In my line of work, I talk to a lot of famous people. I don't get starstruck, especially around guys younger than me, but I do enjoy it. For one, it's just so interesting to have a conversation with a guy and see how his personality compares to the preconceived notion I may have already formed. I'm frequently surprised, sometimes disappointed and at least occasionally validated for having the opinion I did.
But while I can play it cool while chatting with even the biggest of today's superstars, I couldn't contain my enthusiasm when asked if I wanted to spend a few minutes with James "Buddha" Edwards, who was in from his hometown of Seattle to do some PR work for the Pistons. As the name of this site suggests, the original Bad Boys are the reason I grew up a basketball fan, and as such, the reason I eventually made writing about basketball my career. Did I want to talk to Buddha? He helped put me on this path; of course I did!
We spoke for several minutes before Wednesday's season opener. To my relief, he was very friendly and personable -- it was already weird seeing him clean shaven without his trademark Fu Manchu, I would have been heartbroken to find out he was a jerk. In the end, I kept my wits about me, avoided accidentally turning off my recorder and didn't stumble too badly over my questions -- the result of our conversation is below.
Matt Watson: First of all, where’s the Fu Manchu? I barely recognized you.
James "Buddha" Edwards: [Laughing] I might have to grow it back when I come back for our 20th year celebration, but it might be a little gray.
Watson: Last I heard, you were getting active in sports agency stuff, right?
Buddha: I was doing a little bit of that, but I was more trying to get into doing a little coaching. I was working on a lot of guys with the Sonics and a lot of guys from the University of Washington and now that the Sonics are gone, there’s no more NBA ball in Seattle, so it’s going to be a little dry up there as far as basketball now.
Watson: What do you think about that whole situation? As someone who grew up in that area, what’s it like to have that team taken away?
Buddha: It’s almost like one of your kids dying or something like that because there’s a lot of young kids that love the basketball game and it’s going to hurt a lot of the young kids that liked to go to the Sonics games all the time. Now, the closest place to go see an NBA ball game is going down to Portland which is a two and a half hour drive -- which isn’t bad, and they should have a pretty good team this year -- but the town was very disappointed when the Sonics left after 40 years.
Watson: I remember watching you, it seemed like early in the game they always made sure to give you the ball down in the post. That was by design, right?
Buddha: Yeah, that was by design. So if I’m hot and they’re not going to double-team me, I’m going to keep on going to work. But usually I’m pretty hot so they would double-team me and I’m kicking it out, guards are having great shots and from then on the game is just flowing beautifully.
Watson: Rasheed Wallace has caught a bit of criticism for floating out a lot. Do you think that’s something they should do, that old strategy [that worked] with you, trying to establish him in the post early on?
Buddha: Well, personally, I would like to see Rasheed down in the post more because he’s a great low-post player and no one can stop him down there. And he can shoot the three also, you’ve got to do both with him. But start him off in the post, let him start bruising those guys down low, get the guys in foul trouble -- he can get a Kevin Garnett in foul trouble very easily, get two quick fouls on him. That’s what Chuck Daly tried to do when I went against Patrick Ewing or a big center like that -- go right at him, try to get him in foul trouble, make him try to work harder on defense so he’s not so fresh on offense.
Watson: Another comparison: Amir Johnson is an energy guy, doing a lot of rebounding and blocks. Some people now say he reminds them of Ben Wallace; personally I think he’s a little bit closer to Dennis Rodman. As someone who’s played next to someone who does all that energy stuff, how much does it open things up for the rest of the team knowing that someone else is doing all that dirty work?
Buddha: I mean, that’s great. I didn’t have to really worry about rebounding that much because I didn’t want to fight Dennis or [John] Salley because they were always in there. I’m just shooting my fade-away, I’ll get my rebounds here and there, but I’m not going try to fight Dennis for them because he was leading the league in rebounding for three or four years in a row. It would be stupid for me to try to fight him for a rebound.
Watson: Fans get really caught up in a lot of the rivalries, though it seems like they were a little stronger back in the day with the old Pistons and Bulls teams. You have a unique perspective because you played on both sides of that. Was that as real as the fans made it out to be? Was that hatred there between the two teams?
Buddha: Yeah, it was, it was. It was hatred. I mean, I didn’t really hate them but I think they hated us. And our physical style of defense kind of messed them up until they finally got over the hump. I think our team made their team great because if they could beat us, they could beat anybody, which they proved because they swept us that one time.
Watson: That rivalry is probably always stronger for the up-and-coming team, the one trying to knock down the team on top down.
Buddha: Oh yeah, it is, it is. It was a great rivalry between us and Chicago, and a rivalry between us and Boston, also.
Watson: When Joe [Dumars] was a player, did you see qualities then that made you think that he had what it took to run a team on his own and have the success that he’s had?
Buddha: His demeanor; he knew the game very well out there on the floor. He was one of the toughest defensive players that we had, he always guarded the toughest guy. He made the transition very smoothly into the front office, he’s doing a very good job for the Pistons.
Watson: What do you think -- not to try to get you say anything bad about anybody -- but what do you think about Michael Jordan, who’s struggled? He was known for being extremely competitive but just hasn’t had anywhere near the same success.
Buddha: Some guys make that transition pretty smoothly and other guys don’t, they struggle a lot. Maybe this year, when they got the new coach down there, things might go smoothly. You also have to have a good team. If you don’t have a good team, you’re going to struggle.
Watson: Last question, what’s the future? You mentioned coaching a little bit, you said you’re working with some of the guys up there. What’s next?
Buddha: Since there’s no NBA basketball there, I’d be honored to come back here and work for the Pistons and do something around here. I’m coming to do a little PR work during the first week of the season and hopefully they’ll have me come back and do some more stuff.
I want to thank James Edwards for his time, and I think I speak for all fans by saying I hope he figures out a way to stick around full-time. I'd also like to thank long-time friend of DBB Dave Wieme for putting this together.