Founded in 1941 by Fred Zollner, owner of the Zollner Corporation, the Detroit Pistons were initially called the “Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons,” as we have previously covered on “Inside the Name.”
They joined the National Basketball League and quickly became a force in the league, going to the finals for four years in a row, winning two consecutive championships in 1944 and 1945, and posting an obscene .700 winning percentage in their seven years in the NBL.
Fort Wayne then transferred into the Basketball Association of America, going an abysmal 22-38 before the BAA and the NBL decided to merge, creating the NBA we know today. The Pistons strung together 14 consecutive playoff appearances from 1949 to 1963, but only appeared in the NBA Finals twice (in 1955 and 1956), losing both times. Due to some crazy playoffs formats in the infancy of the NBA, the Pistons had only five seasons of a record above .500. In 1957, the Pistons moved to Detroit.
The Detroit Pistons suffered the same fate of most relocated teams: an extended period of mediocrity. They had a 15-year drought of winning seasons from 1956 to 1971, but managed to qualify for the playoffs eight times in that trough of despair. This is not to say that the Pistons did not have good players, as they had all-star players, such as Dave DeBusschere and Jimmy Walker, and future Detroit mayor and seven-time All Star Dave Bing.
The Pistons managed to make it to the playoffs in four consecutive years from 1974-1977, with two more sub-.500 postseason qualifications. The franchise was sold by Zollner to Bill Davidson in 1974, who, in 1978, moved the home arena of the Pistons to the Pontiac Silverdome, located in the suburbs of Detroit.
After posting a franchise-worst 16-66 in the 1979-1980 season, followed by a terrible 21-61 record the season after. In the 1981 Draft, the Pistons selected future Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas. Isaiah Thomas would become the face of the Pistons franchise during the 1980s. When the Pistons acquired Bill Laimbeer from the Cavaliers and Vinnie Johnson from the Seattle SuperSonics in 1982, the Pistons became a playoff contender once again, stringing together nine consecutive playoff appearances and two straight championships in the 1989 and 1990 NBA Finals. Other notable Pistons players in the 1980s included future I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here! contestant John Salley and future Celebrity Mole: Yucatan winner and Celebrity Apprentice contestant Dennis Rodman. These reality stars helped bring the reality of two NBA Titles to Michigan (but not Detroit, as in 1988, the Pistons moved to yet another Detroit suburb, Auburn Hills).
The early 1990s was a rebuilding period for the Pistons, as their key players started to retire, and their rising (reality) stars were traded away. They sunk once again to terribleness, enabling to draft Grant Hill (as The Custodian explains, a contender to become “the next Michael Jordan”), who would help lead the Pistons to four playoff appearances, but they each playoff opportunity ended in first-round losses for the Pistons. After Grant Hill was traded to the Orlando Magic after the 1999-2000 season, the Pistons had another sub-.500 season, but quickly recovered. The additions of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshawn Prince, and Rasheed Wallace in the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons led the Pistons to another NBA Championship in 2004, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.
Since the Malice at the Palace, the Pistons were very good, posting the #1 record in the Eastern Conference in the 2004-2005 season, reaching the NBA Finals. Over the next few years, they accumulated more playoff appearances, including last year, (again) with a losing record. The Pistons have reached the playoffs eight seasons in a row, the third-longest active streak in the NBA right now, behind the Spurs (12) and Mavericks (9). In their sixty-one seasons, the Pistons have been remarkably average, with an all-time record of 2400-2410.
Fun Fact: The Detroit Pistons have made the most playoff appearances with a losing record going into the playoffs (13). The percentage of playoff appearances with a losing record (33%) is also the highest in the league. Second place goes to Atlanta (9) and Washington (32%), respectively.
2008-2009 Record: 39-43 (0-4 in playoffs, Lost to #1 Cleveland), 3rd place in Central Division, 8th place in Eastern Conference
Coach: John Kuester
- Rodney Stuckey, PG
- Richard Hamilton, SG
- Tayshaun Prince, SF
- Charlie Villanueva, PF
- Kwame Brown, C
- Charlie Villanueva: His favorite player of all time is Reggie Miller, who first said the phrase that is now the namesake of our blog (as covered in The Custodian’s article “The Clutchicity of Reggie Miller”). Villanueva wears Miller’s number in honor of him, but can he be as clutch as Miller was for the Pacers? The Custodian thinks so, as he wrote in “The Pistons Effect.”
- Ben Gordon: Returning to the Pistons after spending time with the Bulls, Cavaliers, and the Suns, will Gordon be helpful off of the bench, or will the Pistons be the place that his career ends? (See also: “The Pistons Effect”)
- Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers, Jonas Jerebko: Will these draft selections be successes or busts?
- Chris Wilcox: Though Kwame Brown is the starting center for now, will Chris Wilcox prove that he is a better fit for the Pistons?
- Ben Wallace: What a summer for Mr. Wallace. First he’s traded to Phoenix with Pavlovic and cash for Shaquille O’Neal, then his contract is bought out to save the Suns some money, and now he signs a one-year deal with one of his former teams, the Detroit Pistons. Coming off the bench, will he fit within the Detroit system?
- Allen Iverson: More of a hassle than a help last season, as he didn’t like being on the bench and his back injury didn’t help much, disrupting the chemistry of the Pistons (as The Custodian talks about in “August and Everything After”)
- Rasheed Wallace: Boston, in what has been regarded as a smart move, felt the “Need for Sheed.” The loss of one of their star players will definitely be felt by Detroit in the upcoming season.
- Amir Johnson: What a huge mistake for the Detroit Pistons in trading Johnson for Oberto. I think any team would trade Oberto to get a player like Amir Johnson. The trade value is spectacular, as most teams would rather have a true basketball player, as opposed to beef jerky.
I say “most” because it was rumored that the Los Angeles Clippers once traded a first-round draft pick for a keg of Milwaukee’s Best, thinking it was the Milwaukee Bucks‘ best player. Sure, they were upset for a little while, until they got crazy drunk on the cheap beer, at which point they didn’t care. Hopefully, the Pistons won’t get too fired up (I’m so sorry for that pun) over trading a player for smoked meat, as they immediately waived Oberto.
- Antonio McDyess: The Pistons were looking to re-sign McDyess, but he ended up with the Spurs after they offered him a three-year deal. Will Detroit miss this efficient scorer?
- Arron Afflalo, Walter Sharpe: These young underperformers won’t be missed.
Look for the Pistons to have another losing season, but this time, they won’t be so lucky, finishing outside of playoff contention.
“Any time Detroit scores more than 100 points and holds the other team below 100 points they almost always win.”
—Doug Collins, former basketball coach and
Detroit Pistons player, current TNT analyst
“I’m here to tell you that the Pistons’ fans, based on what I saw, are a bunch of punks. It’s easy to throw beer on top of somebody who’s already down. It’s easy to throw a punch at somebody when you’re behind them. Show us that you’re not a sissy. Just do it right. It just makes me mad. It’s ridiculous. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
—John Saunders, ESPN Commentator,
on behavior of Pistons fans at
the Malice at the Palace
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