What made the Goin’ to Work Detroit Pistons enjoyable to Watch

Detroit Pistons starters that won the 2004 NBA Championship. (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons starters that won the 2004 NBA Championship. (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Detroit Pistons
Detroit Pistons starters that won the 2004 NBA Championship. (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

It’s been 15 years since the Detroit Pistons won the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Goin’ to Work Pistons created a new generation of fans.

Labor Day is the perfect time to look back fondly at the “Goin’ to Work” era of the Detroit Pistons. After the “Bad Boys”, the “Goin’ to Work” era was the most sustained success the Pistons have enjoyed. Not only did the team win a title in 2004 but made the Eastern Conference Finals six years in a row from 2003-08.

This kind of success now seems like something out of a dream, as the Pistons have been mediocre or flat-out terrible ever since. Some people would look back at the “Goin’ to Work” era as a boring time for the NBA, and the Pistons as a symbol of the old, defensive-minded league from the 90’s that has largely been eradicated by small ball and love of a fast-paced, three-point laden game.

But for the Pistons’ faithful it was a team whose identity represented the city itself, an exciting and deep squad full of colorful characters who have become part of the legacy of Detroit. There was a lot to love about this team, but here the three things that made the Goin’ to Work Pistons enjoyable to me.

Detroit Pistons
Detroit Pistons Ben Wallace. (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Fear the ‘Fro

No single player represented the Goin’ to Work era more than Ben Wallace. Overlooked and underestimated from the beginning, Big Ben was undrafted and came to the Pistons from Orlando along with Chucky Atkins in what most thought was a hugely lopsided trade for Grant Hill. At the time many Detroit fans had never heard of Wallace and thought the Pistons got a garbage return on a sign-and-trade of their superstar. No one would have guessed that the undrafted guy from Virginia Union would end up being the cornerstone of the franchise, but that’s exactly what happened.

While the Orlando/Hill experiment couldn’t get off the ground due to wobbly ankles, Detroit started building their identity around a guy who couldn’t shoot. And for those who don’t remember, Ben Wallace really could not shoot. For reference, his 41.4 percent career free throw shooting mark is three points lower than Andre Drummond’s, nuff said. But we couldn’t have cared less.

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Wallace was a defensive savant, a rim protecting wall, whose abilities to switch and guard taller players allowed the Pistons to be pioneers of the type of position-less basketball that many teams strive for today. Some wonder if a player like Wallace (if there ever is another one) would find a place in the current game. I think Big Ben would be even more valuable now, as his ability to switch would allow teams to go small, much like Draymond Green has for Golden State.

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However, the thing that made Wallace enjoyable was not just the lockdown defense, big blocks and dunks, but the fact that he did it in one of the league’s most iconic haircuts. The first thing I looked for at the beginning of a game from this era was whether Big Ben had the ‘Fro out. The ‘Fro was a thing of beauty, wild and impenetrable, when it was out, we knew it was go time. He brought it forth from its braided shackles for the big games, the must-wins and the crowd loved it while opposing teams wondered how Big Ben grew 15 inches in height between games.

When I think of the Goin’ to Work era, I think of Ben Wallace and that ‘Fro and what it meant to the city. The city of Detroit has always been one of blue collar swagger, so Ben Wallace was a natural ambassador. To me, nothing symbolizes this era more than Big Ben’s ‘fro. It was truly a thing of beauty.