Published Mar. 31, 2018
The faces of the Pistons franchise since it moved to Detroit in 1957 have been an eclectic group of men.
The early days of Cobo Arena housed David DeBusschere, the pride of old Detroit Austin High and the University of Detroit, an east side kid who was tabbed, at the tender age of 24, to become player-coach of the Pistons at a time when the franchise was slapstick.
DeBusschere was traded to the Knicks in 1968-69. The Pistons got rooked.
The end of the ’60s and the early-’70s was Dave Bing’s time in Detroit. Bing was joined by Bob Lanier to form a potent inside-outside tandem.
Bing and Lanier were traded in separate deals. The Pistons got rooked.
Isiah Thomas, the cherubic, smiling assassin, took over the town starting in 1981. Isiah won two championships and—surprise—he wasn’t traded.
Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace were a sort of three-headed monster that embodied the “Goin’ to Work” Pistons teams in the mid-2000s. One championship won, another so tantalizingly close.
All three were either traded or left via free agency. The Pistons got rooked.
Wait, what about Grant Hill?
An era of teal, irrelevance
Hill is the Pistons star that gets lost in the shuffle when the franchise greats are discussed. It’s not his fault.
Hill is going into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, it was announced today. He’s part of a class that includes fellow players Steve Nash, Maurice Cheeks and Ray Allen.
Pistons GM Billy McKinney openly wept at the 1994 NBA Draft when it became apparent that Hill, out of Duke, would fall to the Pistons, who had the no. 3 overall pick. After Dallas drafted Jason Kidd no. 2, McKinney couldn’t contain himself and let loose with tears of joy.
But the Pistons were never winners when Hill donned the hideous teal jersey between 1994-2000. Again, not his fault.
McKinney was an offender, as were other front office men who paraded through town. The Pistons could never quite cobble together a unit around Hill that could swim in the deep end of the NBA pool.
There were a few playoff appearances but they were all cameos. A bunch of coaches came and went as well; Don Chaney, Doug Collins, Alvin Gentry and George Irvine all took their turn.
Through it all, Grant Hill scored his 20 points, grabbed his seven rebounds and dished out his six assists. He was an unspectacular but consistent Piston. He lacked the personality and drama of Isiah. Hill was the Pistons’ face but he was never, truly, the superstar that put the Pistons on his back. He didn’t drain big time shots. Partly because there weren’t a lot of big shots that needed to be drained.
Grant Hill was a Pistons star at a time of transition for the franchise. His career in Auburn Hills was nestled between Thomas’, who retired the summer before Hill made his NBA debut, and that of the 2004 champions, who were constructed by former Hill teammate Joe Dumars.
Suddenly, injury-prone in Orlando
It was Hill who indirectly brought championship caliber players to the Pistons. Hill, like so many star Pistons of the past, was traded from Detroit.
Dumars, still a newbie to the NBA executive scene, traded Hill to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2000 for guard Chucky Atkins and Wallace. The Pistons looked like they were getting rooked again.
But Hill, who only missed 21 games in his six years in Detroit, suddenly became injury prone while employed by the Magic.
A severely damaged ankle limited Hill to merely 47 games in his first four seasons in Orlando.
Meanwhile, Dumars kept adding pieces to Wallace and the result was a championship in 2004. Perhaps fittingly, that was the season that Hill missed entirely with the Magic.
Hill was never revered in Detroit. The team’s ails didn’t help, but for whatever reason, fans never fully bought into him. Maybe he was too consistent; too smooth. One of his nicknames as a player was Mr. Nice. That wasn’t very championship-like in a tough, blue collar town like Detroit, where so many champions in various sports have been the piss and vinegar types.
But just when you thought you had heard the last of Grant Hill, he became resurrected in the desert.
Grant Hill, redux in Phoenix
Hill signed with the Phoenix Suns as a free agent in 2007. He was healthy, finally. He wasn’t any longer the same player he was in Detroit, but he was durable and consistent, that ancient word. A typical night for Mr. Nice was 13 points, five rebounds and a couple assists. He was in his mid-30s and his role was mentor on Suns teams that were winning 50 games.
So Hill went from number three overall pick to a career nearly ended by injuries, to a second coming as a league elder.
It was, in Hill’s word, “weird.”
He spoke Friday on the impending Hall of Fame announcement.
“It was not one of those goals when you’re young that you shoot for, but as you retire and reflect – and just for me personally having a weird career, from college, the NBA, the injuries and coming back. It’s a really, really special recognition,” Hill said.
The Pistons weren’t winners when Grant Hill played for them, but it wasn’t for lack of anything on his part. Ironically, it took the team trading Hill to start building the championship team that the Pistons couldn’t muster when he was in Detroit.
Hill was the face of the Pistons at a time when the team went rogue with teal jerseys and lost its way. His no. 33 isn’t in the rafters at Little Caesars Arena and never will be.
It’s not his fault.