The problem with making Dave Bing, in his twilight years, a living ambassador for the Pistons is that no one saw him play.
Well, almost no one.
It’s been 40-plus years since Bing last suited up for the Pistons before he was traded, not without some rancor, to the Washington Bullets in the summer of 1975. So that eliminates a lot of Bing witnesses, right there.
Second, when Bing played for the Pistons at the beautiful, air-conditioned Cobo Arena from 1966-75, hardly anyone came to see him play to begin with. The curious and determined fans who showed up at Cobo in Bing’s day almost could have enjoyed their own personal concessionaire.
The Pistons again find themselves trying desperately to connect with the city whose name they bear.
The team is using Bing’s voice in a series of TV spots that props Detroiters up as hard scrabble, indefatigable folks, and the Pistons as the team that these people ought to rally around—because the players embody what Detroit is all about.
These usually aren’t the types of marketing campaigns used by teams with a recent history of winning, but the Pistons definitely deserve an “A” for effort.
The organization is indeed bullish on Detroit. Owner Tom Gores very much wants to bridge the I-75 gap between the city proper and Auburn Hills. He’s established foundations to benefit inner city kids. He brought in high-powered sports agent Arn Tellem and charged him with ingraining the organization into the revitalization of Detroit. In turn, Tellem is expected to eventually land an ownership stake with the Pistons.
The use of Bing, the Pistons’ second-best point guard (and player) in franchise history next to Isiah Thomas, in conveying the message that the Pistons are all in on Detroit, is admirable.
But two things are wrong with it.
One, we don’t see Bing’s image in the spots.
Some may recognize Bing’s voice right away; being mayor of the City of Detroit helps in that regard. But others may assume that the voice is simply a hired-out talent. It would help to see Bing, at least some of the time.
Two, it’s debatable how much impact Bing has on the folks that the Pistons are trying to touch today.
The above sentence pains me to write, because nobody appreciates what David Bing did for the Pistons more than I—with the possible exception of my good friend Ray Scott, Bing’s former teammate and coach in Detroit, who himself was a terrific Piston who toiled in mostly empty arenas in Motown.
Bing didn’t fill Cobo as a player, but without him, the attendance figures would have been south of the equator.
The Pistons didn’t want Dave Bing. They wanted Cazzie Russell—Snazzy Cazzie, who played glorious college ball 30 miles west on Interstate 94 for the University of Michigan. Russell was heralded as the best college basketball player in the country in the summer of 1966. The Pistons salivated over what a local hero like Cazzie Russell could do for attendance.
One night at Cobo, before the draft, Cazzie attended a Pistons game as the team’s guest. As he made his way down to his courtside seat, every eyeball in the joint lasered in on Cazzie, who was cheered wildly. Even the players on the court took notice. As usual, a couple thousand were scattered throughout Cobo. A typical NBA crowd in Detroit.
But if Cazzie Russell played for the Pistons? Whoo-hoo!
The Pistons finished last in their division in 1966 and would have a coin toss with the other last place team, the New York Knicks, for the number one overall draft pick.
The Pistons lost the coin toss. Just their luck. The Knicks would get Cazzie Russell.
But the Pistons lucked out after all.
“Don’t worry,” Earl Lloyd, who worked for the Pistons as a scout, said after the Knicks selected Russell. “We just got the best player in the country.”
Lloyd, so wise, meant David Bing, a skinny point guard from Syracuse.
Bing didn’t bring people by droves to Cobo, but he brought flair and vitality to the Pistons that were sorely missing. NBA teams in those days were largely defined by their big men, but Bing was dynamic. He could shoot, he could pass and he could run up and down the court. The Pistons had never employed a guard of such magnitude since they moved to Detroit in 1957.
And attendance did see an uptick, though it wasn’t necessarily dramatic.
After Bing was joined in Detroit by center Bob Lanier in 1970, the Pistons had an inside/outside tandem that was as good as any in the NBA.
It all culminated in a 52-win season in 1973-74 and Ray Scott was the NBA Coach of the Year. Crowds at Cobo started to touch 10,000 and more.
Without Dave Bing, the Pistons might not have stayed in Detroit. No joke.
But using Bing now in a marketing campaign, exclusive of more recent Pistons heroes, isn’t the best use of the organization’s efforts.
A series of spots, featuring legends throughout franchise history like Bing, Lanier, Thomas, Ricky Mahorn, Chauncey Billups et al, would have more impact. My opinion.
The demographic the Pistons are trying to reach in their efforts to connect to the city proper and the metro area in general, doesn’t think of Dave Bing when it thinks of Pistons greats. It’s sad but true. Bing, anymore, is ball and chained to his stint as Detroit’s mayor, which isn’t looked at very fondly by many people.
But the targeted audience is still on a first-name basis with Isiah, and they adore Mahorn (and Bill Laimbeer) and Billups, Mr. Big Shot.
Tom Gores is all in on Detroit. Cynics will ask why that doesn’t include the location of the Pistons’ arena.
The location of the Palace didn’t seem to be an issue when the Pistons were winning championships and competing for others.
The Pistons must win, most of all. Gores knows that. Stan Van Gundy knows that. Arn Tellem knows that.
Absent winning (for now), the Pistons especially need to put on a full court press with community outreach and marketing.
Telling everyone that the team is cut from the same cloth as resilient Detroiters isn’t a bad way to go.
Using Dave Bing to convey that message isn’t bad, either—but it falls short.
The Pistons are trying to speak to Smartphone users with a voice from the days of teletype machines.
Someone should remind Gores and company that there have been a lot of great Pistons since 1975.
So use them.