The Detroit Pistons are an Eastern Conference team that traces its history to the National Basketball League ( NBL ) in the 1940’s. Then known as the Fort Wayne Pistons, they joined the Basketball Association of America ( BAA ) in 1948. When the BAA merged with the NBL to form the NBA, the Pistons were among the holdovers. The team relocated to Detroit in 1957 and a long journey to success began.
The first 27 years were a struggle as the Pistons had only three winning seasons over that period. But then Isiah Thomas arrived and changed the destiny of the franchise. Thomas would later get the perfect backcourt mate in Joe Dumars and the two would form a Hall of Fame backcourt that would lead the Bad Boys to back to back NBA titles in 1989-1990. After the Bad Boys era, an underdog Pistons team upset the superstar filled Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 finals to capture the third title in franchise history. Detroit’s not won a title since but they’ve remained in the middle by making the playoffs in five of the next twelve seasons.
Let’s take a look at the top Detroit Pistons players of all-time who molded the franchise into a three time NBA champion:
10. Vinnie Johnson
He never won Sixth Man of the Year award but this Pistons’ reserve was the most valuable piece of asset from the Detroit Pistons bench during their title run.
Vinnie Johnson was the burly backup guard who could spell either Isiah Thomas at the point or Joe Dumars at shooting guard. But although he could play both guard spots, he was well known as a scorer. In fact, former Celtics’ guard Danny Ainge christened him as the Microwave for his ability score a lot of points over short periods of time. If there was a Splash Brother in the 80’s it would be Vinnie J. Johnson is best remembered for hitting the game winning jump shot in Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals which gave his team back to back NBA titles.
Johnson’s #15 jersey was retired by the Pistons in 1994. He currently ranks in the top 7 all-time in franchise history for games played, points, steals, assists and two point field goals made.
9. George Yardley
George Yardley was the first and original Detroit Pistons superstar.
He was described as ‘an offensive minded player who had the knack for scoring’ in his Naismith Hall of Fame biography. That description couldn’t be more correct. Yardley was the first player in the NBA to score more than 2,000 points in a single season, breaking the record previously set by George Mikan. He led the Fort Wayne Pistons to two NBA Finals appearances and was an All-Star in six consecutive seasons from 1955-1960. He retired at the age of 31 and was the first player in the history of the NBA to retire with an average of at least 20 points per game during his final season.
Aside from being a six-time All-Star, Yardley was a member of the All-NBA Second team in 1957 and the All-NBA First team in 1958. He was also the NBA’s scoring champion in 1958 with an average of 27.8 PPG. During that same season he set what was then records of most free throws made and attempted in a single season.
8. Bill Laimbeer
The man everyone loved to hate. The NBA’s ultimate villain and the player who will forever be despised in Boston and Chicago.
Bill Laimbeer was the Bad Boys personified. This tough as nuts and borderline dirty center was an integral part of the Pistons’ back to back title teams. They say white men can’t jump but Laimbeer proved one can do anything else to get the rebounds. He wasn’t the biggest nor the strongest but Laimbeer always played with blood, sweat and tears. Nt only was he an asset on defense but Laimbeer also possessed a very good outside shot.
Drafted by the Cavs in 1979, Laimbeer played for one season in Italy before suiting up for the NBA. He found his way to Detroit in 1982 and he quickly became one of its stalwarts.
Laimbeer was a four time NBA All-Star and the NBA’s rebounding king in 1986. He is the Pistons’ all-time leader in rebounds as well as fouls. He is third in franchise history in blocked shots, 3rd in games played and #5 in field goals made.
7. Dave Bing
Dave Bing was the Detroit Pistons’ best guard during their first 20 years of existence. Unfortunately, he played on some of the worst teams in franchise history that he only had one winning season in Motown and reached the NBA postseason only three times. Despite that, there was no denying he was one of the greats.
Bing was both a scorer and a passer. He led the team in assists in each of his nine season with the Pistons and was their leading scorer for five straight seasons from 1967-1971. After winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1967, Bing led the NBA in scoring during his sophomore season. With the Pistons, he played for 7 All-Star teams and was named to the All-NBA First team in 1968 and 1971.
Bing ranks third in Pistons’ history in assists and 4th in points. He also has the second best points per game average in franchise history. In 2008, Bing joined politics and was elected as Detroit Mayor in 2009.
6. Dennis Rodman
Before he colored his hair anything, Dennis Rodman was a ‘real’ basketball player in Detroit. In fact, the Worm was the defensive anchor of the Pistons’ champion teams in 1989 and 1990.
After being drafted by the Pistons with the 27th pick of the 1986 NBA draft, Dennis Rodman’s fierce defense and rebounding were a perfect fit for coach Chuck Daly’s hard-nosed Pistons team. He played at small forward at first, coming off the bench and was the ultimate compliment to bad boys Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. The Dennis Rodman of the Pistons though showed some decent offense, not just otherworldly rebounding skills.
