-- The Detroit Pistons completed one of the most jolting upsets in the history of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night, soundly defeating the largely favored and once-infallible Los Angeles Lakers to win the league title.
Detroit's 100-87 victory before a throaty gathering at the Palace of Auburn Hills gave the Pistons their first championship in 14 years, and it welcomed a dormant, old-fangled concept back to the NBA: the idea that five good, persevering players competing as one could overwhelm a roster of stars, even the most brilliant duo of their generation.
Neither the brawn of 7-foot-1, 340-pound Shaquille O'Neal nor the ballet of Kobe Bryant could thwart the will of a castoff rebounder such as Ben Wallace or the long, sinewy arms of Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.
By the time Detroit had become the first NBA team in the modern era to sweep the three games they hosted and seized the best-of-seven series, four games to one, the league's landscape was dramatically altered.
"We knew it would be a tough task, playing against Shaq and Kobe and the other great players they have," said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, named the finals' most valuable player. "But we felt better as a team. They got maybe better individual players, but as far as team and teamwork, we felt we had the best cohesiveness in the league this year."
In only his first year with the Pistons, Larry Brown became the first coach to win an NBA title and a National Collegiate Athletic Association championship, which he did by guiding Kansas to the NCAA crown in 1988.
"I remember Chuck Daly told me something one day," said Brown, referring to the Hall of Fame coach who last guided the Pistons to a title. "He said that when you finally win one, you won't appreciate it until you're driving down the highway one day and you'll get a big grin on your face. I had that feeling when I coached Kansas later on. I'm sure I'm going to have it now."
Brown also foiled the quest of Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who was trying to supplant Red Auerbach as the only coach to win 10 NBA championships. The Pistons' stunning run through the finals left Jackson stuck on nine and pondering an uncertain future with the glamorous and often dysfunctional team he has coached the past five seasons.
If the night was a tribute to the role player and a swipe at superstar aristocracy, Bill Davidson, the Pistons owner, kept with the theme. Patient but frugal, Davidson became the first owner to win both the Stanley Cup -- his Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of the National Hockey League finals last week -- and the Larry O'Brien Trophy the same year.
Davidson, 81, modeled the Lightning after the Pistons by acquiring moderately priced free agents and unwanted players through trades. Billups was drafted by the Celtics and Detroit is his sixth team. Three Pistons -- Ben Wallace, Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace -- played for Washington early in their careers.
The Lakers were seeking to win their fourth title in five seasons and seemed to be on course after they knocked off the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in late May. The Pistons, meanwhile, were a 6-to-1 underdog according to many Nevada betting lines before the series began. Not since Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls last won the title in 1998 had an Eastern Conference team won the NBA championship. Jackson coached that team.
The Pistons' win was immediately compared to the upstart New England Patriots beating the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl and the Florida Marlins stunning the New York Yankees in last fall's World Series. Among NBA stunners, Detroit's victory ranks alongside the 48-win Golden State Warriors sweeping a 60-win Washington Bullets team led by Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld in 1975 and the Bill Walton-led Portland Trail Blazers rallying to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers after dropping the series' first two games in 1977.
Indicative of how they played throughout the series, nine of the Pistons' 12 players scored and four scored in double figures.
The last team to win a championship without a player seemingly destined for the National Basketball Hall of Fame was the Seattle SuperSonics, led by Dennis Johnson, in 1979.
The Lakers were playing a Band-Aid brand of basketball. Karl Malone, their starting power forward, did not play for the first time in the series because of a knee injury suffered in Game 2. In his place, Jackson used Russian forward Slava Medvedenko and rookie Luke Walton. But the Pistons simply put together the most stirring and complete performance of their postseason, bringing all their talents to bear in this deafening and cacophonous arena.
O'Neal, plagued by foul trouble early in the game, and Bryant, relentlessly swarmed every time he touched the ball, combined for 44 points on 14-of-34 shooting.
Like Jackson, Malone and Gary Payton, free agents who hoped to close their careers with a title, O'Neal and Bryant walked off the floor to an summer of uncertainty and disharmony.
Bryant is facing a felony charge of sexual assault in Eagle, Colo., where he is expected to go to trial no later than the fall. He is also expected to opt out of his current deal to explore the free agent market, though the Lakers can pay more than any other team to retain his rights. O'Neal is the only certain returning fixture, and the team that surrounded him at one juncture Tuesday night did not exactly exude Lakers star power.
The Pistons were assembled by Joe Dumars, the former guard during Detroit's Bad Boys championship seasons of 1989 and 1990, and brought together by a coach who got them all to buy in.
The night was essentially a Motown mosaic, with Aretha Franklin drawing a prolonged ovation after the Queen of Soul delivered a searing rendition of the national anthem. The Temptations took the court at halftime. Sandwiched in between, Detroit's basketball team delivered the most enrapturing entertainment. Of all the handmade placards in the building -- "Hard Work Pays Off," " 'Fro-town Takes Down Showtown," perhaps one said it best: "Our Full House Beats Your Two Pair."