By Eric Woodyard | slamonline.com

A huge poster of a menacing player hangs directly outside of the Detroit Pistons locker room. The player is gripping the ball in his right hand as he flexes his muscle in a Pistons, home jersey. The word “DETermination” bombards the top of the poster in bold, white letters. The person on the sign was a joke to fans three months ago but in the Pistons’ final home game of 2010, could it be possible for Tracy McGrady to steal the show against the Boston Celtics?

Heading into the game, there was a huge build up about the Charlie Villanueva/Kevin Garnett match-up. When the Celtics raided the Palace of Auburn Hills on Tuesday, November 2, the C’s left with a 109-86 victory. Despite their dominating team effort, the trash talking of Kevin Garnett created a frenzy.

“KG called me a cancer patient, I’m pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he’s tossing it like it’s a joke,” Villanueva posted on his twitter account after the game.

“My comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league,'” Garnett said. “I would never be insensitive to the brave struggle that cancer patients endure. I have lost loved ones to this deadly disease and have a family member currently undergoing treatment. I would never say anything that distasteful. The game of life is far bigger than the game of basketball.”

Bullshit! Garnett is notorious for his trash talking and he went way too far with Charlie Villanueva.

In the visitor’s locker room prior to the game, the incident between the two didnt seem to bother Celtics guard, Ray Allen as he sat comfortably studying game film. Come to think about it, what really does bother Ray Allen?

SLAM: It’s been a big thing about the trash talking between you guys, has this been something that you guys talked about in practice about maybe cutting down on because of what happened the last time between KG and Villanueva?

Ray Allen: It has been a non-issue at this point. I think we play from one game to the next and it’s always somebody whether it’s a older player in the league that you know is a trash talker or a young guy that’s trying to establish himself but you just deal with it. Somebody blocks a shot and talks a shot and talks a little trash is part of the game. It’s always been a part of the game so for us it’s been a non-issue even since that issue and I forgot about it to you mentioned it just now.

SLAM: You guys have been in so many battle this season. How is it to get up every night for these battles with everybody coming for y’all heads and continue to play a high level of basketball and stay focused?

RA: You just have to always tell yourself that ‘this team is good enough to beat you tonight.’ Regardless of who it is because they are and you always look at that this could be a turnaround for their season if it’s a bad team and a good team could use it as a gauge so you just always have to remember that it’s preparation and motivation and go out there and do your job.

SLAM: Do you feel like this team is a lot better than last year at this point of the season or do you think you still have a lot to learn about each other with all the new faces?

RA: It’s not really learning, it’s really doing with everybody being on the same page and just going through the process of what it takes to be successful so I dont really compare the last year’s team because all we really need to do is be better than everybody else and not worry about being better than ourselves and how we judged ourselves last year and just beat everybody we’re supposed to.

SLAM: You’re not much of a trash talker, you have always just let your game speak. Do you think if someone talked trash about you that you or anyone else on the team for that matter would be more leery to talk back because of how big it was with the KG incident last time here?

RA: Kevin I think he’s the type of guy that plays the way he plays always. You know I grew up with Kevin and he used to talk trash to me on the floor when we played against each other so I dont think it’s ever personal. He’s for everybody that he plays with and against everybody he doesnt and he’s just always been that type of guy, that type of player.

As Kevin Garnett and Charlie Villanueva met at the center of the court for the tip-off, the two were both “against each other,” as Ray Allen described it. They didnt acknowledge one another, shake hands, or even make eye contact. The tension could be felt from a mile away when Villanueva picked up two quick fouls guarding KG less than three minutes into the game. Garnett would also leave the game after throwing down a monster dunk at the 2:31 mark of the first quarter. He suffered a lower right leg injury and didnt return.

The KG/Villanueva beef would quickly turn into the Paul Pierce/Tracy McGrady showdown. With Rodney Stuckey sitting out the contest due to a stomach virus, Tracy McGrady was inserted into the starting lineup to play point guard for the Pistons. In 30 minutes, T-Mac connected on 7 of his 11 attempts for 21 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Pierce tried his hardest to put the team on his back with 33 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals, including 13 fourth quarter points but it wouldn’t be enough as the Celtics lost to the Pistons, 104-92.

“We played like a team tonight more than I’ve ever seen this year,” Pistons Head Coach, John Kuester said.

“I’m always confident when I’m on the court, it doesnt matter whether I’m a starter or coming off the bench,” Tracy McGrady said after the game. “Now my role is a little bit different. Obviously I’m used to starting and adjusting to coming off the bench is something that I’m still working with but it was just a game that I wanted to have under control right away and get us organized and we did a great job with that.”

