It has been six seasons since the Detroit Pistons have played in the postseason. Even though they are struggling now with five losses in their last six outings, they are in prime position to make the Eastern Conference Playoffs for the first time since 2009. Prior to this streak of missing the postseason, the Pistons (28-29) made the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, which includes six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. Those team were led by a former lottery pick out of the University of Colorado and a power forward who went undrafted out of the Virginia Union University. Both received the highest honor by the organization they led to a title 12 years ago.
During the intermission of the Pistons 113-95 win back on Jan. 16 versus the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors (50-5), the Pistons retired the No. 3 jersey of center Ben Wallace, who played for the Pistons from 2000-06.
He became the eighth Piston to have his jersey retired joining Hall of Famers Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas; Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, Bob Lanier, Dave Bing and Bill Laimbeer.
Wallace also became the first member of the 2004 title team that defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the 2004 NBA Finals to receive this honor.
In his run in the “Motor City,” the six foot, nine inch center made the East All-Star team four times (2003-2006); won the Defensive Player of the Year Award four times (2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006), which ties Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo; led the NBA in rebounding in 2002 and 2003; was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First-Team five times (2002-2006) and the NBA All-Defensive Second-Team in 2007.
Wallace averaged 6.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals per contest in 655 games played for the Pistons over nine seasons (2000-06, 2009-12).
On hand for the ceremonies were the head coach of that championship team Larry Brown; former guard and two-time NBA champion Lindsay Hunter, Chauncey Billups, Mehmet Okur, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince.
“It was a bit before Christmas when I got the call and I really didn’t believe it at the time,” Wallace, who had his wife Chanda, his two sons Ben, Jr. and Bryce and daughter Bailey on hand for the ceremony said to James Hawkins of the The Detroit News back on Jan. 16.
“I was like, ‘Who’s playing games now? We’re getting to old to be playing these games. Then they called back and convinced me that they were serious about it, and for me that was a great Christmas present.”
Earlier this month, Wallace’s jersey was joined in the rafters of The Palace of Auburn Hills, MI by Chauncey Billups, who had his No. 1 jersey raised to the rafters during intermission of the Pistons 103-92 loss against Billups’ former team the Denver Nuggets (22-34) back on Feb. 10.
Billups, who currently is an NBA analyst for ESPN and can be seen during “NBA Countdown” pregame show on Wednesday nights with Jalen Rose and Doris Burke averaged 16.5 points and 6.2 assists per contest in his eight seasons with the Pistons.
Also in those eight seasons, Billups was selected to the All-Star team on five occasions (2006-2010); a two-time All-NBA Second Team selection in 2006 and an All NBA Third-Team selection twice (2007, 2009); a two-time NBA All-Defensive Second-Team choice (2005-2006) and the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award recipient in 2008.
For any player to be immortalized forever by any pro sports team is an honor and one that is unforgettable. That is especially so for these two pillars of the Pistons in the middle of the 2000s who when they came to the Pistons were at a crossroads in their careers.
Wallace as mentioned earlier, he did not get drafted out of Virginia Union University back in June of 1996. He began his NBA journey in the nation’s capital with the Washington Wizards from 1996-99. In those three season he went from barely getting any playing time to eventually becoming a part of the regular rotation, but the Wizards did not reach the postseason in those three years.
On Aug. 11, 1999, Wallace was traded to the Orlando Magic, where in his first season became a part of the regular rotation and averaged 4.8 points, 8.2 boards and 1.6 blocks per game. The Magic on 41 games that season, but missed the playoffs.
Wallace was dealt again along with guard Chucky Atkins to the Pistons as compensation in a sign-and-trade deal for perennial All-Star back then and current co-host of “NBA Inside Stuff” on NBATV and NBA on TNT analyst Grant Hill.
Wallace was seen as a throw in when the trade occurred, but he went from a punchline to a headliner and a vital player for the Pistons.
