Detroit Pistons: Chuck Daly and his effect on the game of basketball

Isiah Thomas #11 of the Detroit Pistons(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Isiah Thomas #11 of the Detroit Pistons(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Taking a look back at the impact Detroit Pistons icon Chuck Daly had on the game of basketball.

Chuck Daly was hired as head coach for the Detroit Pistons before the 1983-84 season and his impact was immediate. The team added 12 wins to their record and a birth in the playoffs.

Daly came to Detroit as sort of a wild card though.

In 1978 he was added to the staff of the Philadelphia 76ers. Then in 1981 he was hired as the head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers and ultimately fired after going 9-32. He decided to go into the broadcast booth for the 76ers before being hired by the Pistons.

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It was a surprising hire. The narrative around Daly was that he was a former high school coach who failed in his first crack at running a NBA team.

Eventually, Daly led the team to a 52 win season and a hard fought loss to the more experienced, defending champion, Boston Celtics in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons were now considered not only a threat for conference supremacy, but the entire league as well.

In 1988 the Pistons took that leap when they made the NBA Finals. Daly had come to the conclusion that for his team to dethrone the Larry Bird Celtics or Showtime Magic Johnson Lakers they would need to be more physical.

The Bad Boys were born.

He was almost able to make his philosophy a prophecy in 1988 when the Pistons lost in seven hard fought games to the Lakers. Plenty of bad luck was at play, most notably Isiah Thomas‘ severely sprained ankle that he sustained in Game 6 and still nearly led Detroit to a championship.

The 1988-89 season was going to be different. Daly and the Pistons knew they were primed to take over as the new team to beat in the NBA. And they quite possibly conducted one of the greatest single season performances in NBA history.

In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons ranked the 1988-89 Pistons as the 4th best team ever, only behind the ’87 Lakers, ’96 Bulls, and ’86 Celtics.

What he said about the team stood out more than the ranking:

"No NBA champ had more versatility and toughness: they were physical as hell; they could execute a fast break or half-court offense equally well; they played defense as well as anyone with the exception of the ’08 Celtics and the ’96–’97 Bulls; they controlled the boards; they could exploit any mismatch; and they always seemed to have two different hot players going offensively. Fans unfairly discounted Isiah’s Pistons because they couldn’t beat Boston or the Lakers at their peaks—even though they defeated Jordan’s Bulls twice and won back-to-back titles—and because they lacked a dominant center or super-duper star, which confused everyone who didn’t follow basketball obsessively. I hated these bastards but grew to respect their hard-nosed swagger; they never allowed layups or dunks, never gave an inch, never stopped fighting and didn’t care if they maimed you as long as they won. Their relentless competitiveness brought out the worst in opponents; I always found it fascinating that, for a team that ended up in so many fights, the Pistons never threw the first punch or had the most enraged guy in the brawl.”"

From a Boston fan that is high praise.

Daly was able to get the most out of his players and in return they did whatever was asked of them, as long as he allowed the players to believe it was their thought process that made the decision.

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There’s rhetoric from outsiders that deep teams like the late 80’s Pistons are easy to coach because of the abundance of talent, but not every coach is able to perform like Chuck Daly did.

The top coaches might not be the best at the X’s and O’s of the game, but they are experts at the psychological aspect of leading a team of men with giant egos.

Daly saw himself as a salesman who got players to do what he ultimately wanted them to do without having too much dissention. That is the definition of a great coach.

He recognized that Dennis Rodman wasn’t someone to stifle and unleashed him. Rodman turned into one of the best rebounders and defenders in the league. Without Daly, Rodman could have been out of the NBA in a matter of years.

In 1990 the Pistons repeated as champions. In his seventh season as Pistons head coach, he brought the franchise their second championship.

A year later, Daly reached the pinnacle coaching when he was selected to lead the Dream Team in the 1992 Summer Olympics.

In preparation for the games, Daly organized a scrimmage between the Dream Team and a select group of college basketball’s best players including Chris Webber, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Penny Hardaway, Allan Houston, Jamal Mashburn, Eric Montross, and Rodney Rogers.

The Dream Team played sloppy and passive while the select college team took it to them. Daly used it as an opportunity to send a message to the team, and as Mike Krzyzewski said in NBA TV’s “Dream Team” documentary, “He threw the game.”

Daly barely played Jordan or made any adjustments. Not many coaches would have done that, but by the Dream Team getting beat in a scrimmage, Chuck now had the ear of the players. He was the one in charge.

The Dream Team would cruise to a gold medal and is still considered the greatest team ever assembled.

He left the Pistons in 1992 as the franchise’s greatest coach and is still recognized as such today.

The awards and accolades continued to follow.

Daly is a two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, he was included on the NBA’s Top 10 Coaches of All-Time list, and had his number 2 retired by the Pistons for the two championships won by the Bad Boys.

Chuck Daly will be remembered as a coaches coach, someone admired and lauded by the rest of the community.

He will also always remain a beloved idol to the city of Detroit and Pistons fans everywhere.

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