Detroit Pistons: Should Bill Laimbeer be in the Hall of Fame?

Bill Laimbeer. Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Bill Laimbeer. Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images /

Detroit Pistons great Bill Laimbeer played in the NBA for 13 seasons, 12 as a member of the Pistons. Despite a stellar career as a player, and later as a WNBA coach, he has yet to be recognized by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bill Laimbeer was an integral part of of the Detroit Pistons ‘Bad Boys’ NBA championship teams of 1989-90. Unlike three of his teammates, he is not enshrined in the Naismith Basketball hall of Fame.

Let us look at his career as a player and as a coach:

Playing Career

An unconventional big man with three-point range, Laimbeer played alongside Hall-of-Famers Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman on one of the greatest teams in NBA history. From 1987 to 1991, the Pistons advanced to the conference finals five consecutive years, to the NBA finals three consecutive years, and won two titles.

If not for an unbelievable play by Larry Bird in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, and a notorious foul call on Laimbeer in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA finals versus the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pistons would likely have won three consecutive championships, and possibly four.

At the center of it all was Laimbeer, a tenacious rebounder and rock-solid defender who played with a physicality that – by design – bordered on excessive. His specialty was the hard foul. He smacked opponents in the face, he knocked them out of the air, elbowed them in the back, and threw them forcefully to the ground.

With partner in crime Rick Mahorn, Laimbeer wreaked havoc on NBA opponents night after brutalizing night. The Pistons became known as the “Bad Boys,” loved by their adoring fans, reviled with a passion by everyone else in the NBA.

Of all the Bad Boys, Laimbeer was the most hated. Many viewed him as a talentless goon whose only intent was to maim and disable his more gifted foes. Fans booed him relentlessly at every venue, and he was involved in more than a few altercations. He was beaten viciously by Robert Parish in the 1987 playoffs. On the other hand, with an assist from Isiah Thomas, he executed a tag team beatdown of Cleveland center Brad Daugherty in1989.

Career Statistics & Accomplishments

Because of their disdain for his extra-curricular activities Laimbeer’s detractors conveniently forget about his impressive resume as a player:

  • Two time NBA champion
  • Four time All-star
  • Led the NBA in rebounds (1985-86)
  • Top ten rebounder (seven seasons)
  • 10,400 career rebounds (40th all-time)

His career statistics are not slam dunk first ballot caliber, but the same can be said of many Hall of Fame inductees, including Boston Celtics great Kevin McHale. Like Laimbeer, McHale was not a megastar, but was a key contributor on an elite team with other Hall-of-Famers.

A comparison of their career stats reveals that Laimbeer was not quite the scorer McHale was, but he was a better rebounder, had more assists, shot better from distance and at the charity stripe:


Player           Games    Pts    Reb      Ast      FG%     3P FG%       FT%

Laimbeer    1,068      12.9     9.7      2.0     .498       .326         .837

McHale          971       17.9     7.3      1.7     .554       .261         .798

Many analysts would conclude that McHale was a better player than Laimbeer but, statistically, one could argue that the difference between the two players is not that great. Perhaps the biggest difference between them is that McHale is remembered as a “good guy,” which Laimbeer was obviously not.

Being a good guy is not the only reason McHale is in the HOF, but it didn’t hurt. Being a villain is not the only reason Laimbeer is not in, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Coaching Resume

Finally, let’s not forget that Bill Laimbeer won seven conference championships and three titles as a WNBA head coach. There are only six individuals in NBA and WNBA history that have won multiple championships as a player and as a head coach: Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bill Russell, Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, and Laimbeer. That distinction places him in an elite class that confirms his greatness and validates his Hall of Fame credentials.

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Bill Laimbeer is a winner. He is a champion. He was an outstanding player and is an elite coach, and he should absolutely be enshrined in the James Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.