McGrady also said this was the best he’s felt on the court since 2008. The Pistons will travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns this Friday at 9 p.m.

What drives Detroit Pistons basketball? DETermination.

This is the new motto for the franchise. The word DETermination is displayed on every possible Pistons outlet imaginable in the Palace of Auburn Hills. Honestly, what word would better describe the franchise heading into the 2010-2011 NBA Season?

After suffering a loss in their season opener, 98-101, to the New Jersey Nets, the Pistons were eager to bounce back in their home-opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They blew a seven-point lead in the final 2 minutes. The Pistons and Thunder also met last year in the Pistons’ home opener when the Thunder beat them Pistons, 91-83.

The Pistons were once again plagued with injuries, including Will Bynum (hamstring), but with a sellout crowd cheering them on would this be enough to top the young Thunder? If they were to lose, it would be the franchise’s worst start in 11 years.

Pre-Game

Oklahoma City Thunder forward, Morris Peterson, released this statement…

As the reporters flocked to Kevin Durant for pre-game interviews in the visitor’s locker room, Mo-Pete gave him a heads up.

“That’s a Flintstone right there,” Peterson pointed towards me as he tapped Durant on the shoulder just before the interview session began.

“Oh ok a Flintstone? That’s what’s up,” KD responded as he nodded my way.

This set it up for me to ask these questions:

SLAM: How much more confident is this Thunder team this season based on last year’s success?

Kevin Durant: We’re confident (but) I think we’re not overconfident. I think we gotta learn that any time or any game we can get beat but we are confident in that each and every day we can get better.

SLAM: There’s been so much hype and hooplah surrounding you this year and being 22 years old myself I couldnt imagine what you’re going through, how are you able to stay so humble and focused through all of this hype?

KD: You know I didnt have this growing up. I worked for this. It just didnt come to me. At anytime it could be taken away so I gotta be thankful for it everyday and be humble and know that there is somebody better than me and just try to get to that level as well. So I’m not the best player ever or the best person ever so I still got room to grow and like I said just at this point anything can be taken away so I gotta be that way.

First Quarter

“Over-Rated,” a drunk fan yelled early in the quarter as Durant touched the ball. He would quickly eat those words.

Durant more than lived up to the hype! He scored an effortless 12 points, knocking down 3 of his first 6 shot attempts. The highlight of the quarter came off a Rip Hamilton turnover when Durant and Russell Westbrook connected on a fast break, two-handed jam.

Rodney Stuckey set the tone for Detroit, chipping in 8 points and 2 assists.

Second Quarter

A few local celebrities stole the show.

There was more hype about Kid Rock than the actual game. The franchise honored the legendary musician with a banner right before the quarter began. The words “KID ROCK 21 SELLOUTS” was etched onto the purple and white banner and raised into the rafters as the fans went crazy. Kid Rock was also briefly interviewed about his history with the Pistons as his music blasted over the stadium’s speakers.
Detroit Lions, rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was also in the building. He was asked to shoot free throws for charity during a time-out. For every free throw he made, $200 was donated to a charity. Suh had 24 seconds and he was able to raise $1200. Not bad.

Oh yeah, the Thunder finished the half with a 56-51 lead.

The jumper was falling for Ben Gordon as he led the Pistons in scoring with 12 points while Stuckey dropped 10 points and 4 assists. Kevin Durant finished with 16 points and 4 boards for the Thunder.

Third Quarter

Rodney Stuckey stole the show.

There was 5:21 on the clock when Russell Westbook and Nenad Kristic tried to double Stuckey near center court. Spotting how loose they were playing him, he easily split the defense and met Thabo Sefolosha at the rim for a nasty one-handed jam.

Stuckey would strike again near the end of the quarter with his best Allen Iverson impression. Just him and Daequan Cook were isolated as Stuckey had Cook on ice skates. It started with a between the legs crossover which led into a step back crossover and ended with a blow by layup.

He added 10 more points to his total giving him 20 heading into the final period.

Fourth Quarter

Ben Gordon was on fire the entire quarter. He scored 14 points in this period alone. Fans applauded his efforts for all but the last 2.5 seconds.

The Pistons led 104-103 when the Thunder got possession with just 7.5 seconds left on the clock. Everybody in the gym thought Kevin Durant would take the last shot. As the ball was inbounded, the Pistons placed so much emphasis on Durant that they gave up a wide open driving lay up to Jeff Green which put the Thunder ahead by one point. With 2.5 seconds still on the clock, Ben Gordon pushed the ball up court with no regard for the shot clock as the time ran out without even getting off an attempt.

