52 years ago today one of the Detroit Pistons all-time greats achieved what was seen at the time as a monumental accomplishment.
With the NBA’s season currently on hiatus, Detroit Pistons fans and basketball fans as a whole are going through some withdrawals.
Before we get to Dave Bing‘s historic season I just want to say, times are tough. It was already one of the most sobering and depressing seasons in NBA History with the passing of Kobe Bryant. Now, the season has been suspended for the foreseeable future and that daily escape of the NBA, that I know I rely upon in tough times, is gone.
In times like these, it helps to remember the better times. Good memories bridge the gap from tragedy to normalcy, a reminder that life goes on.
That’s partly why I’m beginning this series, This Date in Pistons History. Throughout the rest of the suspended regular season, I’ll release a piece on momentous dates in Pistons’ history. Our first is March 20th, 1968 – the day Bing became the first guard to lead the league in scoring.
I planned this series before the NBA had announced they were suspending the regular season. Now that the season is in limbo it feels even more important to provide an escape from the constant news updates and social media hysteria.
With that said, wash your hands and let’s go back to March 20th, 1968 when Bing first became a Detroit icon.
There used to be an old saying, all things being equal, you take the big man over anybody else.
Today, the center position has been removed from the All-Star ballot, we’ve watched the rise of the small-ball Warriors and now the even smaller-ball Rockets (smallest-ball? micro-ball?).
It’s clear traditional low-post scoring bigs have become a scarcity in favor of ball-dominant guards and wings.
But back in the 1967-1968 NBA season, basketball revolved around big men. The idea of a guard leading the league in scoring wasn’t just unusual, it had literally never happened. The league was dominated by the likes of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell and their teams rightfully revolved around them.
Not only did Bing defy the odds by leading the league with 2,142 points as a guard but he did it as a sophomore in an era dominated by scoring legends like Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Oscar Robertson (who led the league in points per game but only played 65 games).
It’s almost an exact inverse of what we’ve seen in the past 20 years.
A traditional, back to the basket big man hasn’t been scoring champ since Kevin Garnett in 2003 – 2004. That’s nearly 17 years.
Bing, when he became scoring champ in 1968, became the first guard in NBA history since it’s inception in 1946. That’s 22 years.
Now, he may not have kicked the door down and revolutionized basketball but he did turn the proverbial door handle on how a guard could play.To top off his historic season Dave would go on to finish fourth in MVP Voting and lead the Pistons to their first playoff season in five years.
Before his reign as the first guard scoring champ, Bing had already shown a penchant for defying the odds by just making it to the NBA.
As a kid, he had been blinded in the left eye when playing “stick-horse”. Yes, a game called literally “stick-horse” where kids would ride around on sticks and pretend to ride horses. Apparently, this is what kids did before PlayStations.
Dave ended up falling on his stick-horse and a nail plunged into his eye, permanently blurring his vision.
Despite that and growing up in a house where he and his siblings slept 2 to a bed, Dave developed into such a good basketball player that he was drafted 2nd overall by the Pistons, but even that was a flip of the coin. Literally.
From 1966 – 1984, the NBA determined the top draft pick by flipping a coin between the worst team in each conference. In 1966, the 2 teams with the worst record in each conference were the New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons (then in the Western Conference).
Bing went to Syracuse in upstate New York and Cazzie Russel, the other top prospect in the draft, went to Michigan. Bing expected that they would be chosen by the NBA teams located closest to their alma-maters.
But when Pistons Head Coach, Dave DeBusschere, flipped the coin that determined the draft order he called tails and it came up heads. The Knicks took Cazzie Russell, who had been just named College Basketball Player of the Year.
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This wouldn’t be the last time Bing would be in Detroit for a reclamation project. Long after his NBA days were over, Bing was elected Mayor of Detroit, finishing out the term of disgraced and eventually imprisoned Kwame Kilpatrick.
His run as Detroit Mayor was set-up by his savvy as a businessman, after retiring from the NBA Mr. Bing went on to start Bing Steel, a multi-million dollar company.
His ability to seemingly do-it-all after basketball was in concert with how he played the game of basketball. Pistons scout Earl Lloyd summarized his skills to Sport magazine: “Maybe some other player does this better, and another player does that better. [But] nobody does as much as Dave does.”
I never got to see Bing play but go and watch his highlights and there’s no doubt that he could’ve played in today’s game, crafty around the rim, modern-day handles, silky jumper with unbelievable quickness.
(Youtube Bonus: the guy in the comments section of that video said he had to find out who Dave Bing was because he’s great in 2K)
Bing defied odds his whole life, from becoming a partially blind NBA player to then becoming the Mayor of Detroit, a town that became his home because of a coin flip. Looking back, it’s no surprise that Bing was going to do great things, it’s just lucky he did it in Detroit.