Dave Bing: My journey from NBA legend to business leader to big-city mayor to mentor

Dave Bing: My journey from NBA legend to business leader to big-city mayor to mentor

Excerpt

Dave Bing: My journey from NBA legend to business leader to big-city mayor to mentor

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Excerpted from Dave Bing: Attacking the Rim: My Journey from NBA Legend to Business Leader to Big-City Mayor to Mentor, published on November 17, 2020 by Triumph Books.

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

A Pistons franchise record of 52 wins against 30 losses: that’s what we accomplished in the ’73–74 season, Ray Scott’s first full year as a head coach. It was a personal triumph for Ray, who was the first Black coach to ever be named Coach of the Year in the NBA, or in any professional sport for that matter. Quite an honor, but our success was not, of course, an overnight thing.

Over the past year, Ray and the Pistons management had instigated a number of changes that helped make a difference. The first and most important came a year earlier, when the team traded a second-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for a tough, versatile forward named Don Adams. Players called him “Smart,” not only because his namesake was a Hollywood actor who gained fame in the popular TV show Get Smart, but more so because he had been an excellent student at Northwestern University and enjoyed a reputation of being very basketball-savvy, rarely making a mistake on the court. He was one of the NBA’s top defensive players, a rugged rebounder, and could perform well at a number of different positions. For these reasons and more, Don had quickly become an important Piston and one of my best friends on the team.

Another addition making a difference was John Mengelt, a hardnosed, high-energy guard, whose dive-on-the-floor and fly-into-theseats style earned him the nickname “Crash” and made him popular with the Cobo crowd. And then there was George Trapp, a guy we called “Instant Heat,” who always hit the floor ready to singe the nets.

In our highly competitive Midwest Division, we spent the season chasing the conference-champion Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls and, despite our franchise record 52 wins, ended up in third place. Making the playoffs for only the second time during my years with the Pistons, we took the Bulls to a deciding seventh game before ending the season on a sour note with a loss, 96–94, that was particularly hard to take.

Nonetheless, as we geared up for the 1974–75 season, I felt we were a team with a lot of upside and great chemistry. “It was really starting to come together,” my pal Lanier would say later. “We all got along and had each other’s backs. And then we win 52 games and we’re starting to get a little more national exposure. Things were looking up.”

Coach Ray Scott’s words were even stronger: “We were poised for greatness.”

And then in July of 1974 the Pistons founder and owner Fred Zollner sold the team. The buyer was a collection of a dozen businessmen, but the lead investor was a native Detroiter named William Davidson. The owner of Guardian Industries, one of the world’s largest glass suppliers, Davidson, like Zollner before him, was an auto supplier magnate. About owning a professional sports team he knew little or nothing, so he would have to learn on the job, and ultimately, from my perspective, that would end up hurting us.

The trouble started not long after the sale went through, when general manager Ed Coil, who stayed on to help ease the transition, informed me that the new owners would not honor that side deal I had made with Fred Zollner to renegotiate my contract and for the team to withhold a relatively small portion of my salary. I had decided this was a good time to go ahead and put in that pool for Aaris and the girls, but when I asked for the amount that had been withheld—about $30,000—I was told that Mr. Davidson felt no obligation under the law to provide me with the money. It was, after all, strictly a side deal, almost a gentlemen’s agreement, and not written into the team’s contract with me. And it was the same with my deal with Zollner to renegotiate our contract.

Of course, I understood the legalities of it, even without counsel from my attorney Ed Bell, who had not really been involved in any of my previous contract negotiations. But the unfairness of the situation seemed crystal clear to me. First I was shocked by what I was hearing, and then I was angry.

The past season had been the best in Pistons history, and I had played well, with 18.8 points, 6.9 assists, and playing 39 minutes per game while missing only one contest all year. Surely I had earned the right to reopen the contract. As for the $30,000 withheld, that was my money, I told Coil, money that he knew very well I had already earned, money that was due to me under the explicit agreement I had come to with Mr. Zollner.

But that was just the point, said Coil, because William Davidson felt he was under no obligation to honor any arrangements or compensation agreed to by Zollner, who was now entirely out of the picture.

I didn’t blame Coil, with whom I had always had a good relationship. I knew he was only the messenger. But given my position as captain and team leader and my status in the league as a perennial All-Star, I couldn’t believe the new management would not see the fairness—and the obvious wisdom—of honoring the previous owner’s arrangements with me. Yes, we were not talking about a great deal of money, certainly compared to the millions the new owners had just anted up for the team, but to me that was all the more reason why I should be given my due.

Frankly, I felt incensed about the whole mess and devalued by my new bosses, and I made my feelings clear to Coil. I told him, “If this is how these people are going to treat me, then we’re going to have a problem.”

But what to do about it?

My answer was a holdout during training camp that might give me some leverage. I talked with my teammates, and all of them were supportive and understood that I would do nothing that would ultimately harm our team and its chances for a good season. And that was especially so with my roommate at the time, Don Adams. I had been rooming with Lanier for two years, but when we acquired Adams, I roomed with him as a way to help him feel comfortable and fit in. And not only did that happen, but the two of us had become fast friends.

Now as training camp approached, I knew that Don was still without a contract. He was disgruntled with the Pistons’ offer of $60,000 and was trying to get to $80,000. He felt that as a starter, a major role player, and a guy who was being touted for the league’s all-defensive team, he was definitely underpaid. And so when I told him about my situation and that I was not going to come to training camp on time, he said, “Well I’m probably going to do the same thing.” So now you’ve got two-fifths of the starting lineup that’s not going to be in training camp, which was definitely going to be a problem for our new owners.

Excerpted from Dave Bing: Attacking the Rim: My Journey from NBA Legend to Business Leader to Big-City Mayor to Mentor, published on November 17, 2020 by Triumph Books.

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

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