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Tayshaun Prince kept coming

Reggie Miller streaked ahead, the entire Pistons franchise left in the dust behind him.

The Pistons were on the verge of falling behind 2-0 in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, the same round in which they were swept the year before. Detroit hadn’t won a game at that level of the playoffs since the Bad Boys.

Between, the Pistons suffered a series missteps – encapsulated in one word: teal — and, though this latest group showed promise, it appeared the Pistons weren’t ready for this stage. As Miller rose for his layup, the inevitable disappointment began to sink in.

But the youngest player on the court was coming after Miller.

And in the nine years since, Tayshaun Prince has kept coming.

Fighting from the start

Players who spend four years in college – even ones with the most incredible opening to a game I’ve ever season – are judged with a certain skepticism. Scouts dissect these players’ games, searching for flaws to explain why they didn’t turn pro earlier. After all, anyone who’s any good leaves college before his senior year.

That’s the stigma Prince faced entering the 2002 NBA Draft, as projections for his landing spot varied greatly. Of course, Prince didn’t hide, as many prospects do. He kept coming.

Prince worked out for the Suns. Then the Lakers. Then the Warriors, Rockets, Knicks, Bulls, Pacers, Pistons, Grizzlies, Hornets, Kings, Hawks, Wizards, Clippers, Lakers (again), Trail Blazers, Raptors and Spurs. All in all, Prince did workouts for 17 (!) teams.

Eleven years later, he will repeat one leg of that workout journey. Prince was traded from Detroit to Memphis on Wednesday, ending the longest run of a player with only the Pistons since Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.

Legacy of endurance

When Prince played just 42 games during his rookie year, he kept coming.  We know that because only players who continued to prepare as if they’re going to play a major role can step in cold, down 3-1 in a playoff series, and contain Tracy McGrady.

When other players needed a game off, Prince kept coming. He’s the only active player with six consecutive 82-game seasons. Yes, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound beanstalk is one of the NBA’s most durable players.

And when it appeared the Pistons had outgrown him, Prince kept coming. The Pistons brought in coaches who weren’t as smart as Prince, diminished the roles of his friends and lost more games than they won. That never sat well with Prince, and he often voiced that displeasure, but he remained the team’s only constant presence.

More than anything else, Prince’s legacy in Detroit will be that he endured.

He went from promising youngster to stodgy veteran, from fourth option to first option, from beloved to bemoaned. And through it all, he kept coming.

***

Prince went after Miller with the same resolve he’s gone after everything else before and after, and of course, we know the result: The Block, a million “Cheryl would have dunked” jokes and a Pistons championship. The play is the defining moment of Prince’s career, but more than just what happened between the lines, The Block reveals two major points about Prince.

1. A small army of Pistons players, coaches and other personnel went to retrieve Prince after he tumbled into the crowd. Prince was never a real vocal leader in Detroit, first because older teammates filled the role and then because the position didn’t fit his personality. But that didn’t mean he didn’t command respect.

2. Prince’s block came in the original Guaransheed game. Rasheed Wallace shot 1-for-7 with three turnovers and five fouls in a Game 1 loss, and afterward, he gave a classic interview:

"They will not win Game 2, and you heard that from me," ‘Sheed announced Saturday night after watching Foster share the hero mantle with Reggie Miller in the Pacers’ 78-74 triumph.

"Put it front page, back page, middle of the page," ‘Sheed continued, making you wonder what he plans to say if the Pacers do win.

"They will not win Game 2."

‘Sheed then receded into Both Teams Played Hard mode, repeating the same answer to the next few questions he allowed, no matter what the questions were: "They will not win Game 2."

And, as a signoff: "They will not win Game 2."

Many took Wallace’s comments as his way of self-motivation, but if that were the case, he didn’t back them up. The Pistons led Game 2 by six points with 75 seconds left, and Wallace missed shots on consecutive possessions – dropping him to 4-for-19 from the field – as Miller scored four straight points. Detroit, especially once Miller received that outlet pass, was on the verge of self-destructing.

Maybe Prince would have blocked that shot even if Sheed hadn’t made his guarantee. We’ll never know. But we do know Prince would fight for his teammates and they would follow him anywhere.

For 11 years, Prince spilled blood for this franchise. Sometimes, it made mess, but it always showed his pride. Prince’s tenure with the Pistons, especially the beginning and end, hasn’t always been smooth. The rough beginning led to a legendary rookie playoff run, in which Prince became the first player to score more post-season points than regular-season points. We don’t know where the rough end will lead, except out of Detroit.

Prince is finally going, but never forget that he kept coming.

12 Comments

  • Feb 1, 20134:43 pm
    by tarsier

    Reply

    Fantastic good-bye post. Prince no longer fit on this team. But that takes nothing away from what he did in Detroit’s most recent glory days.

