Larry Brown walked down the aisle of the bus transporting his Pistons, looking even more solemn than usual. Hours earlier, Detroit led Game 2 of the 2004 NBA Finals by three points with 10.9 seconds remaining. Brown instructed his team to foul, but the veterans in the huddle — Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups — resisted his order. Brown relented, but only on the condition that should Shaquille O’Neal catch the ball, they foul him immediately. O’Neal did receive the ball on the ensuing possession, but he quickly passed to Luke Walton, who found Kobe Bryant for an acrobatic 3-pointer that sent Staples Center into a frenzy. The Lakers prevailed easily in overtime, evening the series and leaving the Pistons reeling. "We’re crushed," Brown told reporters after the game. "We had a winnable game. And everybody in that locker room’s down."
These were the Lakers, a dream team recalibrated: Bryant and O’Neal in their primes, Gary Payton and Karl Malone in the twilight of their careers, heavy favorites to win the franchise’s fourth title in five years. With the series headed back to Detroit for three games, the Pistons had just handed them a second life. Brown sauntered to the back of the bus and thought about apologizing to his team, knowing he should have been more adamant about the foul.
"I remember in Philly … " Brown started.
Ben Wallace cut him off: "This ain’t Philly."
Brown kept going, his voice rising. Chauncey Billups listened until he’d heard enough.
"Go back to the front of the bus," Billups told his coach. "We’re not coming back to L.A."
Those Pistons starters were really something. They fiercely believed in themselves – even calling the unit “Best Five Alive – and we know they were right in this situation, because, of course, the Pistons won three straight at The Palace and didn’t go back to L.A.
But that story also illustrates the stubbornness of the Pistons’ veterans that would eventually undo them when they didn’t have a coach like Brown, who had the résumé to push back at times and provide a much-needed other voice.
As cool as that story is for 2004, it’s easy to see how the mutiny under John Kuester happened a few years later.