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'Bad Boy' Bill Laimbeer brings toughness, winning to Liberty

Liberty head coach/GM Bill Laimbeer during looks on

Liberty head coach/GM Bill Laimbeer during looks on during media day. (May 13, 2013) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - He's 56 years old and 20 years removed from his NBA career as the baddest of the Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys," but as he begins his first season as coach and general manager of the Liberty, Bill Laimbeer's reputation still precedes him.

"He's a big gentle giant off the court," Liberty forward Cheryl Ford said of the 6-11 Laimbeer. "When we're between these lines, he means business. We all know that. He's definitely going to bring attitude."

Laimbeer, who averaged 12.9 points and 9.7 rebounds in 1,068 career games, mostly with the Pistons, made attitude the hallmark of his playing career. He helped the Pistons win consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. Elbows and fisticuffs were standard fare.

Laimbeer never apologized, then or now, for his demeanor. His targets included legends Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. "I still won't talk to Bird," he said. "I won't call it a grudge. Very strong-minded competitors still want to keep that competitive edge."

This will be Laimbeer's second go-round in the WNBA. He coached the Detroit Shock from 2002-2009 and won three titles. Ford was one of his key players.

Laimbeer has tried, to no avail, to land a head-coaching job in the NBA. After coaching the Shock, he spent two seasons as an assistant on Kurt Rambis' Timberwolves staff in Minnesota. "I would have liked to have had the Pistons' job, no question about that. I interviewed for that one," he said. "I interviewed in Philadelphia and Minnesota in the past. I would never get Chicago, Los Angeles or Boston. They'd never bring me in.

"I think for a GM or owner to hire me -- I won't call it a leap -- it's not a risk, it's a culture of who I am, what I'm about, that I'm coming to play hard-nosed basketball and I'm coming to say this is who we are, I don't care about anybody else's team. So I create an environment of it's us against the world in some ways, but that's how you win.

"And that's all I'm about: Winning. I'm abrasive. You ask any of my players; while I'm different, sarcastic and demanding, at the end of the day, they all love me. It's not for every player, but it's for those who want to bust their butts and win."

Laimbeer replaces former Liberty coach and general manager John Whisenant. The Liberty, which opens its season Saturday night at Connecticut, is coming off its third straight playoff appearance but finished with a 15-19 record last season.

"I'm here to win championships for the New York Liberty," Laimbeer said. "This is my job, this is my task. Am I looking to use this as a launching pad [to the NBA] or something like that? Absolutely not."

Center/forward Kara Braxton also played for Laimbeer in Detroit.

"I didn't know anything about the Bad Boys, Bill Laimbeer or anything until I got to Detroit," she said. "It played a big role. We were the Bad Girls of the WNBA and we'll probably inherit it here, too. We don't flop, we're the aggressors. We flop people. It just rubs off. It's the way he presents himself and the way he likes to be seen. That'll be us, too."

Guard Katie Smith, another former Detroit player, added, "We didn't knock people over, even though we had that M.O. It's nice to have people booing and getting worked up over things. He loves that. I think it adds something to the league. He just thrives off of it. For here, in New York, he's a personality. On top of that, he knows what he is doing."

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