“Bing, fresh off his primary victory, is already going on the offensive, attacking Cockrel’s politics the same way he used to attack the Bulls and the Celtics and the Lakers with his relentless drives to the hoop.”

 

 The ironic thing is, David Bing could have been mayor of Detroit when he had no such aspirations. Now that he wants it, it might not be there for him. We’ll see.

Bing, 65, wants very badly, today, to preside over the city whose arms embraced him some 42 years ago, plus. Too bad he didn’t have this notion way back when.

Bing, the former Pistons guard who only saved the franchise from itself once upon a time, has long been a successful businessman. His name has been mentioned in connection with occupying the Manoogian Mansion for nearly two decades now. They’ve held elections in which I’m convinced he’d have wiped the floor with his competition.

And only NOW he finally decides to run?

Bing could be elected mayor now. But there was a time when he was about as wanted in Detroit as a Japanese car company.

It was the summer of 1966, and the staunch basketball fans in Detroit – and perhaps there were thousands of them at the time – were hoping beyond hope that the Pistons’ last place finish would equal the drafting of college star Cazzie Russell, from the University of Michigan. For four years, Russell bedazzled the folks in Metro Detroit – and across the country – with his basketball skills. The Pistons were in a bad way in ’66 – never a winning record since they arrived in Detroit in 1957 and just coming off a brutal 22-58 season.

Cazzie Russell, it was surmised, would be the answer to all the pro basketball problems in Detroit.

Time was running out on the Pistons – and that’s no hyperbole. It wasn’t certain just how much longer owner Fred Zollner was willing to wait before turning a profit in the Motor City. But oh, if Cazzie Russell could become a Piston…

All the Pistons had to do was win a coin flip.

The New York Knicks were the other last place team and they wanted Russell, too. Everyone wanted Russell. He was very want-able.

They flipped the coin. The Pistons lost. Surprise, surprise.

Russell went to the Knicks. The Pistons cursed their luck – rotten ever since they moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Detroit. They settled for a skinny guard from Syracuse named Dave Bing.

When Bing arrived in Detroit, after having driven here with his worldly possessions in his car, he didn’t exactly cross 8 Mile Road to a hero’s welcome. The city was still in mourning over the loss of Cazzie Russell to the Knicks.

Bing couldn’t have been elected dog catcher, then.

A few years later, after winning Rookie of the Year honors and leading the team into the playoffs and winning a league scoring title and breathing life back into a nearly-moribund franchise, Dave Bing was much more electable.

He could have been elected mayor in 1974, when the Pistons went 52-30 and made the playoffs and lost a heartbreaking, seven-game series to the Chicago Bulls.

The trouble was that Bing’s contributions to the saving of the Pistons – again, no exaggeration here – were in inverse proportion to the interest of the sporting fans in Detroit. So I say he could have been elected mayor – if his electorate consisted solely of the majority of the 5,000 or so fans who cared enough to buy a ticket into Cobo Arena each game night, shortly after he arrived from Syracuse. Even after Bing put the Pistons on the map, they were a small village, not yet a city. Attendance of 8,000 was considered a good night in Detroit.

 

OK, so maybe he couldn’t have been elected in 1974 due to low voter turnout, but eventually, Bing, post-retirement, began to craft a reputation in town as a benevolent businessman who created jobs and pumped life into the city’s economy – just as he had pumped life into the Pistons, once upon a time.

He could have been elected mayor, for sure, after Coleman Young relinquished his seat in 1993. There were many who wanted Bing to run. It would have been a landslide, I’m telling you. But Bing said no – too many things still to do as a non-mayor.

So he kept building his business, and helping to get housing built, too. Bing became a hero of sorts to the poor, to the indigent. He would have embarrassed whomever he ran against – Dennis Archer included – if he had chosen that path.

He remained a non-mayor, a non-candidate. The two terms were interchangeable.

So it’s not until 2009 that Dave Bing decides he wants to be mayor, after all.

If this was basketball, we’d say that Bing got out of the first round of the playoffs and will now advance to the championship series. He finished first in last week’s primary election, a smidgen ahead of the current, interim mayor, Ken Cockrel, Jr. There was a time when Cockrel’s dad, Ken Sr., was another who was mentioned as mayoral material.

One of them – the ex-basketballer Bing or the son of a maybe-mayor Cockrel – will be declared the winner in the wake of this May’s special general election.

Bing, fresh off his primary victory, is already going on the offensive, attacking Cockrel’s politics the same way he used to attack the Bulls and the Celtics and the Lakers with his relentless drives to the hoop.

The topic du jour was the City Council’s unexpected (to some) rejection of a deal to renovate and expand Cobo Hall – Bing’s old basketball playing haunts. The challenger took the interim mayor Cockrel to task over not having the votes necessary to ensure the deal’s passing.

“You shouldn’t come to the table with a deal unless you have the votes,” Bing railed to the papers. “Now it looks like we have to start again from scratch. We look like a bunch of clowns.”

A bunch of clowns. Those were words that would have been apt to use to describe the Pistons upon Bing’s arrival in 1966. Now he aims to save the city from itself, as he once saved the Pistons from themselves.

He could have done it earlier, and much, much easier. Ken Cockrel’s kid isn’t going to be a cakewalk opponent.

But then again, they never seem to do anything in Detroit the easy way, do they?

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