Monday, June 09, 2008

Coach Dave Bing? The Pistons Chose Not To, Back In '79

The Pistons didn't want David Bing. The fans didn't, either -- even the ones who had heard of him. To them, anyone was sloppy seconds if the team couldn't get Snazzy Cazzie Russell.

The Pistons lost a coin toss in 1966, a toss that would have given them the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft -- a pick they would have used on Russell, the talented gem from the University of Michigan. But the coin didn't come up right, so the New York Knicks got Russell, and the Pistons were left with Bing, the smooth guard from Syracuse. The Pistons felt slugged in the gut. They dreamed of box office success, if nothing else, with Russell playing for them. One night at Cobo Arena, Russell still in college, the few thousand fans at that evening's Pistons game rose to their feet and went crazy as they saw the Michigan senior walking to a seat, a guest of the Pistons for the night. EVERYONE drooled at the thought of Cazzie Russell as a Piston.

The Pistons got Bing, and he eventually went from sloppy seconds to being beloved in Detroit. He, along with Bob Lanier, turned the team into contenders and playoff visitors.

In 1979, Bing could have changed the fortune of the Pistons yet again, but unlike when he was drafted, this time he wasn't given the opportunity.

The Pistons had fired Dick Vitale and were looking for another coach. The job was given, by default, to assistant Richie Adubato in one of those interim deals.

Dave Bing had an idea.

What if he, Bing, stepped into the coach's chair? What if he was the one to return the Pistons back to respectability after the clowning achievements of Vitale? Bing was 34, not quite two years removed as a player himself. He had the hunger. He wasn't yet a steel magnate and civic leader. Basketball was still his first love and interest.

Bing as the unwanted senior from Syracuse, circa 1966

So Bing wasn't shy about letting the TV people and sports columnists around town know that he was interested in becoming the Pistons' next coach. It was a tactic that had worked so well for Vitale in the spring of 1978, when he launched a marketing campaign at the behest of some of the journalists in town.

Maybe owner Bill Davidson was once bitten and twice shy about such campaigns. Perhaps he was still sore at Bing for a contract holdout in 1974 that led to his eventual trade to Washington in 1975. Whatever the reason, despite the swelling of support for Bing as Pistons coach, Davidson would have none of it. He never gave Bing even a sniff. No interview. No returning of phone calls. Nothing.

Adubato finished out the 16-66 year and was replaced by Scotty Robertson.

The Pistons today, if you believe the rumors, are set to hire Michael Curry as their next head coach. Perhaps an announcement will come no later than Wednesday. Curry, like Bing in 1979, is not far removed as a player. The Pistons have tried this before, when they hired Ray Scott not long after Ray retired, back in 1972. And Ray was a pretty good coach here. They didn't try it with Bing, though -- and haven't gone to the "recently retired as a player" well since Scott, in fact. Lately, the Pistons have latched onto high-profile coaching veterans whose playing days were in college, and when the shorts were tight and the socks droopy. Doug Collins and Rick Carlisle were former NBA players, but not for quite some time when the Pistons hired them as coaches.

It's futile yet intriguing to wonder how the Pistons' fortunes would have gone had Bing been hired as coach in 1979. Robertson was fired after three seasons, replaced by Chuck Daly. That ended up working out pretty well, if you recall. But would Bing have been fired after three seasons? Would he have accelerated the rebuilding process faster than Robertson, thus earning more time? Would there even have BEEN a Chuck Daly Era in Detroit?

We'll never know, of course. Then again, maybe Bing wouldn't have become the business and socio-economic leader that he turned out to be, either. So maybe it was for the best, after all.

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