not really into that, either. He's organized, like me. He writes notes to himself. One time I saw one of his notes. It had stuff like 'call home' or 'buy shoes' and then he wrote 'say thanks to God.' It was on the list. I'm not religious like that. But that showed me something about what kind of guy he is." It's not easy maintaining a friendship in the NBA. For one thing, you're together all the time, which isn't always a positive. Then there's the peer pressure from teammates. And what if one player does well and one goes down the tubes?
"I think that's one of the reasons we're good friends," Dumars says. "If I play badly, A.D.'s not going to tell me I played good. He'll say, 'Joe, you struggled.' And if he has a bad game, I'll tell him. You have to be honest, you know?"
All right. A tough question. Dantley had a reputation for being a malcontent in Utah, a troublemaker for team harmony. Dumars seemed like the classic team guy. Who's influencing whom?
"Adrian's not as hard as people think he is," says Dumars. "He's tough but fair. I don't know what he was like in Utah, but he hasn't done any of that here." Indeed, if there are any problems, the coach isn't complaining. Chuck Daly says Dantley "can't be a bad influence on anybody as far as his professionalism is concerned. If everyone played the way he does, the level of the league would be much higher."
A.D. Joe D. It may just be by comparison that they seem so silent. After all, the Pistons have Isiah Thomas, who is a star with his very presence; Laimbeer, basketball's answer to acid indigestion; Mahorn, loud and strong; Salley, his own cottage industry (T-shirts on left, pins on right), and Dennis Rodman, who goes through life with his fist in the air.
Hey. Somebody's got to be quiet on this team.
So there they go. The Shhhh! Brothers. So what if they don't holler? So what if they don't boast, don't brag, don't grab a hairbrush and lip-sync a rap record in the middle of the locker room? Life has room for many different kinds of friendships. Here is one based on respect, values, honesty and spaghetti.
"What if Joe were to be traded?" Dantley was asked. "How would you react?"
"I'd miss him. I know it's part of the job, but I'd miss him."
At least they wouldn't owe each other any money. CUTLINE Joe Dumars (left) and Adrian Dantley have become good friends off the basketball court. In Dantley's arms is his son, Cameron. Adrian Dantley: " . . . If someone asked me what Joe Dumars is like I'd say, he's just like you. . . . "
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