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Category → Pistons History

No more defending Dennis Rodman after his North Korea support

I’ve written at length, for different publications, about my fondness for Dennis Rodman. He was my favorite Piston of the Bad Boys era. He temporarily made me a secret Spurs and Bulls fan after he was no longer a Piston. More importantly, he changed the way I thought about basketball for the better. Most kids my age grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. The names are different now, but the concept is the same with kids who wanted to be the next Allen Iverson or Vince Carter or Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Basically, when picking out a basketball hero, points matter. The guys who can score at will are always going to stand out.

Rodman was the first player who became a star without any discernible offensive game, and that helped kids like me with no discernible offensive game realize you can still make meaningful contributions as basketball players without scoring. In fact, he was downright hostile to the concept of offense at times during his playing days, freely passing up shots that he probably should’ve taken. His job was to shut down opponents defensively regardless of position (guarding everyone from Jordan to Shaq at different times in his career) and dominate the glass. He did those two things so well that, even though he wasn’t an offensive threat, he was still one of the most valuable players in the league and, eventually, a Hall of Famer. Those accomplishments for his playing days are incredibly well-deserved.

I stand by everything I’ve ever written about Rodman’s incredible game, his impact and his legacy as a basketball player. But because I’ve written so positively about him over the past several years, I think it’s also important to acknowledge the other story — he’s shameless and destructive.

His high profile demons are nothing new, so I won’t bother recounting them. Rodman, based on his own autobiography, had an incredibly difficult upbringing and a harder start to his life than most could imagine. In adulthood, he’s had struggles with addiction and, based on his emotional Hall of Fame speech, still has immense sadness in his life that is certainly serious and paints a complex picture of what Rodman is coping with.

Rodman’s seeming self-destructiveness, his neverending … uhunique? I guess? … self-promotion endeavors, his making Gary Busey appear to be the coherent one on a crappy reality TV show … all of those things are mostly harmless to everyone but him (and likely his family, but who knows?). The rock and roll lifestyle, Dennis being Dennis, etc. The defenses (some of which I’ve used too, admittedly) are as familiar as the actions.

But here’s the thing … Dennis Rodman’s recent embrace of a murderous regime in North Korea is unforgivable. Rodman’s worst offense, among many, in an insane interview with CNN that I’m sure most have seen by now, was insinuating that imprisoned American Kenneth Bae, being held without charges in North Korea, was guilty of … something:

“Are you going to take an opportunity, if you get it, to speak up for the family of Kenneth Bae and say, Let us know why this man is being held?’ If you can help them, will you take the opportunity?” Cuomo asked.

“The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did,” Rodman said with a pause, then added “Do you understand what he did? In this country?”

“What did he do?” Cuomo said. “You tell me.”

“You tell me,” Rodman shouted. “You tell me. Why is he held captive?”

“They haven’t released any charges,” Cuomo said. “They haven’t released any reason.”

“I would love to speak on this,” Rodman said, again waving Smith off.

“Go ahead,” Cuomo urged.

Instead, Rodman went off on Cuomo for the remainder of the interview, screaming at him to recognize the sacrifice being made by his fellow players.

First, to that last point about the ‘sacrifice’ of his fellow players — they didn’t sacrifice anything. They got paid by a rich dictator to perform for his own personal pleasure. That’s nothing new — entertainers have a history of taking money from dictators for private performances. But most have the sense not to compound a questionable decision probably driven by greed by launching into vague, incoherent defenses of human rights violations. And most certainly don’t try to explain away those vague assertions by essentially saying, “Totally sorry, I was drunk.”

