Yesterday I cut my hair.
Please understand that this act is not something of Busta Rhymes proportions. But usually during the months of April, May and June -- at least for the past two years -- I go haircut-less and shave-less. Like Mr. Eko on "Lost." It was my little way of getting into NBA playoff mode, getting ready for the grind.
I called it "getting my Rasheed Wallace on."
But after the Pistons' 89-78 loss, after they went down 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals, I knew it was time to pull out the Wahl's.
It's the hair. That's where the problem is.
For each of the past three seasons, Rasheed Wallace has let his hair grow. He never cuts it, grooms it or twists it up. Instead, he goes Anthony Hamilton with it, Yaphet Kotto, James Evans after a hard day of work. Sheed just lets the naps do what naps do. His 'do over the years has come to represent the Detroit Pistons' state of mind when it comes to playoff time: We ain't out here to look pretty, this is the ugly side of taking care of business.
But now, the hair is at a nice guard-2 level. Cut fresh, lined, tapered, edged. From the outside looking directly at him, it would be easy to say that for the first time since he came to Detroit, Sheed is ready for his close-up. He looks ready for the photo shoot. Pause, flash. Pause, flash.
Or am I reaching? Is this a weak attempt to not look at what's really wrong with the Detroit Pistons? To avoid admitting that we are seeing the downfall of a potential dynasty?
Throughout these playoffs the Detroit Pistons we've seen are not the Detroit Pistons. They're something else, some other team. A shell of what's actually inside.
No more playing better when their backs are against the wall, no more "wait until we get back to the Palace to ball," no more "we only play to the level of our competition," no more "all we have to do is take care of business at home," because as of right now -- win or lose this series against Miami -- the gig is up. The mystery and mystique is over. The invincibility is gone.
The Larry Brown factor that reeled them out of situations like this is no longer there to rescue them, to save them.
It's past Ben Wallace's free throw shooting percentage, or Sheed's scoring average, or the under-80 ppg they've been scoring as a team over the past nine games, or the fact that it doesn't seem like they're running any baseline plays for Rip to score off (zero points in the second half Monday night), or their lack of defensive intensity, or that they are often playing D with their hands (reaching like an AAU team) instead of their feet -- or their heads.
Or the fact that, as Mark Jackson said, "They messed up the identity of their basketball team."
It's past all of that.
Complex, it's a team in search of a soul lost somewhere in Cleveland. Simplified, it's the reality that the DPs are no longer the hungriest team in the NBA. And it shows. And without that hunger -- or the behavior of being hungry for 48 minutes at a time -- they have reduced themselves to what they used to reduce other teams to: a poor shooting team that has no idea how to make stops on the defensive end.
"We have been down 3-1 before, but not against a team as good as the Heat. But if we don't focus in, the series will be over."
Chauncey knows the deal. So does Rip, Sheed, Ben, Tayshaun, Lindsey, Antonio and Flip. But still they haven't done anything about it. They've griped to the press, bitched to one another, but done nothing to find the hunger to show and prove that they are still the best team in the game over the past three years.
And the problem is, as anyone who follows this team closely knows, deeper than one team outplaying the other, deeper than one team being that much better than the other. Deeper than not being able to stop Diesel and D-Wade. Deeper than almost letting one man beat them in the series before this.
How does a team that entered the playoff gates five weeks ago on the cusp of being part of the "one of the greatest teams of all-time" conversation get exposed the way the Pistons have?
How does a team go from heaven to hell this quickly? Fall from grace like their names were Maria?
The answer is in the hearts of the five men we've come to believe in who no longer seem to have any belief in themselves.
The five men who came to define the Eastern Conference. The five men who looked like they would not lose. The five men who at one time were the Detroit Pistons.
Now they're gone. History. Maybe to never return. And even though Mike Breen still believes, "Don't count out the Pistons yet," the sentiment running through Piston Nation is simple: It's over.
Bad Boys II. 2004-2006. RIP.
Now my hair is cut. Crisp. Fro shaped like Stephen A., line tight like Steve Harvey, edged like Steve Urkel.
My wife likes the look, but I feel strange. Like I stopped putting in work.
So I'm still sticking to my theory that the power in the Pistons was lost once Sheed decided to come fresh-cut. Nothing else makes sense. I know hair ain't the issue or the problem. Just the symbolism of it.
The Detroit Pistons were once a team that cared less about its appearance, led by a grimy leader who, for three months a year, made the Grizzly Adams look synonymous with success, which was synonymous with the NBA Finals.
And now the beautiful side of taking care of business is not so pretty. Only because this isn't them.
Maybe Sheed knew something before all of us did? Maybe that's the reason he cut his hair and shaved in the first place, before the playoffs even started.
Maybe he looked in the mirror and saw the future, saw what we all are seeing now. A team that isn't what it once was. A team that, as Michael Wilbon said, "We've been waiting for the whole postseason to show up. And we're still waiting."
Maybe by cutting his hair and shaving -- and keeping it cut and goateed -- Rasheed Wallace was symbolizing the truth about the Detroit Pistons.
They simply aren't what they once were, and they are never going to be them again.
Maybe Sheed decided to keep himself groomed because he knew this was going to be the death of his dynasty, and he had to get dressed up for the occasion.
Maybe he simply wanted to look appropriate for his team's funeral.
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. You can e-mail Scoop here. Sound off to Page 2 here.