The hero quickly became the goat as fans expressed themselves rather clearly.

“Boooooooo!!!”

Oklahoma City defeated the Pistons, 105-104. Gordon finished with a game-high 32 points but Durant dropped 30 points, his ninth consecutive game of 30 or more points.

Post Game

Pistons Head Coach, John Kuester, summed up the game the best at the post game presser.

“That last play, you have a decision you have to make in regards to trying to put out your best defenders and Green’s a good player and Max has done a good job and Tayshaun did a good job at taking the ball away from Durant. Jeff Green didnt know what to do but drive the ball and unfortunately it didnt work out the way we wanted it to.”

Rodney Stuckey didnt seem too upset, more frustrated. After a 24 point, 9 assists, and 5 rebound effort, I dont think I would have been either. He gave it his all. As he got dressed to leave the office, I caught up with Stuckey at his locker for his thoughts on the game.

SLAM: How tough was that loss?

Rodney Stuckey: Man, we was right there and I think turnovers and second chance points really hurt us. I think if we would have took care of the ball a little bit more and kept them off the boards a bit then we would have been alright.

SLAM: Were you surprised with how easy it was for you to get to the basket all night?

RS: Nah, that’s just what I’ve been working on just being more explosive and stuff like that but that’s my game anyway it’s attacking the hoop.

SLAM: I like how you broke down Daequan Cook in the corner with that crossover in the third quarter, is that ball handling something else you’ve been working on?

RS: Yea just my ball handling and stuff like that. That’s just all I’ve been doing this summer, just been working. I was just trying to prepare myself for this run.

SLAM: Do you think this team lost any confidence with these two tough losses?

RS: Nah, not at all. A little slippage but I think we’ll be alright though. We just gotta come in and do the little things like rebound and take care of the ball and we’ll be alright.

The Pistons will head to Chicago to take on the Bulls tonight at 8 p.m.

*This post can also be viewed at slamonline.com!

The date was July 10, 2010. A 25-year-old, Akron native, held the whole world in the palm of his hands.

Sporting a light purple and white checkered shirt with no jewelry, he seemed bare. His appearance wasn’t the only thing bare but so was his demeanor. All emotion was wiped off the face of LeBron James. ESPN cleared all their regularly scheduled programs just to televise this conversation between him and sportscaster, Jim Gray, which was dubbed as “The Decision.”

A little over five minutes into their conversation, LeBron changed everything with one statement.

“In this fall, this is very tough, in this fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”

I thought, “How could he do this?” The great ones don’t join forces with players on their caliber. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are both two of the top-3 players in my eyes. Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson would have never done that. “The Decision,” left a bad taste in my mouth initially. As an avid LeBron follower since his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School days, I have to admit that I wanted LeBron to stay in Cleveland and win it the hard way. This would build his own legacy as arguably one of the greatest players of all-time.

It took me a while to really sit down and accept his decision. Who am I to say what LeBron “should” have done? Who is anyone to say what LeBron “should” have done? Did anyone ever think about what was best for LeBron? No one was willing to go to Cleveland, he was tired of losing, and the best opportunity presented itself. Everyone should accept his choice to join the Miami Heat and move on. There is no reason that we should still be talking about this four months later.

This country is based on jumping on the bandwagon. Whatever is hot is what people ride but once it’s not then we tend to throw it in the dirt (i.e. Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and Allen Iverson). Mark my word, LeBron James will rise above this. He may never be in the same category as a Michael Jordan or a Kobe Bryant as far as the public is concerned but this will blow over.

Most of his doubters are in fact huge fans so their opinions really don’t count. The comments from both Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were both unnecessary.

“There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,'” Six-Time NBA Champion, Michael Jordan said. “Things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”

“I thought that his little one-hour special was a punk move. I thought them dancing around on the stage was a punk move, and I thought he should’ve stayed in Cleveland,” NBA Legend, Charles Barkley said. “Him joining Dwyane Wade’s team was very disappointing to me … That one-hour special, them jumping around on stage like punks, that wasn’t cool to me. From a basketball standpoint, I wish he had stayed in Cleveland, and if he takes that as criticism, so be it. He knows where I’ll be, I don’t run. I’m on TV every week, I’m easy to find.’”

Jordan never gives credit to anyone but himself. Barkley only seeks attention and has gone on record to say LeBron is the game’s best player.