Billups had a decorated career in playing for his hometown collegiate team at the University of Colorado.
He averaged 18.5 points, 5.1 assists and 5.6 boards over two seasons. In the 1996-97 season, Billups was named to the All-Big 12 Conference First-Team, the Basketball Times All-American First Team and Consensus 2nd team All-American. The Buffalos retired his No. 4 jersey.
Billups was selected with the No. 3 pick overall pick on the 1997 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. Things did not work out for Billups as he and then new head coach Rick Pitino did not mesh and was traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for All-Star point guard Kenny Anderson after just 51 games.
On Jan. 21, 1999 Billups went home as he was traded to the Denver Nuggets in a three-team deal.
On Feb. 1, 2000 Billups was on the move again as he was dealt to the Orlando Magic, where he on injured reserve do to an injured shoulder.
Many among NBA circles considered the career of Billups a bust, but caught a major break in the off-season of 2000 when he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves as the understudy to then lead guard in All-Star Terrell Brandon along with the likes of Sam Mitchell, Wally Sczerbiak and Kevin Garnett.
It was here that Billups really worked on his game individually and learning how to be effective within the team concept and becoming a great decision maker on the court. How to decide which plays would work at certain situations.
A serious knee injury to Brandon in the 2001-02 gave Billups a major opportunity and he took full advantage of it. He averaged 12.5 points and 5.5 assists per game that season connecting on 39.4 percent of his three-point attempts and started 54 games as well in his second season with the team.
Billups breakthrough season came a great time as he was an unrestricted free agent that summer. He wanted to remain in Minnesota, especially experiencing the playoffs in his two seasons with the T’Wolves. Salary-cap issues and waiting to see if Brandon could come back from knee surgery put Billups in limbo.
The Pistons came calling and Billups decided to sign with them for six years and $35 million.
He quickly made a name for himself on both ends of the court with his shot making in crunch time and tenacious, never back down competitive spirit at the defensive end.
It is here that Billups earned his nickname “Mr. Big Shot” and he never looked back.
Billups put it all together in the 2003-04 NBA campaign with then career-highs of 16.9 points, 5.7 assists and 38.8 percent shooting from three-point range in leading the Pistons under new coach Larry Brown to a 54-28 record and the No. 3 Seed in the East.
After getting past the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the 2004 Playoffs in five games, the Pistons met the defending Eastern Conference Champion then New Jersey Nets in the Semifinals.
After splitting the first four games of the series, the Nets pulled off a big time win in Detroit in Game 5 127-120 in triple overtime to give them a 3-2 series lead. The Pistons won Game 6 in The Meadowlands 81-75 on May 16, 2004 and Game 7 90-69 on May 20, 2004to take the series 4-3.
In a defensive struggle in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the No. 1 Seed Indiana Pacers, the Pistons won the knock out, drag out series 4-3 by an average score of 75.2 to 72.7 points per contest.
As heavy under dogs in the 2004 NBA Finals against the Lakers, the Pistons outplayed, outworked and outhustled the Western Conference champs to win the series 4-1, taking all three games at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“Game 5 was here. We wanted to win it here at home. Why? Because there was no better way to say thank you to you guys,” Billups, whose wife Piper and three daughters Cydney, Ciara and Cenaiya were on hand for the ceremony said to the fans during his jersey retirement ceremony.
“I Chauncey Billups made no doubt about it will always and forever be a Detroit Piston. I love you.”
Billups was named Finals MVP. He averaged 21.0 points, 5.2 assists on 50.1 percent from the field, 47.1 from three-point range and 92.9 percent from the free throw line to win Finals MVP.
“Everybody deserves this. Not just me. I wish I could turn it into thirteen pieces and give a little bit to everybody,” Billups said 12 years ago.
Over the next five seasons as a Piston, Billups would average 16.5, 18.5, 17.0, 17.0 and 12.5 in his next 4-plus seasons with the Pistons.
