Dick Vitale and the worst team in Detroit Pistons history

Dick Vitale is the center of this sideline huddle as he confers with his Detroit University players.69g1fk06
Dick Vitale is the center of this sideline huddle as he confers with his Detroit University players.69g1fk06 /
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Ben Wallace and Bob Lanier
AUBURN HILLS, UNITED STATES: Former Detroit Piston Bob Lanier (L) hands Detroit Pistons Ben Wallace (R) the trophy he received for being the NBA Defensive Player of the Year (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images) /

The 1979-80 Detroit Pistons as the wheels came off

It appeared the Detroit Pistons were on the right track. In front of an energetic crowd at the Pontiac Silverdome, Detroit opened the season with a 114-105 win over the Indiana Pacers.

McAdoo scored 23, Bob Lanier and John Shumate each had 20 and rookie Greg Kelser (yes, the current broadcaster of Pistons games) added 18 points in his NBA debut.

Indeed, it looked like the team was ReVitale-zed. The Pistons got off to  a 3-1 start and were 4-3 after knocking off the defending Eastern Conference champion Washington Bullets (now Wizards).

Detroit then went into a slump, losing the next five games to fall to 4-8 on the season. Owner Bill Davidson then made the fateful decision on November 8, 1979. He drove to Vitale’s house and personally fired him in Vitale’s kitchen.

Assistant Richie Adubato was named interim head coach.

Adubato would go on to a long career in the NBA, as well as the WNBA. He eventually became a head coach in Dallas and Orlando after leaving Detroit. He also made three WNBA finals with the New York Liberty.

But, at the time, he was just thought of as Vitale’s guy. Before coming to the Pistons, he had been a Division III college coach.

As far as the players were concerned, the firing of Vitale was the equivalent of raising the white flag.

Detroit went out in Adubato’s debut and beat the Philadelphia 76ers, who would win the Eastern Conference that season. They then lost the next four games.

The Pistons simply could not get out of a losing rut when things went bad.

With the playoffs a dream, new general manager Jack McCloskey began trading his veterans for what he could get. Jim McElroy, a starter, got traded and Lanier was sent to the Bucks in February, 1980, ending the career in Detroit of one of its greatest players.

With nothing to play for, and now a lot less talented, the wheels came off at the end.

Detroit had a bad, but not awful, record of 13-37 in February, 1980.

The Pistons proceeded to finish the season losing 29 of its last 32 games, ending the year on a 14-game losing streak and finishing with a franchise record worst 16-66 record.

There was no draft lottery back then. Detroit would have automatically received the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, but they had traded it away in the McAdoo deal.

So, Pistons fans did not even have that consolation for suffering through such a wretched season.

Detroit Pistons & Vitale rebirth

Dick Vitale had been in charge of personnel as well as coach, so, a month after he was let go, Davidson hired Jack McCloskey as general manager. ‘Trader Jack’ would eventually build the Pistons into NBA champions by the end of the decade.

But it took a while. Detroit did not do much better under new coach Scotty Robertson the following season, going 22-60.  McCloskey then drafted Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka, and the Pistons were on the road back to respectability and eventual championships.

As for Vitale, he was intent on getting back into coaching. However, since he was let go with the NBA and college seasons already under way, he would have to wait a few months to see what openings there would be.

Since he was not doing anything, his wife Lorraine encouraged Vitale to accept an offer to be an analyst on a new sports cable network called ESPN. At least until he lined up another coaching position.

On December 5, 1979 he called a DePaul-Wisconsin game. The rest is history. ‘Dickie V’ was born.

Vitale never coached again, but he has done over 1,000 games on TV and is one of the most famous personalities in sports.

To be worse than the 79-80 Pistons on a percentage basis, the current team would have to go 13-59, which would be awful to live through. Even for the Tanking for Cade Cunningham crew, that seems a bit cruel.

Detroit can win some games and still have a good chance at the No. 1 draft pick. They don’t have to be like ’79-80.

Next. Would you be a fan of the Zollner Pistons?. dark

If there is any lesson that can be drawn from the 1979-80 Pistons, it’s that things are not as bad as it seems at the time. By 1984, Detroit was back in the playoffs.

As for Vitale, turns out the best thing that every happened to him, was having Bill Davidson in his kitchen.