In the immediate aftermath, Laimbeer continued to plead his case, requesting an explanation as to why he was not granted a timeout. Again, his appeals went unfulfilled.
So in the span of roughly 30 seconds, the seemingly inconceivable had unfolded: A man who is virtually impossible to miss — considering his 6-foot-11 frame, booming baritone and reputation as an agitator with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons of the 1980s — essentially went ignored.
“He’s, ah, what the right word is ...” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said of Laimbeer, pausing before finishing his thought. “He has a large personality to go with his physique, and he coaches kind of like he played. He wants to have an intimidating team.”
Also serving as the Aces’ president of basketball operations, Laimbeer has constructed a flourishing franchise less than two years after being hired, extending his track record of success as a WNBA coach. Laimbeer took over the Detroit Shock during the middle of the 2002 season and a year later directed the team to the first of three WNBA championships. He also was named WNBA coach of the year in 2003, the first of two such awards.
The winning attitude he has managed to cultivate throughout his professional basketball career was attractive to MGM Resorts International, which purchased the San Antonio Stars in 2017, then relocated the team to Las Vegas and hired Laimbeer away from the New York Liberty. Two years later, he has the Aces, who missed the playoffs last season, ahead of schedule, nearly wresting home-court advantage from Washington, the No. 1 seed, in the series opener.
The Aces failed to manufacture anything close to that Thursday night, fading down the stretch in a 103-91 loss, but are heading home for Sunday’s Game 3 of the best-of-five series. The fourth-seeded Aces went 13-4 at home during the regular season.
“It was important for our players and our franchise to be in a series because it teaches them and gets them learning,” Laimbeer said Thursday morning after the Aces’ shoot-around. “I keep saying this is Year 2 of three. If it happens this year, wonderful, and we have a chance to do that.”
The “it” and “that” is winning a championship, an accomplishment Laimbeer first enjoyed 30 years ago as the starting center for the Pistons, who elbowed their way to consecutive NBA titles.
Laimbeer relished his role as an enforcer of the defensive assault of Michael Jordan and the archrival Chicago Bulls known as the "Jordan Rules,” much as he did in committing emphatic fouls against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Charles Barkley and others in memorable playoff matchups.
“He wants to be a physical team, and so he drafts players and goes after players in that mold,” said Thibault, who was the Bulls’ director of player personnel and an assistant coach from 1982 through 1986.
Take Laimbeer’s most important acquisition this past offseason: Liz Cambage. The rugged, 6-8 Australian is among the most skilled scorers in the world, and she prefers to collect the vast majority of her points in the paint. The 2018 WNBA MVP runner-up came to the Aces after requesting a trade from the Dallas Wings, and she had a team-high 23 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2.
Then there is 6-4 forward A’ja Wilson, the No. 1 selection in the 2018 draft. Working with Laimbeer to become a more polished post player, Wilson went on to win rookie of the year honors. She won a national championship at South Carolina under Coach Dawn Staley, one of the greatest point guards in women’s basketball history.
“He’s someone who has definitely helped me out in my first two years here,” Wilson said. “[Staley] really kind of harped on the guards, but now having a coach that played my position, that’s been where I am, he can really help me mentally and just kind of on the X’s and O’s.”
Laimbeer’s instruction for post players has included video of his time with the Pistons, at first eliciting snickers from the players. They occasionally roll their eyes these days when asked about watching footage, ancient by some of their standards, of their coach sporting short shorts from a bygone era.
But there is a greater purpose to viewing Laimbeer during his playing days, and it has nothing to do with vanity. It all goes back to winning — which he did plenty of in the NBA — and learning how to infuse that culture into the locker room and then carry it onto the court.
Even Las Vegas bookmakers were convinced, with the Westgate SuperBook in the preseason installing the Aces as a league-best 5-2 favorite to win the title.
“I threw everything I could at them this year: all my experience from a player and a coach, some all-time stories, what to expect from the media,” Laimbeer said. “ ... Everybody picked us No. 1, and I said, ‘No way,’ so they had to handle that pressure throughout the course of the season. All those factors I tried to give them everything I knew and experienced.”