As a player with the Detroit Pistons, 6-11 Bill Laimbeer was a workhorse. He showed up to the arena every day — literally every day the Pistons played from 1982-83 to 1987-88 — with the primary objective of outhustling and outmuscling his opponents on the boards.
“There’s more missed shots than made shots in any professional basketball league, so someone’s got to get them,” said Laimbeer, who played 81 of 82 games in each of the Pistons’ championship seasons of 1988-89 and 1989-90 and missed a total of one game in the two seasons after that.
“It’s a possession many times. It’s a second opportunity on offense. It’s a huge part of basketball, especially in professional basketball, where every little small thing means a lot. You control the rebounding, you control a big portion of the game.”
Laimbeer’s Liberty teams have espoused that mindset, which has fueled their success this season. After Sunday’s 83-76 victory over the Connecticut Sun, the Liberty — which outrebounded the Sun 38-29 — is 17-7 and 4 1⁄2 games ahead of second-place Atlanta in the Eastern Conference. Swin Cash had 16 points and Tina Charles (10 rebounds) and Sugar Rodgers added 14 points each.
Coming off last year’s trip to the Eastern Conference finals, the Liberty leads the WNBA in rebounds per game (39.5) for the second straight season and third time in Laimbeer’s four years. The WNBA began tracking advanced stats in 2014, and the Liberty, which improved to 13-3 when outrebounding its opponent this season, has led the league in rebounding percentage the last two years.
That has become a hallmark of Laimbeer’s teams. In his eight years as Detroit’s coach, the Shock routinely ranked among the league’s best rebounding teams and won three championships. “They dominated the rebounding battle,” Laimbeer said of the Shock. “Once again, it showed in our success. And we’re doing the same thing here.”
Adding Charles (9.5 rebounds per game) in 2014 helped, as did drafting Kiah Stokes (7.9) in 2015. But everyone has a role, even the 5-9 Rodgers, who has 3.8 rebounds per game this year. “I really can’t outjump the posts,” she said. “I just try to get the loose balls that are rolling around.”
“You have to have people that want to go out and do it,” Laimbeer said. “Rebounding’s just hard work and effort. There’s nothing spectacular to it. You’ve got to box and do a couple of quirky things. More than anything, it’s just who wants the ball.”
Said Stokes, “Any little wisdom he has, we’ll take it.”