Detroit Pistons: The wild and tragic story of Reggie Harding

The Detroit Pistons 313 logo (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
The Detroit Pistons 313 logo (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Pistons
Detroit Pistons (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

*Content warning: sexual assault, violence*  Basketball is played in the parks and playgrounds of the inner-city, changing the fate of players who manage to overcome the obstacles of these communities. Often this provides inspiring stories, but I’ll warn you, this is not that story. Fans may not be familiar with former Detroit Pistons player Reggie Harding, a guy that makes Dennis Rodman look like a saint.

Detroit’s east side is where Reggie’s story started, unfortunately it’s also where it abruptly ended. His story is synonymous with the city of Detroit, and is a lesson in the harsh reality of what the wrong decisions lead to, even after making it to the league.

Harding wasn’t born into the best situation, and him just making it to the NBA should somewhat be commended, as much as his negative actions are condemned. Reggie was born on May 4th 1942, being raised by his adopted parents after his biological mother decided adoption would be best. Some say she was forced by her relatives because she was only 17 at the time of birth. The adoption was a secret that was kept from Reggie, he didn’t learn about until later in life, when a local Detroit newspaper wrote a column about Harding. This is just the beginning of what would be one of the most interesting stories in NBA history.

Detroit Pistons: Harding was a high school phenom turned monster

Harding was destined for greatness on the basketball court, as by middle school he stood 6-foot-5 inches tall. He was mentored by Bill Irving who introduced him to the game of basketball. Around this same time, or shortly thereafter he also happened to catch his first criminal charge after stealing a vehicle and driving back to Detroit from a summer camp farm in Cadillac Michigan. His actions were prompted by being bullied as the only African American kid there, his height also made him a target. His actions resulted in him being placed on probation for the offense.

That was the beginning of Harding’s career as a criminal, but it was also the beginning of his success as a basketball player, which would contribute to overshadowing his off the court antics. Seemingly everyone turned a blind eye, only acknowledging him as a basketball phenomena around the city.

It’s said he had close to 140 collegiate offers to play division one basketball after dominating at Eastern High School. He averaged 31 points, 25 rebounds, 10 blocks, and 8 assists, leading the team to three city titles, and two state championships. He was a 6-foot-10 center who could dribble, pass, and shoot the ball, truly unprecedented at that time.

He met an up and coming singer Florence Ballard, both recognizable at the time for their talent. He was considered by many as the best high school basketball player ever, and she was a member of the Primettes, which later became the legendary female group the Supremes. One night Florence was walking home from a party, when Reggie stopped her asking if she needed a ride home. This is when the unthinkable happened, once inside the vehicle he allegedly raped Ballard at knifepoint. Some say this was the turning point in her life that spiraled her into a deep depression. Harding was never charged criminally for the events that took place in that parking lot that dreadful night.

After high school it was evident he wasn’t ready for the testing process to get into college. Reggie Harding was credited with a first grade reading level, but teachers would give him good grades because his talent. This hindered him, forcing him to attend a small college prep school in Tennessee. Afterwards he entered the NBA draft where Harding made history becoming the first player ever selected straight from high school with 29th overall pick in 1962 by the Detroit Pistons.