We all know that the Detroit Pistons aren’t exactly in a magical place right now, but despite their current lull there’s no denying the fact that this franchise has seen its fair share of glory. This is definitely an organization with a long list of really great players, so putting together a list of just five isn’t easy. This is a team with plenty of honorable mentions, but before we look at who missed the list, let’s have a look at who made it:
#5 – Dennis Rodman (1986-1993)
What he did for the Pistons: Before Rodman dyed one single strand of hair one single crazy color, he was a short-shorts-wearing bruiser big man for the two-time champion Detroit Pistons. His career rebounding numbers are overwhelming—fourth all-time in offensive boards, tenth all-time in rebounds per game, and several rebounding titles—but it should be noted that he did plenty of that while playing for the Pistons. During his tenure in Detroit he led the league in offensive rebounds three times, defensive rebounds once, and total rebounds twice. He was a two-time All-Star, five-time All-Defensive Team selection, and even got named to the All-NBA Third Team in 1993.
Worth noting: Earlier this year the Pistons retired Rodman’s #10 jersey, and a few months later he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. So there’s that, too.
#4 – Bob Lanier (1970-1980)
What he did for the Pistons: We generally consider a season in which a player scores 20 ppg and hauls in 10 rpg a pretty good season. Someone who averages those numbers of the course of his entire career is usually a Hall of Famer. That’s the case with Bob Lanier, a former #1 overall pick and seven-time All-Star for the Detroit Pistons. His #16 jersey is retired by the team, and he’ll long be considered one of the best players in the franchise’s history.
Worth noting: Lanier had pretty big feet (size 22). Patrons who visit the Basketball Hall of Fame can measure their own shoe size to his. To compare, Shaquille O’Neal wears a size 23.
#3 – Dave Bing (1966-1975)
What he did for the Pistons: There weren’t a lot of point guards like Dave Bing in his era. He possessed the combination of traditional point guard skills and scoring ability that modern scouts still look for in well-round floor leaders. While playing for Detroit, Bing was named Rookie of the Year his first season, then later was named to six All-Star teams and three All-NBA Teams. Like all the other players in the top five, Bing had his jersey retired by the team and is a member of the Hall of Fame. He’s pretty easily the best non-Bad-Boy Piston the franchise has ever seen.
Worth noting: Today, Bing is the mayor of Detroit. So I guess you could say he’s pretty popular there.
#2 – Joe Dumars (1985-1999)
What he did for the Pistons: Dumars’ contributions to the Detroit Pistons span the better part of the last 25 years, both as a player and then later as the team’s GM. As a player he was one of the toughest defenders in history, a talent that would get him named to five All-Defensive Teams during his uninterrupted career as a Piston. He was also a six-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA Team selection, and NBA Finals MVP in 1989, the team’s first NBA Championship. His #4 is retired by the team, he’s a Hall of Famer, and Michael Jordan once called him the toughest defender he ever played against. All that certainly counts for something.
What also counts for something is the fact that he put together a team in 2003 that would go on to win the first championship since his own Pistons group last did it in 1990. He was voted Executive of the Year in 2003, and that wasn’t even the year his team won rings.
Worth noting: The man passed up Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in the 2003 draft for Darko Milicic. Whatever else he did right as a GM, history will never forgive him for that.
#1 – Isiah Thomas (1981-1994)
What he did for the Pistons: Dumars’ backcourt mate, Isiah Thomas, was one of the nastiest little point guards the league has ever seen. He may have been one of the most hated basketball players in the history of the game (and, for that matter, one of the most hated executives in the history of the game), but the man could play some serious basketball. He is, naturally, a Hall of Famer with his jersey retired by the team, mostly because he’s the franchise leader in minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, points, and assists, and steals. He’s got two championships under his belt as a player, and he was the Finals MVP in 1990. He played in 12 All-Star games, was named to five All-NBA teams, and is sixth in NBA history in assists.
He only won two championships, but if Michael Jordan didn’t exist it probably would’ve been closer to four or five. Despite that, Thomas always showed amazing grit as a player despite his size, and his ability to take over games puts him in a very special class of Hall of Famers that transcend many other players who also are in the Hall. He’s one of the best ever, period, and easily the best Piston.
Worth noting: Thomas is blamed for the downfall of the Continental Basketball Association and the early-to-mid 2000’s New York Knicks. He could play some ball, sure, but running things from a business standpoint really never has been his thing.