Rodman getting involved with North Korea in the first place, even if Kim Jong Un is really his “friend,” was a horrible idea, as Matt Ufford of SB Nation eloquently wrote last year. Whatever Rodman’s intentions (and I have no idea if they he was motivated purely by money/attention here or if he truly wanted to be a peaceful diplomat who could help the people of North Korea), his tendency to get defensive and emotional, to drink heavily and to just in general be about the last person you’d pick to lead international diplomacy efforts for a long list of reasons, made this always seem to be bordering on the verge of a disaster. His comments to CNN were harmful to Bae’s family as they work to free him, his “apology” was needlessly insulting and his general involvement in North Korea is a completely unnecessary international relations distraction that was completely avoidable.

There’s no defending Dennis Rodman anymore. It’s possible to live with and explain away destructive behavior that does harm only to the individual him or herself. This is not that though. When Rodman’s jersey was retired, I wrote about how happy I was to see it among other Pistons legends. Now, when you see it next to players who have truly been humanitarian-minded, positive influences in their communities like Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dave Bing, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson and Bob Lanier, it clearly doesn’t belong. Rodman’s basketball accomplishments can and should never be taken away from him. He’s truly one of the unique, innovative and best players of his era. But that’s all he is. He’s out of his league among those other Pistons greats and is not deserving of the efforts the organization made to honor him. Greg Monroe can keep that No. 10 forever.

Isiah Thomas will live tweet replay of his 25-point quarter on a sprained ankle

What are you doing tonight? If you’re home and get NBA TV – especially if the Tigers are rained out – I recommend following this:

NBA TV analyst and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas (@iamisiahthomas) will live tweet during a re-air of the 1988 NBA Finals, Game 6, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, starting at 8 p.m. ET.  In the memorable showdown between the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers, Thomas scored 43 points, including a Finals record with 25 points in the third quarter (despite badly spraining his ankle midway through the period). Despite Thomas’ effort, the Lakers went on to win the contest 103-102 to force a Game 7.  During the NBA TV telecast, Thomas will tweet about his memories from the game and chat directly with fans.  To join the conversation, fans are encouraged to follow @NBATV and use the hashtag #Isiahlive.

That performance is one of the greatest-ever in NBA Finals history. To whatever degree you believe clutch play is more than mere coincidence, Thomas played better in the biggest moments throughout his career. This is the crowning example of that.

If you haven’t seen the game, you’re in for a treat. If you have seen it, you’re in for a treat.

Isiah Thomas’ 1990 postseason ranked among NBA’s best individual playoff runs

Kevin Pelton of ESPN ranked the best individual postseasons since 1978, and Isiah Thomas’ 1990 playoffs placed No. 26:

Thomas was at his best in the playoffs during the second of the Pistons’ back-to-back championship runs in large part because of a well-timed hot streak beyond the arc. A 29 percent career 3-point shooter, Thomas went 11-of-16 (68.8 percent) from downtown as Detroit took care of Portland in five games. Thomas averaged 27.6 points and 7.0 assists in the series.

This is why people who are overly reliant on statistics sometimes underrate Thomas. Most statistical analysis for ranking players historically – besides “count the ringzzzzzz” discussions, which are technically statistically based – uses only regular-season numbers.

But Thomas had a real ability to elevate his game in the most crucial situations, and that should count for quite a bit. I’m fine with dismissing most clutch numbers, because they come from too small of samples, but Thomas’ playoff production was proven during 111 games. His 1990 postseason was just the best of many excellent playoff runs.

3-on-3: Remembering Grant Hill

Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.

1. What was Grant Hill’s lasting impact on the Pistons?

Patrick Hayes: Leaving. It’s unfortunate, because Hill was a brilliant player as a Piston who deserves to be both applauded for what he did on some truly poorly constructed teams and also vilified for leaving as any star player would be, but because his departure was softened by acquiring a star who ushered in a new golden age in Ben Wallace, Hill’s Pistons career isn’t looked back on with great reverence or anger. I was a huge Grant Hill fan, I truly appreciated his effort as a Piston and was devastated when he left. But with the benefit of hindsight, leaving was the best thing he did for the franchise.