  • Feb 1, 20134:56 pm
    by apa8ren9

    Reply

    This recap almost brought a tear to my eye, I was in the building during just about all of his career.  I was screaming at the TV saying the Pistons could have picked ANYBODY but Prince during that draft.  I kept saying he was too skinny, his shot/game was nasty and he wouldnt be good enough.  But he did out last everybody and proved he was a good player. 

  • Feb 1, 20135:13 pm
    by danny

    Reply

    Don’t know how so many ppl didnt like tay towards the end dude WAS just in a tough situation. People do not realize when you do not connect with the team its hard to be up beat but its over now and I’m sure all parties are happier.  Wish you the best tay.  PS>  I did hear he was a prick though but bball wise he did his job.

  • Feb 1, 20135:19 pm
    by Kimberly

    Reply

    Finally, someone articulated what I was feeling. Been so surprised and ashamed by how Tayshaun has been vilified by other Detroit media members, why? Because he didn’t smile and kowtow to them? Wasn’t happy to spew false thoughts after tough losses or even wins? Tayshaun was about first and foremost his team and teammates. Fans of this hardworking, humble state appreciate what he brought to Detroit. God Speed Tayshaun, you truly were a Prince.

  • Feb 1, 20135:53 pm
    by Tony

    Reply

    Man, its seems like yesterday that Tayshaun was not only shutting TMac down in the playoffs but also making big baskets as well.  I remember Tay shutting down Iverson in the playoffs early in his career.  And I will never forget how Tay got up and into Kobe in 04.  Bryant was almost a nonfactor in that series.  Tay was never a superstar, but teams don’t win championships without a player like Tayshaun. Good luck Tay, I will root for you in Memphis just like I still root for Chauncey.   I’m sure “22″ will one day hang in the Palace rafters, because without you, my man, there is no 04 Championship banner.

  • Feb 1, 20136:15 pm
    by bvpiston

    Reply

    Awesome piece, Dan! Kudos!
    I still remember that series against the Magic when we all learned what Tayshaun was all about. So dit McGrady and the rest the NBA. Strangely, even though I wanted Prince out, I know have a bitter taste in my mouth, knowing he won’t be starting at the three anymore and I won’t see no. 22 sporting the Piston red, white @ blue. Thanks for the awesome ride and great memories, Tay! Respect!

  • Feb 1, 20137:01 pm
    by Moe

    Reply

    Thank you prince for some great memories. I still like prince as player and person. He is one of the few players on the piston roster that gave you all he has and was consistent about it. I blame Joe for resigning him after his contract was done. He should have let walk , knowing that this team was in a rebuilding stage and prince is not part of equation.
     
    Thanks Prince for that great block in the playoff. I still remembering watching and being amazed with the block.

  • Feb 1, 20139:27 pm
    by WilliezWorld

    Reply

    Dan, I’ve never posted a comment on here, but this has to be one of the best blog entries I’ve ever read on PistonPowered.  Just the opening segment almost moved me to cry. 

    Sports and the love that we pour into our franchise is an amazing and mysterious thing, and having a player like Tayshaun Prince suit up for “our guys” is what makes it so magical.  Some people will never forget where they were at when the Berlin Wall fell, or when Niel Armstrong uttered his ageless phrase, or even who they first kissed.  Me..? I will never, ever forget where I was when Tayshaun Prince became the last in a long line of people to deny Reggie Miller a title all while helping to deliver the Pistons back to their former glory.  Your account of his career literally sent chills through my spine and I cannot wait for the day when his number is raised to the rafters at the Palace so that we can truly venerate him in a way that he deserves.  I’m happy that Joe Dumars did the right thing by re-signing him only to deal him within the same season.  By giving him good guaranteed money to end his career and then dealing him to a contender, he allowed him the chance to end his career in a dignified situation with a dignified paycheck that he’s definitely earned in 11 seasons in the league.

    Prince will be missed and I wish him well.

  • Feb 1, 201310:20 pm
    by Inge

    Reply

    Thanks Prince for his time in Detroit. He is so dedicated to his job. He is skinny but smart. And it’s amazing to see him play so many continuous games in regular seasons and postseasons.

    It’s a great article. Thanks you, Dan Feldman. 

  • Feb 1, 201310:36 pm
    by ryan

    Reply

    Nice writing here Dan and a long over due appreciation for Tayshaun Prince. Dude hit 7 of 11 in his Memphis debut which tells you about all you need to know about him as a professional.

  • Feb 2, 20139:23 am
    by Jacob

    Reply

    That was beautiful. I’m not ashamed to say I tear up everytime I think about The Block. 

  • Feb 2, 20136:59 pm
    by Jason

    Reply

    You guys embed the video.. 

    My favorite part was seeing Arnie Kander barrel crawl his way between people to get to Prince and make sure he was okay.. DEDICATION at every level! 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QJ4iwqnLKc 

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