MITCH ALBOM: Only a doctor can free Rip from his nemesis
June 14, 2005
BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
So I'm down at the make-believe doctor's office, sitting in the waiting area, and Richard Hamilton happens to be in the examining room. And the door is slightly ajar.
"Doc, you gotta help me."
"What's the problem, Rip?"
"It's kind of embarrassing. I need something removed."
"What is it? A polyp? A mole?"
"Oh, my. That's an entire person."
"I know. They call it Bruce Bowen. It won't come off."
"Have you tried the normal methods?"
"Oh, yeah. I tried shaking it off. Tried juking it off. Tried scraping it off against Rasheed Wallace's hip, against Ben Wallace's backside."
"Nah. It's nasty."
"Hmm," the doctor says. "I've never seen anything quite like it. It won't separate."
"Tell me about it. It's like a tick you pick up in the woods. I've been playing guys like this all my life, and I always lose 'em. I do my famous curl, real tight around a teammate's screen, and bang! I'm as open as a 7-Eleven.
"Or else I come at these guys really hard, then I pull up for my patented 10-foot jumper and -- hello! They're on the ground and I'm flying solo.
"But this thing. It won't go away. I cut, it cuts. I curl, it curls. It's messing me up. My rhythm is as off as Dick Cheney doing the moonwalk. First game I shoot 7-for 21. Second game I shoot 5-for-15. My math's not great, but I think that's 33 percent. I can't get a foul call. I'm fighting with the refs.
"And to make matters worse, I think this Bowen thing had onions for dinner. Smell that."
"Cut me, Doc. Cut me."
The Worm has turned
I lean back, trying not to eavesdrop. How can I help it? I know what this is about. This is about surviving the NBA Finals. Or even winning a game. Bowen, the Spurs' ace defender, has put a clamp on Hamilton, the engine that drives the Pistons' offense. And the engine is sp-sp-sputtering.
Let's face it: Hamilton has been the only consistent force in an inconsistent Pistons' postseason. Even as Ben Wallace slumped, Rip was there, cashing in baskets. Even as Rasheed floated in and out of games, Rip was there, dropping coins in the slot.
Even as Chauncey Billups alternated between Mr. Big Shot to Mr. Gotta Make More Big Shots, Rip was there, the Energizer bunny, up and down the court, pull-up bang, pull-up bang, keeping the Pistons in it until others rediscovered themselves.
Last series, against Miami, he averaged 23.6 points. He's down to 14 points a game this series. Bowen has always given him trouble. Here he is again. Like a tick.
"What do you think, Doc?"
"To be honest, Rip, this a very rare affliction. It's called Defenderus No Pointus. A creature not interested in scoring, only defending. You see one every few years. Last one I recall had yellow hair and nose rings. Dennis something."
"Can you make it go away?"
"Well, I don't know."
"Doc, you've got to! It's getting worse. The thing followed me home last night! I sat down to eat, it took the sandwich out of my hands. When I say 'Yesss,' it says 'Sirrrr.' It's freaking me out.
"We got a series to win here. Knock me out if you have to. But operate. Get it off me."
Whatever it is, it's contagious
After that, I don't hear much. I think I can make out the sound of a pep talk, and some old Pistons tapes, and the play-by-play calls of Hamilton having a great scoring night. And maybe a chainsaw.
Eventually, the door opens. Hamilton has a bandage on each arm and each leg, but otherwise looks fine. I bury my head in a magazine.
"It won't come back, will it, Doc?"
"That depends on you, Rip."
"All I gotta do is go faster, cut my screens tighter, change my angles and get my teammates to help me out?"
"And drink lots of water and get plenty of rest."
"Listen," Rip says. "I hope you don't mind. I brought a few of the other guys with me. They need some stuff surgically removed, too."
He opens the side door.
"You remember Tayshaun? He needs that taken off him."
"Yeoww! That's an Argentinean!"
"I know. He's been on Tayshaun like a hornet. Oh, and you remember Rasheed? He's got something he can't shake, either."
"Goodness. That's a referee."
"Been on his back for years."
The door closes. Work begins. I lean back. If only the Pistons can cut out their problems so easily. If only playing at the Palace in Game 3 tonight will scrub them clean.
Another door opens. In comes Larry Brown. He's got an arrow sticking out of his back that reads "Cleveland."
"Doc," he says. "I've got this pain, right here ..."