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Chevette to Corvette No. 61: The 1963-64 Detroit Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 23-57
  • Pythagorean record: 22-58
  • Points scored per game:  107.8 (8th of 9)
  • Points allowed per game: 115.5 (7 of 9)
  • Arena: Cobo Arena
  • Head coach: Charles Wolf

Leaders

  • Points per game: Bailey Howell (21.6)
  • Rebounds per game:  Ray Scott (13.5)
  • Assists per game: Johnny Egan (4.8)

Top player

Bailey Howell

Howell led the Pistons with 21.6 points per game, and he averaged 10.1 rebounds per game. He also shot 47.2 percent from the field and 80.9 percent from the free-throw line, both the best marks on the team among those who played at least 25 games.

He also didn’t have to play center, which allowed him more freedom than a couple of his talented teammates. Sports Illustrated’s season preview:

the Pistons are so desperate in the pivot they might consider using Zollner himself there. Six-foot-8 Bob Ferry will open at center, though he is better as a forward, with unimpressive Darrall Imhoff in reserve. Ray Scott, another forward, may be moved to center if DeBusschere takes Scott’s spot at forward.

The Pistons can go fast for all 48, but they won’t go far without a center.


Key transaction

Waived Walter Dukes before the season

Dukes, a 7-foot center, had played with the Pistons since they moved from Fort Wayne six years previously. He was an excellent athlete, and combined with his size, that made him a quality rebounder.

But by the 1962-63 season, he was 32 (in an era where that made Dukes the the NBA’s fifth-oldest player) and his game had mostly deteriorated. It probably made sense to cut him, especially given his off-court, um, adventures. Vic Ziegel of the New York Daily News:

"He was never the player he was in college," said Billy Kenville, a Detroit teammate. "He played hard, he was a good rebounder, but those years with the Globies hurt him, I think. He never refined his game. Walter was friendly, quiet, but Walter lived in his own world."

For instance: "He got an amazing number of parking tickets because he parked wherever he wanted. Once, when we played an exhibition game in Canada he didn’t show up. He said he didn’t have a passport. But none of us had passports. One season he started wearing contact lenses and his first game was outstanding. The next night he was missing passes, up to all his old tricks. Turned out he put his contacts in the wrong eyes. But that was Walter."

Another Piston, George Yardley, contributed this story to a book by referee Earl Strom: "As bad as Walter smelled, he had a lot of girlfriends … (Teammate Sweetwater Clifton) gave him some toothpaste and Ban deodorant. Everyone was watching as Walter opened the Ban. He knew it was deodorant, but apparently the only people he had seen use it were women, because poor Walter started putting the stuff on the inside of his thighs and on his chest. We all had to bite our tongues to keep from laughing."

Still, the Pistons had no replacement for him.

Trend watch

14-season postseason streak snapped

For the first time since their inaugural NBA season – and the first time in Detroit – the Pistons failed to make the playoffs. Not only that, they finished last in the Western Division and 19 games out of the postseason.

Why this season ranks No. 61

Dave DeBusschere played just 15 games due to injury, and he certainly would have made Detroit marginally better, but the team had much bigger issues.

The Pistons hated their coach, and they played like it. Imagine last season, slightly scale back the mutiny and subtract seven wins. It’s not pretty.

Tom C. Brody of Sports Illustrated:

Under Charlie Wolf the Pistons probably were the unhappiest team ever assembled. Wolf did not smoke or drink or swear or run around late at night and he was hell-bent on making sure no one else did either. Midseason practice sessions consisted of push-ups, sit-ups and lectures. "We had to raise our hand if we wanted to go to the bathroom," said one player. And during a game, one missed shot or bad pass meant a trip to the pines, as Piston Center Reggie Harding refers to bench time.

"I’d trade every one of you," Wolf once told his players in an effort to build up their confidence, "except you’re so bad no one will have you."

Wolf might have been right about his players’ value, but he certainly didn’t help.

Even Wolf’s ideas that weren’t necessarily terrible at inception didn’t pan out. In a story told by Ray Scott, relayed by Eli Zaret in Blue Collar Blueprint:

We did military calisthenics and had to carry clipboards around for drills, for stats and the like. We sat on the bench and kept stats during the games. It was, ‘I keep track of your stats; you keep track of mine.’ Wolf’s theory was that keeping each other’s stats kept us involved.”

Scott remembers the inevitable results. “You got a player coming over during a game and he says, ‘Let me see my stats.’ You show him and he says, ‘No, I had two steals while I was out there.’ ”

Previously

63. 1979-80 Detroit Pistons

62. 1993-94 Detroit Pistons

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