He would help lead them back to The Finals the next year, but their championship dream was denied by the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 in Texas as the Spurs won the 2005 title.
The Pistons would make it to the Eastern Conference Finals the next three years in a row, but lost to the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat in 2006 in six games; to the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James in six games in 2007, who lost in The Finals to the Spurs 4-0; and to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers in six games.
On Nov. 3, 2008, Billups was dealt to the Nuggets along with forward Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb for All-Star guard Allen Iverson. Pistons GM at the time and Hall of Famer Joe Dumars said that dealing Billups was “the hardest and toughest” move he made as the general manager. Dumars described the lead guard as “…a guy that I have looked at as a little brother.”
After a three-year stint in his second tour of duty with the Nuggets, a brief year with the New York Knicks and two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, Billups returned to the Pistons signing a two-year $5.2 million deal on July 16, 2013.
The success he had the first time around in the “Motor City” was not duplicated in the second stint as knee issues allowed Billups to play just 19 games that year and as a result had career lows in points, minutes, steals, field goal percentage and three-point percentage. The Pistons went just 29-53 that season.
After the team announced that they would not be picking up the option on Billups’ contract for the next season, he announced his retirement from the league on Sept. 9, 2014. Billups also cited that his health, having played in more than just 22 games in his last three seasons is why he decided to move on from basketball.
At the beginning of their careers, Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups were guys many thought were just not good enough to have long impactful careers in the NBA. That they would be around for a few years and fade into the night sky.
When they got to Detroit, all they did was turn their careers around, make All-Star teams, lead the Pistons to six straight Conference Finals; two straight trips to The Finals and deliver the third title in Pistons history back in aforementioned 2004. Today both of their numbers will hang forever in The Palace of Auburn Hills.
When Wallace had his jersey retired back in January, there was some debate amongst many in the NBA analyst circle is Ben Wallace a Hall of Famer?
“As far as me going into the Hall of Fame, it would be a great honor. It would be an honor that I would appreciate and love to be astute upon me on day. I did everything I could do as car as basketball on the floor and when I walked away from the game I was at peace with the game and known that I was going to be judged by my peers,” Wallace said to Matt Winer on the Jan. 17 edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by State Farm.
“If they think I’m good enough to make it into the Hall of Fame or my career was good enough. My body of work was good enough to make it into the Hall of Fame that truly would be a blessing for me and my family.”
In looking at the numbers, overall Wallace averaged 5.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and two blocks for his career. His best years came with the Pistons and his first season with the Chicago Bulls in 2006-07. While Dennis Rodman may be the closest thing to the Wallace in terms of the player he was, his total body of work to me would not qualify him to be immortalized in Springfield, OH.
For what he did in his time with the Pistons, he deserves to have his No. 3 jersey, which along with Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson and the late Drazen Petrovic are the only players to have their No. 3’s retired by their respective teams, the Celtics, now Brooklyn Nets and Pistons respectably.
One player did not even get drafted into the league in 1996. The other was the No. 3 overall selection one year later. Both were considered role players that would not last very long in the league. They not only lasted, but they can forever they not only brought Detroit a championship, but no one ever again will wear the No. 3 and No. 1 on the front and back of their Piston jersey. When they think of No. 3, they will say Ben Wallace and when they think of No. 1, they will say Chauncey Billups.
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 1/17/16 3 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by State Farm with Matt Winer, Stu Jackson and Carlos Boozer; 2/1/16 1 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and Antonio Davis; www.espn.go.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/det; www.espn.go.com/nba/standings; 2006-07 Sporting News Official NBA Guide 2006-07 Preview 2005-06 Review; 1/16/16 article by James Hawkins on www.detroitnews.com “No Joke: Big Ben Takes Place of Honor Among Piston Greats;” 2/10/16 article on www.thebiglead.com by Rob Perez, “Detroit Pistons Legends Congregate to Retire Chauncey Billups’ Jersey;” http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Wallace; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chauncey_Billups.