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The return of New England's ultimate bad guy, Bill Laimbeer

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published 10/30/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 10/29/2012 08:20 PM

And on this day to deal with Hurricane Sandy, all the wind blowing, all the bluster, what better occasion to commemorate Bill Laimbeer's return to the WNBA?

This is not good news for the league. It's great news. The villain has returned. Every good story needs one. The WNBA has been bereft of a true rivalry - a rivalry with personality and animosity - since Laimbeer left the league three years ago and the Bad Girl Detroit Shock relocated to Tulsa.

Detroit-Connecticut was must-watch. Tulsa-Connecticut is just another game.

Perhaps you missed the news last week, lost in that cosmically exciting World Series or Geno's views on lowering rims. But Laimbeer is the new coach and general manager of the New York Liberty, thus adding 100,000 volts to future Sun-Liberty games.

Laimbeer, the face of the old Bad Boy Pistons, won two WNBA titles with the Shock. His days taunting the crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena only made for the some of the best days ever in Neon Uncasville.

"We enjoy playing here," Laimbeer said once. "We enjoy getting the crowd involved. We enjoy being the bad guys. In this league, this is the biggest spot, not only for myself but as a ballclub, where they don't care for us."

And isn't a rivalry what the WNBA needs more than anything else? Laimbeer gives the league a big name, a big attitude, a big resume and now a shtick for the biggest city. It just so happens they can't stand him here in our corner of the world.

It worked like this: A few minutes before tipoff, crowd settling in at Mohegan Sun Arena and sound engineer Mike O'Farrell went to work. He'd hit the button for "The Imperial March," (Darth Vader's theme) as Laimbeer emerged from the tunnel. And the booing would commence.

Rick Mahorn, Laimbeer's assistant coach and longtime friend, would boo the loudest, two paces back, wearing a wry grin, inciting the crowd more. Laimbeer would wave. Sometimes, he bowed. Then they would boo louder.

They'd bring derisive signs about him. They never forgot the ultimate thorn for New England basketball. If the NBA could have ever improved on Lakers-Celtics of the '80s, it did with Pistons-Celtics. This was good, healthy, hostility. Loathing. All the good stuff.

Now Laimbeer has returned. The WNBA owes him. He was as responsible as anyone else for turning the league into a more athletic, more physical and more competitive place. And the league should market him as much, if not more, than it does the players. Bill Laimbeer makes you watch. He'll bring the game to new fans.

Laimbeer always seemed to know what was written and said about him. He'd post regularly on RebKell, the primary Internet message board for WNBA fans. He called yours truly a "doofus" once. He even posted to theday.com when The Doofus continued what Laimbeer must have perceived as more doofus-ness. The guy is an original.

One day, Laimbeer sounded off after we here in Connecticut were in a lather because the UConn-Tennessee rivalry was ending.

"Maybe nobody likes playing in Connecticut," was his opening line.

Then he said: "I don't think the (end of the) Connecticut-Tennessee rivalry will have any impact on the sport whatsoever. There's some great women's college basketball. Other rivalries are developing. Don't hold on to the past. Tennessee's not upset. Just you guys up here. So what?"

Bill Laimbeer and the New York media is a better match than the Stars with the Stripes. He's Rex Ryan, only he wins. Now if we could just get the New York media to watch the Liberty. Most of them act like it's a fate worse than hauling a wheelbarrow full of horse manure uphill. With the wind blowing in the wrong direction.

Really, people. Just give him a chance. We did here. Can't wait to see him again.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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