Rodman won two of his five championship rings with the Detroit Pistons. He was a two time Defensive Player of the Year awardee, a seven-time member of the NBA’s All-Defensive First team and a seven-time rebounding champion. And yes, he was once married to the hot Carmen Electra. He may have won many of his awards after his stint with the Pistons but everyone agrees that the Worm was born and raised in Detroit.
5. Bob Lanier
Bob Lanier is the greatest low post scorer in the history of the Detroit Pistons. But like Dave Bing, he played during one of the worst stretches in franchise history. He never made it past the second round of the playoffs but his lack of postseason success didn’t prevent him from being enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1992.
Lanier was a gorilla down low, averaging 22.7 points per game in his Pistons’ career. He led the Pistons in scoring for seven consecutive seasons from 1972-1979. He was also a force off the boards, averaging more than 11 rebounds in seven consecutive seasons. Before he was traded to the Bucks, Lanier played four unhealthy seasons where he never played more than 64 games per year.
Lanier is third in Detroit’s all-time scoring list, #2 in rebounds and #3 in blocked shots. He was an 8-time All-Star and the game’s MVP in 1974. Lanier was the recipient of the 1978 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.
4. Chauncey Billups
There was a point in Chauncey Billups’ career when it seemed that he would end up as a journeyman. When he joined the Pistons in 2002, he had been to six different NBA teams in as many seasons. Many doubted if he’d ever live up to his billing as the 3rd overall pick of the 1997 draft. They were wrong.
Known as Mr. Big Shot for his penchant of hitting the big baskets, Billups played for six years in Detroit and appeared in at least 70 games per season. During his first year with the Pistons, Billups led the team to its first ever conference finals appearance in a dozen years. But that wasn’t it. Billups turned the Pistons into contenders, leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of his year with the team. The highlight of his Pistons’ career was winning the Finals MVP in 2004 after his team defeated a heavily favored All-Star laden Lakers team led by Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
Billups is the Pistons’ 2nd all-time three point field goals leader and the fourth best assists man in franchise history. He was a five time NBA All-Star and a winner of the Shooting Stars Challenge in 2007. Billups was named to the All-NBA Second team once and the All-NBA Third team twice. He was also a two-time member of the All-NBA Defensive Second team.
3. Ben Wallace
Photo: SB Nation
Ben Wallace proved that even without much offensive talent, one can make a difference in the NBA.
No one really cared about Ben Wallace’s transfer to Detroit until after six years later. During that period, Wallace won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year four times, was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team five times and played for the Eastern All-Star team four times. Wallace also led the NBA in rebounds twice and blocks once during that stretch. Not only that, he was the defensive anchor of the Pistons’ 2004 team which held its opponents to a remarkable 84 points per 100 possessions during the playoffs.
Wallace is the Pistons’ all-time Blocks leader and is 2nd in the team’s all-time rebounding list. He also lead the franchise in defensive win shares. More importantly, he embodied the Pistons’ player: strong, tough and defensive minded.
2. Joe Dumars
Isiah Thomas was the greatest Pistons’ player ever but he wouldn’t have achieved his title aspirations had he not gotten the perfect backcourt partner. Thomas and Joe Dumars formed one of the NBA’s best backcourts ever. They played beautiful music together and as a backcourt, they led the Pistons to the best run in franchise history.
Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and John Salley made the Pistons the Bad Boys. But it was the one-two punch of Thomas and Joe Dumars which provided the offensive punch for the Pistons. What made Dumars more special was his ability to play excellent one on one defense. His quiet personality was also contrast to the bad boys loud and proud attitude. Dumars was the first recipient of the NBA’s Sportsmanship award which has been renamed as Joe Dumars Trophy.
Interestingly, Dumars ranks #1 in the Pistons’ record books in Offensive win shares. He is also second to Isiah Thomas in points and assists plus third in steals. He was the NBA Finals MVP in 1989 and was a six time All-Star. Dumars also had one All-NBA Second team selections and two All-NBA Third team selection. He was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive First team four times and was part of the 1994 Dream Team which won the 1994 World Basketball Championships.
1. Isiah Thomas
Photo: Gangster Report
With all due respect to the current Boston Celtics’ guard, this is the ‘original’ Isiah Thomas.
As it was written in the Holy Scriptures, particularly in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 11 verse 6: ‘And a little child shall lead them’. Thus it happened that the Pistons selected 6-1 Isiah Thomas with the 2nd overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft. Three years later, the Pistons made the playoffs. They did so too for the next eight years with the team winning the NBA title in back to back seasons during 1989 and 1990. Thomas played all of his 13 NBA seasons with the Pistons and he was named to the All-Star team in 12 of those seasons. Zeke was also a two-time NBA All-Star game MVP and an All-NBA First team member thrice.
His name is all over the Detroit Pistons all-time leaders list. Thomas is currently Detroit’s all-time leader in points, assists, steals, free throws, field goals and VORP. These accomplishments are more than enough to make him the greatest player to ever don a Detroit Pistons uniform and one of the NBA’s best players ever.
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