The All-Also Rans: The original human victory cigar

In case you haven’t noticed, although I’m sure you have, this has been a pretty quiet off-season for the Pistons since the draft. So, in the spirit of having something (anything) to write about, I’m going to try to help pass the time by profiling some of my favorite Pistons who never made much impact on the team despite the fact that I irrationally expected great things from them.

During the Detroit Pistons’ run to the to 2004 NBA title, seeing 12th man Darko Milicic get into a game was one of the most exciting subplots of any game.

As a rookie that season, Milicic had not yet earned the ‘one of the worst draft picks in history’ label he would be branded with down the line. Pistons veterans raved about his talent behind the scenes and fans were both excited about his potential and patient enough to wait for him to develop. After all, the team was already really good, there was little reason to not be content with the status quo. The Pistons would keep winning with their suffocating defense and at home games during blowouts, fans would start peppering Larry Brown with ‘we want Darko’ chats during the fourth quarter. Brown, ever stubborn, would invariably pretend like he didn’t hear the chants for at least a little while before finally giving in and letting the team have a glimpse. It became a great tradition that season, further enhanced by Rasheed Wallace and Rick Mahorn labeling Milicic ‘the human victory cigar.’

The good-naturedness of those moments inevitably wore off, however, because unlike most lovable end-of-the-bench guys Darko was … well … not all that lovable. He also had the burden of expectations — he wasn’t roster filler, he was the No. 2 pick in a historically good draft, selected before three likely Hall of Famers. It was untenable for Milicic to maintain that goofy role simply because the onslaught of expectations were about to come down on him.

The Pistons did have a more perfect incarnation of a human victory cigar several years earlier, however, and unlike Milicic, Scott Hastings was not miscast in that role.

Hastings was the 12th-ish man on the 1990 title team. He scored 42 points in 40 games that season and never reached double figures in 67 games as a Piston. Despite making little impact on the court, his personality made him a great fit on that team. He always displayed a funny, self-deprecating personality, was well-liked by media and elicited cheers from the home crowd when he’d finally get into a game the same way Milicic would during the 2004 title run.

The difference, however, is that Hastings didn’t have the baggage or expectations Milicic did. He was a second round draft pick who had bounced around on three different teams before ending up in Detroit. Hastings could’ve stayed in that end-of-bench role forever and still received good-natured cheers from fans who never expect him to do anything more than hustle around in garbage minutes as his team wins games.

I loved how excited the crowd would get about Milicic in 2003-04, but there was always just a tad bit of uneasiness about it — yeah, it was great watching a young player get minutes, but what if this is it? What if this awkward player who aggressively flails around the court is all he ever is? What if he’s not the star in the making his draft position asserts he should be? Those thoughts might not have dominated those moments, but I’m sure most fans had a doubt or two about Milicic creep in to what should’ve just been stress-free ends to blowout wins.

With Hastings, you could just watch and enjoy him in garbage time guilt-free, without worrying about what his future held.

Like Milicic, however, who the Pistons turned into Rodney Stuckey, the team also turned Hastings into a decent player (and a player who will show up later this week in the All-Also Rans) in Orlando Woolridge.

Now, Hastings is still quotable — just ask Jay Cutler — as a Denver Nuggets analyst and radio personality in Denver, displaying some of the same personality traits that made him a fun, albeit largely unimportant, element of a championship team.

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