Brady Fredericksen: Angry, exciting and confusing. He was flat-out great in Detroit. You can talk about all of the ankle problems he had once he left Detroit — or even howhe left the team for greener pastures in Orlando — but when he was with the Pistons, few could compare. Patrick noted it in his post yesterday, but Hill put together some eye-popping numbers while player with old or average-at-best talent. The Detroit version of Hill was one of the league’s best players in one of the NBA’s deepest eras for star talent.

Dan Feldman: Getting them Ben Wallace. As good as Hill was with the Pistons, Wallace was better. Hill is no Milt Pappas, but his contributions will still be remembered more for the trade that sent him away. Hill never got the Pistons out of the first round, and he spent most of his time with the Pistons wearing a teal jersey. It wasn’t an ugly era of Detroit basketball (except for the uniforms), but it certainly wasn’t an inspiring one. The Wallace era was much brighter, and his teams were a perfect embodiment of the city. Fair or not, that leaves Hill’s lasting impact as only slightly more than a footnote to acquiring Wallace.

2. Should the Pistons retire Hill’s No. 33 jersey?

Patrick Hayes: Maybe. Detractors have already pointed to the fact that he played just six seasons as a Piston and didn’t leave under the greatest of circumstances. But there is precedent. The team just retired Dennis Rodman’s jersey, and he played only seven seasons as a Piston, forced his way out of town by making his unhappiness abundantly cleared and later won three titles with the Bad Boys’ greatest rivals in Chicago. The Pistons will also have interesting decisions with the members of their 2004 championship core. Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace didn’t have exceedingly long careers in Detroit, and all three left with varying degrees of turmoil (though Wallace later returned). It’s true, they have a title and Hill doesn’t, but he’s also a likely Hall of Famer. I’m on the fence. As a compromise, the Pistons should retire Hill’s 33, but do it on a teal banner. That way, they can effectively ‘retire’ but also pay tribute to that entire lost era all at once. Let players continue to wear 33 as long as the jersey is using the classic color scheme. But if the team ever switches back to teal again, 33 won’t be worn. Sound fair?

Brady Fredericksen: Yes. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it doesn’t matter that Hill’s shortish tenure in Detroit didn’t yield any real playoff success — he’s one of the franchise’s best. There were very few guys who were as great as Hill during his Pistons’ years, and he was a staple in the MVP voting, finishing as high as third in 1995-96. He was just so good, even if only for a short time, that you can’t ignore it. Hall of Famer Bob Lanier struggled to lift some below-average Pistons’ teams to the promise land, too.

Dan Feldman: No. Hill played just six years for the Pistons. There was debate whether Dennis Rodman’s seven years with the team were enough to justify his jersey retirement, and though I said yes in that case, six years from a player who never won a playoff series falls well short seven years from a player who won two championships. Hill chose to turn his back on the Pistons in 2000, and while any anger has long subsided, they don’t need to embrace him now with such an honor.

3. Taking his entire basketball career into perspective, does Grant Hill join Jason Kidd in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018?

Patrick Hayes: Maybe. I’m sure Hill is going into the Hall of Fame. I’m not convinced he’ll be a first-ballot guy. His accomplishments in six years pre-injury were great, and his four-year career at Duke was one of the best college careers in recent NCAA history, so that helps his case too. His reputation as a nice guy with the media shouldn’t build his or anyone’s case, but it inevitably will. And, if we’re talking in an intangible way, the fact that he came back from devastating injuries at such an advanced age and became a reliable and healthy rotation player late into his 30s is worthy of discussing. Hill is going to the Hall of Fame, but unlike Kidd, I don’t think he deserves to get the honor in his first year of eligibility.

Brady Fredericksen: Eventually, he will. They call it the Basketball Hall of Fame, which means there’s more to it than just the NBA side of things. There’s a legitimate argument that Hill is the quintessential face of college hoops. He was a college star, an NBA star and a gold medalist in the 1996 Olympics. Hill’s impact on basketball has been something that few have replicated; and he had one of the greatest revivals after joining the Phoenix Suns late in his career. It might not be on the first-ballot, but he’ll be in — I mean, no one has been able to pull off the teal quite like Hill did.

