COLUMN: Mid-2000s Pistons were heroes to many, including me
On Sunday evening, my heroes will reunite for a special mission.
Richard “Rip” Hamilton's No. 32 jersey will join the retired numbers of former Detroit Pistons teammates Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace in the rafters of The Palace of Auburn Hills on Sunday at the team's game against the Boston Celtics.
For me, Hamilton's jersey retirement ceremony will bring back memories of the mid-2000s Pistons.
Billups, Wallace and Hamilton, along with teammates Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, inspired me as a kid.
I was not a good basketball player. I am no Marcus Keene or Braylon Rayson.
However, basketball was the first sport I really liked.
This was because of the Detroit Pistons.
The team's starting lineup in the mid-2000s helped bring “DEEETROIT Basketball” back to prominence. Led by head coach Larry Brown, the Pistons won an NBA title in 2004 — the first since “the Bad Boys” won back-to-back championships in 1989-90.
How the 2000s group played inspired me to pick up a basketball. They were superheroes and each member held a power of their own.
Rasheed, the loud mouth, was the ultimate technical foul machine. His “ball don’t lie” mantra and 6-foot-10 frame were pivotal in the Pistons’ offensive and defensive efforts. But Sheed was just being Sheed.
Prince was a freak of nature. He was 6-foot-9 but had a wingspan of over 7 feet. His block on Reggie Miller in the 2004 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals is still one of the greatest defensive plays in the history of the league.
Big Ben was just a defensive stalwart. Despite being undersized as a center, he was not afraid to go up against centers like Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. He won four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Billups was “Mr. Big Shot.” He bounced around from team-to-team, but found his home in Detroit. He was famed for hitting clutch shots and running the offense en route to a 2004 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.
Hamilton was a 6-foot-7 shooting guard, but was a tremendous player. Nobody could come off screens and sink shots like he could. He did it consistently.
My heroes did not wear capes or tights. They donned face masks, headbands and afros. They played for the name on the front of the jersey — not the one on the back. They revolutionized a city and a fan base. Children in Michigan picked up a basketball because of these guys. I was one of them.
Sadly, the group won just one championship. The team fell in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2005 NBA Finals and were never really the same team after that.
Ben departed to the Chicago Bulls. After LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers torched the remaining Pistons in the 2008 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, then-Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars traded Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson.
Soon the squad disbanded and the Pistons missed the playoffs for six straight seasons from 2010-2015.
Ben and Billups returned to Detroit to finish their careers and Prince eventually returned for half a season.
It wasn’t the same. Their power was gone.
Today, the Pistons are struggling to compete in a league which features dominance from James’ Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
Under the Wallaces, Prince, Hamilton and Billups, the Pistons displayed that same type of dominance on any given night.
They were a squad of metahumans who were tasked with a mission each night and united to give hope to a loyal fanbase.
That’s what will make Sunday night so special. For one night, it will feel like it's 2004 in Detroit again.
I get to don my Hamilton jersey and Ben Wallace afro and watch another one of my heroes’ name and number rise to the rafters.
When I attend Pistons games at Little Caesars Arena next season, I will look up at the name and number of Ben, Billups and Hamilton, remembering the Pistons team which restored “DEEETROIT Basketball.”
The phrase inspired a city. The team inspired me. They're my heroes.