Not Hall-Worthy, But Pistons Heralded Nonetheless

Jimmy TrombleyContributor ISeptember 12, 2009

1989:  Guard Vinnie Johnson of the Detroit Pistons relaxes during a game against the Golden State Warriors at the Oakland Coliseum Arena in Oakland, California. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule Jr.  /Allsport

Yesterday, the NBA Hall of Fame welcomed five new members—Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton, C. Vivian Stringer, and Jerry Sloan—into the halls of Springfield, Mass.

No Detroit Pistons were inducted, but the Motor City has seen its fair share of cagers enshrined over the team's 51-year history (61 if you count the Ft. Wayne Pistons from 1948-1957.)

Bob Lanier, Dave Bing, George Yardley, Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Chuck Daly are a few of the names the Hall selection committee remembered, and names no Detroiter will ever forget.

But there are others. Not Hall-of-Fame worthy, but nonetheless beloved in the hearts of Pistons fans and critical to the rise of the team from "respectable opponent" to one of the NBA's most successful franchises.

You could throw in any player from the back-to-back NBA Championship "Bad Boy" years (1989-1990) into the mix—Bill Laimbeer, James Edwards, Mark Aguirre, Rick Mahorn.

Then there was "The Worm" (Dennis Rodman) and "The Spider" (John Salley). But one nickname resonates with Pistons fans like no other, and one of my personal favorites—Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson.

After a Game Four Pistons playoff win over the hated Celtics in 1984, in which Johnson scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, guard Danny Ainge proclaimed, "Vinnie Johnson is the microwave. He just heated up."

The name stuck, and Johnson's playoff heroics became legendary in Detroit. His last-second shot in 1990 clinched the NBA title in Game Five versus the Portland Trailblazers.

Johnson was the consummate sixth man—though, surprisingly, never won the award—during the 1980s.

He averaged 12 points per game in his career and created more than 200 jobs in the Detroit area as his automotive company, Pistons Automotive, has flourished in the community.

Johnson's No. 15 was retired to the rafters in the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1994.

But before Johnson, Thomas, and Dumars, there were a pair of Detroit natives that carried the team through tough times. Before the aforementioned saviors arrived, John Long and Terry Tyler were not just the face of the Pistons, but the face of Detroit basketball.

Coached by legendary announcer Dick Vitale at the University of Detroit, Long and Tyler were synonymous with basketball in the city.

Long averaged a career-high 21.9 points per game during the 1981-1982 season, where he was partnered with the rookie sensation Thomas. Tyler averaged just a shade over 10 ppg in his career.

Though they endured tough times after being drafted by Detroit in 1978—the Pistons went 67-179 in the three years with Long and Tyler at the helm—the two natives helped usher in a new era of NBA basketball in Detroit. Both left after the 1984-1985 season.

Most players will never reach the Hall of Fame or the rafters of their home floor. But the legacy these men left will not be forgotten.


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