Despite a lackluster performance in the season opener when the Miami Heat took a ‘L’ to the Boston Celtics in Beantown, 88-80, things will get better for the King. He did pour in 31 points connecting on 10 of his 21 shot attempts, which was the most by a Heat player in his debut. Honestly, I don’t believe the Heat will have another game that bad all season. What’s the probability of James and Wade both combining for 14 turnovers again? It wont happen!

For all the doubters, Nike just prepared a new commercial for LeBron James to promote his eighth signature sneaker titled “Rise.”  The theme of the ad is LeBron asking: “What should I do?” There’s a spot that sticks out to me where he is on the podium at his empty Hall-of-Fame speech and LeBron asks: “Should I really believe I ruined my legacy?”

My answer to that question is, “No, just go out and do what you have been doing.” LeBron James should just play basketball and let the rest speak for itself. I’m sure he wont let anyone down. We are all witnesses.

*This post can also be viewed at Slamonline.com!

“Last year was tough. We were inconsistent. There was no chemistry. We all just have to stay healthy and the sky is the limit for us. On paper, we are the best team in the League. We are deep and athletic. All we have to do is play to our abilities. We don’t have the biggest roster, but if we share the ball, we’ll be alright.” -Rodney Stuckey says to Dime Mag.

I love Rodney Stuckey but are you kidding me? The “best team in the League!” C’mon son. The Detroit Pistons?

Let me get this straight once again, Rodney Stuckey believes that the Detroit Pistons are the best team in the League…on paper. I want to make sure I’m looking at this same paper so let’s examine the Detroit Pistons roster.

Team Roster
NO. NAME POS AGE HT WT COLLEGE  
12 Will Bynum PG 27 6-0 185 Georgia Tech  
5 Austin Daye SF 22 6-11 200 Gonzaga  
7 Ben Gordon SG 27 6-3 200 Connecticut  
32 Richard Hamilton SG 32 6-7 193 Connecticut  
33 Jonas Jerebko F 23 6-10 231    
54 Jason Maxiell PF 27 6-7 260 Cincinnati  
1 Tracy McGrady SG 31 6-8 223    
10 Greg Monroe PF 20 6-11 250 Georgetown  
22 Tayshaun Prince SF 30 6-9 215 Kentucky  
3 Rodney Stuckey PG 24 6-5 205 Eastern Washington  
35 DaJuan Summers F 22 6-8 240 Georgetown  
31 Charlie Villanueva PF 26 6-11 232 Connecticut  
6 Ben Wallace C 36 6-9 240 Virginia Union  
23 Terrico White SG 20 6-5 213 Mississippi  
9 Chris Wilcox PF 28 6-10 235 Maryland  

I’m looking very closely and I still don’t see this team as being one of the best. In 2004, maybe but this year…nah. Last season, I made the mistake of getting caught up with what was “on paper.” I liked the additions of Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon, and Big Ben and  I predicted that the Pistons had the possibility to compile a 50-win season, just like in 2001. Instead they lost 55 games.

At the Pistons Media Day earlier this week, Stuckey did attempt to clean up his statements to Dime.

“That was inaccurate, he kind of wrote it down wrong. I told him that we were one of the best, not the best team and we are,” Stuckey said Monday at the Pistons Media Day. “I believe in my team, I believe that we are very athletic, we have a lot of great players on the team and I think if we could put it together and work as one then we will be pretty good. I know the Eastern Conference is tough now but I think that if we all stay healthy the sky is the limit for this team.”

To the Pistons credit, the injury bug did hit hard. In the 2009-2010 season, Ben Gordon played 62 games, Tayshaun Prince (49), Rip Hamilton (46), and Will Bynum (63). Who knows what the results could have been if they had only stayed healthy . The true starting lineup competed in under 20 games together. How could any camaraderie be established with such miniscule amount of games played with integral pieces to the overall puzzle?

Adding to their injury woes, the Pistons will be taking a chance with Tracy McGrady. Last season, T-Mac only played a total of 30 games but the teams hopes he can be that spark for the franchise by being a key role player.

“I think (McGrady’s) a great addition to our team. He’s definitely gonna help us out but the biggest thing is that we’ve all gotta stay healthy,” Richard Hamilton said. “We went so many years without anybody getting injured to going one year and having four of your top guys injured was a huge blow for us so I think guys really came in this year and prepared their bodies to hopefully having a good year.”

Other than McGrady, the roster has no real noticeable changes. They have two rookies, Terrico White and Greg Monroe, who probably won’t make a huge impact, a head coach who is a year smarter, and a new leader.