Dan Feldman: I rarely predict whether players will make the Hall of Fame, simply because the process is so convoluted and the choices are so seemingly arbitrary. I don’t like the Hall of Fame’s setup, honoring all basketball accomplishments as if coaching/playing well in college and coaching/playing well in the NBA are remotely equal, but that’s the system. I’ll break my rule in this case, because Hill is a lock. If Hill had never played in the NBA, his time at Duke alone probably would get him in. Add a long, productive NBA career – one that included an extremely high, if short-lived, peak – and Hill’s likable personality, and there’s no way the fools who pick Hall of Famers will leave him out. I would thoroughly enjoy a debate on whether Hill belongs in a hypothetical NBA Hall of Fame, though.

Grant Hill never lived up to Isiah Thomas’ achievements in Detroit, but he’ll be a Hall of Famer nonetheless

Grant Hill never quite lived up to the immense expectations that came with being the superstar talent who just happened to land in Detroit on the heels of the most successful superstar talent in franchise history, Isiah Thomas. Several factors, including less than competent personnel moves, declining fan interest after the Bad Boys golden age and — not least of all — teal jerseys, Hill’s Pistons tenure, despite its brilliance, is an easy to ignore period in franchise history. In fact, because the team was able to build a championship contender almost immediately after he left, even Hill’s free agent defection is a relatively minor footnote in team history. Players of his caliber who leave teams in free agency are typically vilified as the franchise they moved on from is left in ruins. Because of the Pistons 2004 championship, as well as pretty universal sympathy from everyone who follows basketball because of his devastating injury problems, Hill didn’t even really return to Detroit on visiting teams as a major villain as so many stars in the free agency/forced trades era have.

Despite, at times, toiling away on teams off the national radar, and despite the devastating injuries, Hill will someday give the Pistons another Hall of Famer. Though his peak years were short, they were extremely good — he was one of the league’s top players for a four(ish) year period. He was an All-Star, All-NBA player, Rookie of the Year, Olympian … the list goes on. And remember, the Naismith Hall of Fame is not just for NBA accomplishments. It’s for basketball accomplishments. Hill’s college career at Duke was legendary in itself and will be part of his case for enshrinement.

Hill’s teal era is undoubtedly one of my favorites as a fan of the Pistons. Not because the basketball was particularly good — it often wasn’t and was occasionally unwatchable (though not unwatchable by the standards of today’s Pistons). The team was having an identity crisis. They were, for some reason, trying to ‘re-brand’ and move away from their storied and successful past with quite possibly the worst logo and color scheme redesign in the history of pro sports. They had a legitimately good 1-2 combination in Hill and Allan Houston, but the two players reportedly weren’t that fond of each other and Houston quickly bolted to the Knicks as a free agent. The Pistons continually tried to make sure Hill was happy, and made a variety of roster moves to bring in players who never quite performed around Hill the way those running the team envisioned they would. It was all insanely frustrating to watch as a fan, but still fascinating.

Because of my affinity for this particular era, Dan Feldman asked me if I’d like to write a post about Hill and his Pistons career after Hill announced his retirement over the weekend. I’ve already actually written about Hill at length in the book I wrote in 2011, so I’m just going to re-publish that chapter below (and if you like what you read, the book is available through Amazon).

