Despite the fact the Detroit Pistons have been doing their best to not make the situation look so chronic for the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA Finals of '89 do seem to have a Farewell Tour flavor insofar as the two-time world champions are concerned.
The Pistons are up three games to zero in the best-of-seven series. And while it's true the Lakers do have the requisite injury alibis to be in such a hole, and it's true they are yet to be blown out in any given game - it's also true that they're looking hamstrung in more ways than one, or two.The cover of the Lakers' postseason media guide shows an hourglass about to run out of sand. On its top is a pair of goggles, symbolizing the last stand for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who will hang up his goggles Tuesday night, or Thursday, or sometime next week, whenever and wherever this series ends.
But the symbolism could also carry over to the Lakers of the '80s, the franchise that has been the hottest basketball team in the free world ("Has been" being the key phrase).
Could it be that they're running out of time? That the Lakers of two or three years ago could manhandle the Lakers of today, leaving them as bewildered as a tourist from North Dakota trying to get off the Pasadena Freeway? That the Pistons, who are displaying a certain paranoia about getting to the mountaintop, are getting to kick them when they're down?
Are the Lakers starting to feel like Mike Schmidt?
Not that they'd admit it, and not that anyone would want to ask them personally, at least not now. But you have to wonder, have these guys thought about drawing up a will?
Sunday in the Forum, the Lakers of '89 gave as game an effort as has been seen in an NBA Finals series. But they lost, 114-110. Not having your starting guardline against the best team from the Eastern Conference does have its disadvantages.
So does having players old enough to remember the Beatles. Not to mention some who can remember Elvis.
The average age on the roster is thirty-something. Only one player is under 25, and that's the rookie, David Rivers, who is 24.
They've got players so old that they hike up their socks, like Michael Cooper. They've got guys who don't need a barber. Their center of the future, Mychal Thompson, is almost 35. Kareem, of course, is 42, or just one year younger than Dan Quayle.
Byron Scott turned 28 three months ago, and Earvin Johnson is only two months shy of his 30th birthday. Both are old enough that they need to stretch out their muscles.
The word around the league is that the Lakers are only human. That wasn't the word around the league a couple of years ago.
The Pistons, of course, aren't saying as much at the present. Memories of last year's NBA Finals failure run deep. They're not saying anything out loud, in case it might be in the direction of the Lakers' good ear.
Or, as Detroit's Isiah Thomas said after Sunday's latest escape, "They're great champions. They're great warriors." And as Pistons center Bill Laimbeer said, "We learned last year, never give them the opportunity to win it - or they will. They don't beat themselves. You have to beat them."
Actually, that wasn't entirely true Sunday. When the game was on the line in the final minute - and in the Forum, as well - the Lakers' James Worthy threw the ball away at :32, Michael Cooper allowed himself to be stripped of the ball by Thomas at :15 and, finally, Rivers' three-point attempt at :06 was blocked and stolen by Joe Dumars.
With Johnson and Scott AWOL - Absent Without Legs - on the bench, all the Lakers could do was climb on Kareem's back and see how far it could take them. To the Big Fella's farewell credit, he answered with a flashback-esque 24 points and 13 rebounds, including four major points down the stretch.
Still, you know he won't do it forever. You know he won't even do it for the rest of this year.
The old gang seems to be breaking up, all right. Not that there are going to be a lot of tears shed in Oakland, or Seattle, or Phoenix, or Detroit, and certainly not in Utah, where the Jazz, with their 3-1 record against the Lakers during the regular season, seemed to sense this decline in health and reflexes sooner than the rest.
"Blood? Do we smell blood?" asked Laimbeer after Sunday's win. "Naw. We know the Lakers are always dangerous." But he didn't say it with foreboding. He said it more like he didn't want to wake them up. Guys their age, they need their rest.