Richard Hamilton (2002-present)
What he did for the Pistons: Whether the team buys him out via amnesty, trades him, or just holds onto him until his contract expires, one thing seems fairly certain regarding Hamilton and the Pistons—their happy times together are more or less over. Despite that fact, Rip played the best years of his life in Motown, including major contributions to the 2004 championship team. He’s a three-time All-Star, all with Detroit, and he led the league in three-point field goal percentage in 2006. Those aren’t completely overwhelming career numbers, which is why he isn’t in the top five, but it’s certainly a body of work worthy of honorable mention, which is why we mention him.
Worth noting: If Ben Wallace retires and Hamilton remains on the Pistons for another season, he will officially be the last remaining member of that 2004 Pistons team. Even Wallace, who returned to the team after brief stints with Chicago and Cleveland, hasn’t played in Detroit every consecutive year since the title. Only Rip can say he’s done that.
Bill Laimbeer (1982-1994)
What he did for the Pistons: Laimbeer was a bad, bad man. Easily one of the most villainous players in league history, he also happens to be the franchise’s all-time leader in offensive, defensive, and total rebounds. He led the league in total boards in 1984 and 1986, and he also led in defensive rebounds and rebounds per game in ’86. He was a four-time NBA All-Star in Detroit and had his #40 jersey retired by the team. If ever there was a player that put the “Bad Boy” in “Bad Boy Pistons,” it would be Bill Laimbeer.
Worth noting: Laimbeer played a season in Italy before making his NBA debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1980. He also appeared in a small role for the original “Land of the Lost” television series right after graduating high school.
Ben Wallace (2000-2006, 2009-present)
What he did for the Pistons: Every championship team has that one blue-collar guy that the fans love not for his points but for the little things he does to help a team win a championship. When the Pistons were visiting the Eastern Conference Finals seemingly every year in the middle of the 21st century’s first decade, Ben Wallace was definitely that guy. He’s the Pistons’ all-time franchise leader in blocks, and he also was among the best in the league for several seasons in rebounding. He was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year four times, made five All-Defensive Teams, was named to four All-Star teams, and five All-NBA Teams. His window of greatness was a relatively small one, which is why he’s not higher on this list, but that window was admittedly pretty amazing while it was open.
Worth noting: The minute Wallace left Detroit for a $60 million contract in Chicago during the summer of 2006, his rebounding and defensive skills seemed to degenerate by about 50%. Leaving the Motor City was like the equivalent of cutting off Samson’s hair, which is why it made so much sense when Big Ben returned to the Pistons in 2009. Ironically, when he returned to the team, his vintage afro/cornrow braids were gone.
Grant Hill (1994-2000)
What he did for the Pistons: Well, before he signed that contract with the Orlando Magic in the fabled summer of 2000, Hill gave the Pistons the best years of his career. The 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year quickly blossomed into a triple-double machine, earning his way onto five All-Star Teams and five All-NBA Teams. Had he not gotten hurt, Hill would’ve been a sure thing first-ballot Hall of Famer. With all the injuries he experienced, though, all we have is those six great seasons in Detroit as a body of work. As good as he’s been in Phoenix, those have hardly padded his statistics enough to get him into the Hall at all.
Worth noting: In his six seasons with the Orlando Magic, Hill only played in more than 30 games twice, 2004-2005 (67 games) and 2006-2007 (65 games). In his first three seasons with the team, he played in a total of 47 games. Talk about money that was most certainly not well-spent… At least Detroit got what they paid for. More, actually, considering Hill played much of it for rookie contract dollars.
Chauncey Billups (2002-2008)
What he did for the Pistons: Easily one of the best leaders the team has ever had, Billups meant a whole lot more to this organization than the stats ever showed. That said, the stats weren’t so bad either—Billups was a two-time All-Defensive Team selection, a two-time All-NBA Team selection, and a three-time NBA All-Star while he played for Detroit. He also was the Finals MVP in 2004 when the Pistons won the championship, and he’s sixth all-time in three-point field goals made and career free throw percentage. Take all that and wrap up with the man’s leadership abilities and uncanny penchant to nail the clutch shot, and you’ve got yourself one of the best Pistons ever. One, by the way, who barely missed the top five.
Worth noting: Players this good rarely move around as much over the course of their careers as Billups did, but the New York Knicks are the man’s sixth professional team, including two stints with the Denver Nuggets. He played for four teams in his first five seasons before landing with the Pistons and breaking out, proving that you really never can tell when some players will come into their own.
There have been a lot of really good Pistons over the years, but these are the best. Is there anybody we missed? Feel free to hit up the comments with players who should’ve at least gotten onto the honorable mention list.