They were square pegs uncomfortably squeezed into circular confinements. And within the ground rules of perception, a failure to conform easily morphs into an inability to succeed.
Chauncey Billups couldn't lead. Richard Hamilton couldn't learn. Rasheed Wallace couldn't leave well enough alone.
And Ben Wallace just couldn't ... period.
Each eventually found the right fit in a franchise that eschewed conventionality. And as the long years of frustration dwindled into precious minutes of anticipation Tuesday night, each assumed a look of stunned amazement as the weight of their actions finally registered.
Billups hugged his part-time tormenter and full-time teacher, Larry Brown, and wouldn't let go. His career had assumed the form of a pinball, ricocheting from team to team, until he finally settled into the right spot in Detroit.
Rasheed bounced up and down a like an unfettered little kid, or better still like a surly, albeit seasoned veteran liberated from the weighty burdens of a tumultuous past.
It was time to punch out after an honest season's work.
And despite all the contrary evidence over the previous four games, there remained a sense of disbelief as a year's sweat turned into a moment's tears. Rub your eyes until they're red, it won't change the message that exploded onto The Palace at Auburn Hills scoreboard.
Detroit Pistons - 2004 NBA World Champions.
Raise your lunch pails in salute.
If ever a champion fit the personality of its community, it is these Pistons.
History will smile down upon this night as closing the door on one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals lore. And that's not a slight to the Pistons. If anything, it should be proudly displayed as a badge of honor.
It's the unexpected that possesses a longer shelf life within our collective memory.
The remnants of the last championship in 1990 were there for the coronation of a city's new king.
"The magnitude of what they've done isn't going to hit them for awhile," former coach Chuck Daly said.
It's been 14 years since this franchise successfully scaled to the basketball mountaintop, but it wasn't the amount of time and space that had a community's emotions ripe for ignition. It was the unexpected nature.
When Detroit teams normally reached the climactic stage, they were customarily the favorites, whether it was the Bad Boys, the Red Wings or the Tigers.
This time, Detroit was the giant slayer. This time, Detroit was the determined underdog.
This time, this quest, was the perfect fit.