Grant Hill, model superstar … everywhere except for in Detroit

Isiah Thomas retired in 1994. The Pistons’ Dennis Rodman-for-Sean Elliott trade, which was supposed to give the team the transitional All-Star it needed as it rebuilt post-Bad Boys, was a colossal failure. Joe Dumars, the lone holdover from the Bad Boys era, was a nice, well-respected player who simply didn’t have the dominant game or personality to be a franchise player. With apologies to Lance Blanks and Fennis Dembo, the Pistons’ run of playoff success also cost them the opportunity to add young talent through the draft since the team was picking late every year. So when Grant Hill, a polished, superstar-ready, marketable talent fell into the lap of the Pistons at No. 3 in the 1994 NBA Draft, he couldn’t have come at a better time for a franchise whose future prospects looked pretty dismal prior to Hill’s arrival.

Despite Hill’s fantastic production during his Pistons career, the team never succeeded in building a competent roster around him and fans in Detroit never seemed to fully appreciate how great a talent Hill was when he was here. To put it simply, Hill was too perfect to succeed in Detroit.

Spoiled by the Bad Boys

In the 1980s, Detroit fans got to watch a team come together piece-by-piece, share in the agony of getting close but not close enough to a title, finally breaking through in back-to-back seasons, then watched the team decline, age and get dismantled. It was so easy to feel connected to that team because we watched everything it went through to get where it did — Pistons fans grew up and became winners with that team. Detroit had never seen consistent, winning pro basketball before that era. But because their journey was so compelling, it’s easy to overlook that they had an insanely deep roster of really good players who were acquired and developed over time using the draft, free agency and trades.

Thomas might not have been everyone’s favorite player during that run, but it’s doubtful you’d find many Pistons fans who wouldn’t call him the most important player to the team. He was their star, a guy who had more signature moments than anyone on the team. He was vital to the team’s success, of course, but like many star players, his heroics, his big moments, sometimes overshadowed the fact that he had really good teammates who helped put him in position to become such an iconic player. Consider this: during Detroit’s three trips to the Finals, Thomas had three teammates (Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman) who, like him, are Hall of Famers. He had another (Bill Laimbeer) who has a legit and underrated case for Hall of Fame inclusion and another who is one of the greatest sixth men of all-time (Vinnie Johnson). He also was coached by a Hall of Fame coach (Chuck Daly).

Why do I bring up the greatness of Isiah’s teammates? Simply to compare to the shittiness of Grant Hill’s. Hill had to live in the shadow of Thomas during his Pistons career. Making All-Star or All-NBA teams was nice, but the true measure of a superstar basketball player in Detroit will forever be tied to how many championships they win because Thomas is the model. Thomas made All-Star teams, All-NBA teams AND won titles. Hill would be expected to do the same and, unfortunately, was often held to that expectation without the benefit of ever having the caliber of supporting talent that Isiah had.

These were Hill’s best teammates in Detroit:

  • Dumars, who was noticeably in decline. He averaged 18 points per game during Hill’s rookie season, then 12, 13, 15 and 11 during his final four seasons.
  • Lindsey Hunter, who never shot better than 43 percent or averaged more than 14 points per game playing with Hill. Hunter could defend, but he never had a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) higher than a not so good 13.9 playing with Hill).
  • Allan Houston’s career started slowly, he never got along with Hill particularly well, he had only one good season in Detroit, then left as a free agent.
  • Terry Mills had two seasons of averaging better than 15 points per game with Hill. As more of a stretch four than a true power forward, though, he also averaged more than four 3-point attempts per game in two seasons.
  • Otis Thorpe was acquired to give Detroit an inside presence during Hill’s second season in the league. He was solid for the two seasons he played with Hill, averaging about 14 points and 8 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, he was also 33-years-old when the Pistons traded for him.
  • Jerry Stackhouse played two seasons with Hill. In one of those two seasons, Stackhouse had one of the worst shooting years of his career, shooting 37 percent from the field.

We could delve into the merits of Negele Knight, Mark West or Don Reid if you’d like, but suffice it to say, Hill didn’t play with a single All-Star-caliber teammate during his career in Detroit, let alone a Hall of Fame-worthy one.

