DETROIT -- The FBI investigated a series of threatening letters sent to Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly at the height of his team's success during the 1989-90 "Bad Boys" championship era, newly released government records show.
The 67 pages, obtained by The Associated Press as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, detail how federal agents in Detroit ordered fingerprint, handwriting and even psycholinguistic analyses as part of an effort to determine who sent the correspondences.
Daly's teams played a punishing, in-your-face brand of defense that angered opposing players and coaches, and -- based on the content of the letters examined by the FBI -- fans, too.
One letter, mailed from Cleveland and postmarked April 24, 1989, arrived about two months after Cavaliers guard Mark Price suffered a concussion following a Rick Mahorn elbow and three months after Cleveland's Brad Daugherty and Detroit's Bill Laimbeer had an on-court fistfight.
"God made me realize that YOU, not Laimbeer, Mahorn or any of the others are the one possessed by [Satan]," the author wrote in the one-page handwritten letter addressed to "Mr. Chuck Daly."
Daly, a Hall of Famer who died in May at the age of 78, gave the letter to team officials, who in turn notified NBA security in New York. The league advised the Pistons to turn it over to the FBI.
Federal agents interviewed Daly and team personnel and submitted the letter for various tests. A psycholinguistic analysis determined the author likely "has had previous psychiatric hospitalizations and/or is currently on outpatient status," but lacked "the capacity to carry out any form of planned action."
Another letter, this one typewritten and postmarked Royal Oak, Mich., on Feb. 16, 1990, also was addressed to Daly and claimed the Pistons didn't "know the meaning of the word `sportsmanship" and would "pay dearly."
The FBI ran a fingerprint test and determined the model of typewriter used, but as with the first letter, couldn't locate a suspect.
In each case, Hal Helterhoff, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan, wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit to inform prosecutors that the agency hadn't been able to ID an author.
Current FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold declined to comment on the letters sent to Daly. FBI files become a public record when the subject dies.
In Daly's day, the Pistons -- thanks to their physical style of play -- were perceived as villains by some opposing fans, and bitter rivalries grew with fellow Eastern Conference foes in Boston, Chicago and Cleveland.
Things got so bad that, ahead of a Cavs-Pistons game on March 3, 1989, someone called Cleveland coach Lenny Wilkens in his suburban Detroit hotel room and threatened his life. Wilkens notified NBA officials, and the league provided extra security for him during the game.
"It's sad. This is the first time anything like this ever happened to me," Wilkens said at the time. "It makes me nervous to have all these people around me."
It seems, though, that the threats against Daly weren't common knowledge in the team's locker room.
Hall of Fame Pistons guard Joe Dumars, now the team's president of basketball operations, said he "never heard of it."
Mahorn, currently a Pistons radio announcer, also had no recollection of the threats against his coach.
"I have no clue about that," he said.
Then-general manager Jack McCloskey, now retired and living in Georgia, remembers receiving his own letters and other threats during that time, usually over trades he had made.
"I can remember I stopped at a red light, and I had just traded Adrian Dantley," McCloskey said. "Two guys stopped next to me, recognized me and just had the finger gun. They did that. But when it all came out in championships, people forget it."
Those who knew Daly said he had a special charisma that made it difficult for people to stay mad at him.
Charles Barkley, whom Daly coached to Olympic gold in 1992, has said he "never understood how a great man and nice guy coached the Bad Boys."