Dear Joe Dumars,
I’ve wanted to write you this letter for a while, and since you’ve just been inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, now seems like the perfect time.
Since I became a basketball fan, you’ve been the player I’ve followed and I’ve tried to style my game after. I don’t remember your early-playing days with the Pistons, so it was in the twilight of your career that I grew to admire you. You weren’t at the peak of your game, but to me, that didn’t matter. You had all the intangibles.
Ironically, you played on a team nicknamed the Bad Boys for its in-your-face attitude and physical style of play, but you never seemed to play the entire part. Sure, you played the pressure defense that made Michael Jordan shy away, but you never ran your mouth. Instead, you stayed behind the scenes, blocking David Rivers’s key corner three when the Pistons led by three with 15 seconds left in game four of the 1989 NBA Finals. Even on the offensive end, you led the team, averaging 27.3 points in the four-game sweep to secure the first of two Bad Boy NBA titles.
And now, deservingly, you’ve made it to the Mecca of NBA basketball – the Hall of Fame. Sure, your class (Charles Barkley and Dominique Wilkins) put up the better numbers and made more highlight films. But you did more for me than those two ever could have.
As an unheralded 18th pick from McNeese State in the 1985 draft, you played the best defense Jordan ever faced, won more titles than Barkley or Wilkins combined and stayed with the Pistons longer than anyone else (14 years).
You played in the shadow of Piston great Isiah Thomas and the then-up-and-coming Grant Hill. But never once did you complain. Even when the Pistons started spiraling after Thomas and Bill Laimbeer hung up their playing shoes and Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson and Dennis Rodman moved on to other teams, you stayed.
You could have flown the coop with the rest and tried to find your way back onto a contender (see Gary Payton and Karl Malone), but you still donned that Pistons jersey night in and night out.
I’ll admit it: I wish you still played. I remember your last regular-season game and, sadly, the first-round playoff exit. Your curtain call didn’t get the national attention that Michael Jordan playing minor league baseball did. Did that bother you? Not the least bit.
But then you came back in 2000, as president of basketball operations. And, wouldn’t you know it, so did the Pistons. You did away with the goofy horse logo and the ugly colors, and brought the team back to the Bad Boy glory days of Piston lore. The Grant Hill sign-and-trade shocked many Detroit fans, but you knew it had to be done. The Pistons needed to reflect the main belief of its president of basketball operations: basketball is a team game.
You reinforced that tenet when you dealt Jerry Stackhouse to the Wizards for Richard Hamilton. You signed a discarded Chauncey Billups after he had bounced around the league. You drafted Tayshaun Prince when I wanted you to pick Frank Williams (I’ll defer to you from now on). In short, you built a superstar-less team and won with it.
In an NBA dominated by stars, you created a new model for winning. Nobody thought the 2004 Pistons had a shot to beat the Hollywood Los Angeles Lakers – featuring Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Payton and Malone — but they did. A team without a star nearly swept a team with four stars in its starting five. In a strange way, you succeeded in a facet of the NBA where your former teammate (Thomas) failed.
Now, you probably won’t take total credit for the Pistons resurgence or like the attention you’ve drawn since (2003 NBA Executive of the Year). That’s just the way you’ve always been, confident in your abilities but humble in your approach.
You entered the Hall in the same fashion you played the game: in the background.
And that’s the part about you I’ll always admire.
– Wright will let Dumars slide for picking Darko Milicic even though Dwayne Wade winning a championship ring makes Wright cringe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.