And unlike Thomas, who had constant whispers follow him that he helped get teammates he didn’t want to play with out of Detroit, Hill always remained steadfastly positive (some would say annoyingly positive) about the seeming lack of an organizational plan to add talent during his Pistons career. It would’ve been nice to see Hill use his clout a little more to put pressure on what at the time was a stagnant, directionless organization.

Hill was an unselfish, great player with the Pistons. He was an All-Star each season he was in Detroit. He improved, and despite the goofy roster that often surrounded him, he led the Pistons to four playoff appearances. Twice, his Pistons teams stretched a first round series to five games (remember, this was before the seven game first round series in the NBA) and nearly made the second round. Three times, Hill led the Pistons in scoring, rebounding and assists in the same season (only Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor did that more than once). But despite Hill’s exemplary body of work on the court, despite the Pistons never having a competent front office or good talent evaluators during the Hill era, the fact that Hill never led a Pistons team that came reasonably close to contention made his Detroit tenure a mostly forgettable one.

More appeal outside Detroit than in?

Hill was one of the league’s most popular players in the 1990s. He had a fantastic college career at Duke at the height of the program’s success, so he was already an established star prior to entering the NBA. He was voted into the All-Star Game as a starter all six seasons in Detroit, including leading all players in votes as a rookie, the first-ever rookie to do so. Hill, as an intelligent and popular player, also became a pitch-man, endorsing shoes, soft drinks and other products in national ads. He was so popular that he was one of a parade of stars billed as ‘The Next Michael Jordan.’ Here’s what the Hoops Doctors wrote about Hill in their ‘Nextology’ series that looked at all of the players who were dubbed as possible heirs to Air:

So why was the media so quick to announce that Grant Hill was “The Next Jordan”? Simple: Marketability. Grant Hill was smart both on and off the court, he was well-groomed, good looking, and was perceived as “a good guy”. It was a time when the NBA needed to improve their image to one of a more family oriented game with broader appeal. Grant Hill was the guy the media and the league both loved, and he was certainly a guy that sponsors and Corporate America could stand behind. And all of this reminded the world of only one other basketball player who had been able to do all that and more from a marketing stand point. Michael Jordan.

So, even with all of this popularity, why did Detroit fans seem so bored by Hill? Despite the appeal of Hill on a league-wide scale (he was actually a bigger ‘star’ in the marketing/celebrity sense than Thomas, who was not very well-liked as a player outside of Detroit), the team never drew well at the Palace of Auburn Hills with Hill as the focal point. Superstar players generally sell tickets, even on teams that aren’t great, but the Pistons only drew more than 20,000 fans in a season once during Hill’s six years with the team.

Two factors were largely out of Hill’s control. As documented above, he didn’t have the benefit of long playoff runs in Detroit to help him establish his identity as a superstar during the postseason. He was also the victim of the most unconscionable marketing decision ever, the team switching to a teal/gold/brick red color scheme and flaming horsey logo that robbed the Hill-era Pistons of their connection to the previous era. Blame the Charlotte Hornets and San Jose Sharks. They started the theory that cartoonish animal logo + teal = through the roof sales of Starter pullover winter jackets. Don’t get me wrong, I still bought the Hill teal jersey (and later the alternate red one) and Pistons Starter coat as soon as they went on sale. I wanted desperately to believe in and support Grant Hill. But let’s just say the switch in logo and color scheme didn’t vault the Pistons to the top of merch sales the way team leadership must’ve thought it would.

The biggest issue with Hill, though, and his inability to have the fan support in Detroit matching his star power outside of Detroit was simply his personality. Hill was really nice. The Bad Boys marketed themselves very successfully because, frankly, they were dicks (and I mean that in a positive, loving way). They had a very well-known and established brand. The poor behavior of some of our favorite players became endearing here, so much so that Hill was viewed as flawed for not having that same type of Bad Boys persona. Hill gradually stopped smiling on the court so often. He started more demonstrably directing teammates. He grew a goatee and furrowed his brow sometimes. All of it seemed a bit forced on the naturally nice Hill.

The sad thing is, it’s not like Hill lacked leadership. He wasn’t a Thomas or Laimbeer style, in-your-face guy. He wasn’t going to punch a teammate. That didn’t mean Hill lacked passion. It certainly didn’t mean he didn’t care as much about winning (his Duke career and the fact that he returned to school for his senior year show just how much he loved winning). He was just a different kind of leader than we’d been used to as Pistons fans. Because we watched the Bad Boys grow, saw their struggles, saw their occasional in-fighting and saw their passion manifest itself as an outward display of aggression, physicality and sometimes dirty tactics, we became conditioned to believe that there is one way to achieve basketball success here: their way. ‘Their way’ became our way. Just not Hill’s way.

Grant Hill, one-time underappreciated Piston, retires

Grant Hill announced his retirement on TNT tonight, closing a playing career that was long ago robbed of its better days by injuries.

Hill was drafted by the Pistons, won Rookie of the Year with the Pistons and finished as high in MVP voting (third in 1997) as a Piston ever has.* But Detroit fans, myself definitely included, never appreciated him enough at the time.

*George Yardley (1958), Dave Bing (1971) and Bob Lanier (1974) also finished third.

Hill never won a playoff series, though in hindsight, it was unfair to blame him for a weak supporting cast. And he never seemed tough enough, but asking anyone to follow the Bad Boys in Detroit was probably just a setup to fail.

I didn’t have that perspective at the time, and when Hill signed with the Magic, I was mad. Very mad. I couldn’t wait until he returned to The Palace, just so I could go boo him.

But Hill didn’t play at Detroit until 2005, five years after he left. By then, the Pistons had won a championship – led by by Ben Wallace, whom the Pistons acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent Hill to Orlando – and the bitterness had subsided.

Eventually, I realized how classy Hill is, how tough a competitor he is, how hard he works. I wish I had known all that sooner.

ESPN’s Bad Boys documentary sounds awesome, judging by early details

When news broke ESPN would finally air a much-discussed documentary on the Bad Boys, I was mildly excited. I’m sure, like nearly every episode of the 30 for 30 series, it will be entertaining and informative.

But I, and I suspect many Pistons fans, have seen and read so much about the Bad Boys that new information on the topic is lacking. It’s basically repetitive at this point.

To be clear, I would enjoy watching an hour of repetitive about those teams, but it’s tough to get too excited about something like that.

Well, now I’m excited. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated wrote about the documentary, and here the top three things he wrote that have me so excited:


two-hour documentary


Given the previous collaboration between ESPN Films and NBA Entertainment — they partnered on the brilliant "Once Brothers" and the terrific "The Announcement" — Bad Boys is likely to be one of the better "30 for 30" efforts. (NBA Entertainment also produced the last year’s sensational "Dream Team" documentary for NBA TV.)


Cocoros said he’s already discovered never-before-seen footage of the team inside the locker room before and after games, as well as compelling footage of Chuck Daly’s huddles. "The way this team went about their business kind of mirrored the city — the toughness and the blue-collar work ethic," Cocoros said. "We will look at what was going on in Detroit in the 1980s. There is a lot of parallel to the time period and this film will bring that story to life."

Professor Fennis Dembo?

To piggyback on Dan’s nostalgic post looking at what some possibly forgotten former Pistons are up to these days, Lost Lettermen also has a great slideshow that includes former Piston Fennis Dembo:

This surefire entry on college basketball’s All-Name Hall of Fame was more than just a memorable name. He was a star for the Cowboys, leading the No. 12 seed to the 1987 Sweet Sixteen — including a second round triumph over Reggie Miller and UCLA in which Dembo scored 41 points in an upset win — while averaging a tournament-leading 27.8 PPG.

Dembo’s appearance on the 1987–1988 college basketball preview issue of Sports Illustrated was the first ever by a Wyoming athlete and preceded a seven-year professional career (1988–1995). Dembo is now back in his native San Antonio with hopes of finishing his college degree, obtaining a master’s or Ph.D. in civil engineering and becoming a university professor.


Where are they now? Maurice Ager, Chucky Atkins, Maceo Baston, Dale Davis, Tremaine Fowlkes, Horace Jenkins, Allan Houston, Olden Polynice, Jerome Williams

Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com has an awesome “Where are they now?” feature that includes several former Pistons. Here are my favorites, but definitely check out Deeks’ post for even more fun.

Maurice Ager – Ager hasn’t played since a four game stint with the Timberwolves at the very start of the 2010/11 season. Instead, he’s turned to music, and is now a producer and occasional rapper. Ager’s first album, "Moe Town," was released last month; here’s a video clip of a bonus track, called "Pistons." You’ll recognise one sample.

Chucky Atkins – Atkins has taken up coaching. He first volunteered at USF, then worked with the NBA Player’s Association at high school camps, before starting his first season this year at Evans High School in Orlando, his alma mater.

Maceo Baston – Now owns and runs a cupcake shop in Michigan, Taste Love Cupcakes.

Dale Davis – Here’s an awkward if jauntily soundtracked video that explains Dale’s current business.

Tremaine Fowlkes – Tremaine Fowlkes was born in Los Angeles, California. A man named Tremaine Fowlkes founded a company called TRE Holdings LLC in Los Angeles in 2004. That company, according to this, lodged then redacted an appeal against a finding in the US Bankruptcy Court. Same guy? Hope not.

Allan Houston – Assistant general manager for the Knicks. Suffered an awkward moment at the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League when a heavily jet-lagged idiot tripped over a step, stumbled a few places and landed in his lap. That person was not me. (It was really.)

Horace Jenkins – Jenkins runs an AAU team in Lehigh and also offers private coaching.

Olden Polynice – Runs a personal training service, Next Star Basketball, and is a DJ.

Jerome Williams – Now the director of basketball operations at powerhouse high school side Findlay Prep, and has a terrible haircut.

Chris Paul overtaking Isiah Thomas

Two years ago, I wrote Isiah Thomas’ body of work was more impressive than Chris Paul’s, and I still believe that’s the case, though the gap is shrinking. But then and since, I’ve predicted Paul will retire as the best point guard since Magic Johnson.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN picked up where my argument left off and wrote an interesting piece comparing the two point guards:

It’s hard to find anything, anything at all, that Thomas did better than Paul on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t a matter of advanced stats preferring Paul, it’s a matter of nearly every statistic preferring Paul.

Isiah’s game had flaws, and we tend to forget them because he tended to forget them on the biggest of stages. When you deliver a 25-point NBA Finals quarter on a pretzel of an ankle, you blot out memories of a turnover-prone high dribble, and rim-prone floater. When your team takes out Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in their prime years, you earn a lot of respect.

Those sepia-glitter Isiah Thomas memories matter, and nothing will take them away. If he’s overrated, then it’s for the best of reasons: The guy performed when the eyes of the world were upon him.

Thomas also benefitted historically from something that was less within his control, even if he contributed to it: He played with an elite defense. His Pistons teams were top-three in the league in each year of that three-season NBA Finals span. But few would say that he was a better defender than CP3.

I don’t wish to trash Isiah’s legacy, or insinuate that he was unimportant to that championship success. He was crucial. I merely wish to point out that a good player can receive a lot of extra praise for having played on a great team, especially if the team excels at defense, an aspect of the game that fewer focus on. If you’re a scorer on a great defense, chances are that a disproportionate amount of credit will bounce your way.

Strauss’ evaluation of Thomas is fair (unlike the time he wrote that Kevin Johnson was better than Isiah). It’s no insult to Thomas to claim Paul is better per-season, per-minute or any other metric that doesn’t sum career accomplishments. Paul is just that good.