“I’m gonna be a lot more vocal this year, it’s just in my nature and it’s just my time to take over this team and just to be that vocal person and also just to lead on the court,” Stuckey added. “It starts in practice though and each and every day I gotta come out and work and show that I’m here to get better each and every day and once I do that in practice than it’s gonna lead into games.”

This year’s Pistons team is hard to predict. They may be good or bad, mediocre or solid. The injuries could have given the veterans a new zest for the game and ignite a fire inside of them that we haven’t seen in years. All in all, I predict a .500 team. I think they will go 41-41 and be a sixth or seventh seed in the Playoffs.

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com!

Only three words can describe Chauncey Billups entering his 14th season as a professional basketball player. “Grown Ass Man.”

Coming off a great individual season in which Billups averaged a career high in points (19.5 per game) there shouldn’t be a question in anyone’s mind that this season will be any different. He’s older, smarter, tougher, and better. Turning 34-years-old on September 25th, he’s like fine wine proving to be getting better with time. Think of  him as the Bernard Hopkins of the hoop game! Hopkins was also that late bloomer who lost 2 of his first 24 pro fights including his very first match but later reigned as the middleweight champion for ten years and successfully defended his title a record 20 times. Billups is the same on the hardwood. His first five years were mediocre but since then he’s consistently shown the young guys that he’s still one of the best no matter what ending numbers on his D.O.B may say. His list of accomplishments already make a case for him as a future Hall of Famer.

  • NBA Champion
  • NBA Finals MVP
  • 5-Time NBA All-Star
  • All-NBA Second Team
  • 2-Time All-NBA Third Team
  • 2-Time All-Defensive Second Team

Adding to his already sparkling resume, Billups did something else spectacular this summer…

The USA basketball team needed leadership for the 2010 FIBA World Championship Tournament. Who do you think they called? They tracked down Chauncey. The word “LEADER” should be embedded into this man’s DNA, tattooed onto his skin, etched over his grave stone. He’s damn near mastered this aspect of life.

With the younger players on the USA team knowing his leadership role before they even laced up their sneakers for game 1 of the tournament, he was easily able impose his will on the team and help lead them to the promised land. The USA didn’t lose a game as Kevin Durant left the competition non-existent and Billups played his part as the second leading player in points (9.8) and assists (3.1 per game).

Since 2002, Billups has been doing this. Leading a franchise. He’s always been in the discussion as one of the best at his position whether fans have liked it or not. We know what we’re going to get from him each season. He’s going to play hard, smart, and show up in crunch time. I can’t state it any more clearer, this season will be no different. He’s in that upper echelon of guards in the lead position. He’s top-5 in my book.

1. Chris Paul

2. Deron Williams

3. Steve Nash

4. Derrick Rose

5. Chauncey Billups

It’s unclear at this point which team Billups will be competing for this upcoming season. Portland Trailblazers maybe?

We don’t know if Carmelo Anthony will be in the Mile High City, New Jersey, New York, or the Chi-Town.

What we do know is that Chauncey Billups will be putting another solid NBA season under his belt this year.

The days of “Mr. Big Shot” have been long gone since he departed from Motown, now he’s just a “Grown Ass Man.” Nothing more, nothing less.

*This post can also be viewed on SLAMonline.com!

SLAM reporter, Eric Woodyard gives viewers a glimpse of what it’s like in Auburn Hills, Michigan as the Detroit Pistons host their annual “Media Day” on Monday, September 27, 2010. Woodyard interviews Tracy McGrady & Rip Hamilton on their shoes for this season, Ben Gordon on his off-season, and Will Bynum on his growth as a player.

*This post can also be viewed on SLAMonline.com!

T-Mac: The Newest Bad Boy!

August 10, 2010

Tracy McGrady

Once a superstar, always a superstar.

It’s now confirmed that Tracy McGrady will officially be taking his talents to the Motor City for the 2010-2011 NBA season. Reflecting on his dazzling career, it quickly brought back memories of not the old T-Mac but better yet the T-Mac of old.

The cocked eye. The swagger. The flashy signature Adidas. The superstar!

Although he’s clearly on the downside of his career, he comes at no risk to the franchise by signing a one-year, $1.3 million contract. Seven years ago, the thought of him joining forces with the Bad Boys would have been absurd.

He was the cream of the crop. He was the face of a franchise. His swagger was at its peak.

In the 2002-03 season, T-Mac became the NBA’s youngest scoring champion, averaging 32.1 buckets per game. He was also considered by many as the league’s best all-around player. Then he delivered a Jordan-esque individual performance against the Pistons in the ’03 playoffs dropping 31.7 points per game.  

Despite McGrady’s amazing antics, the Magic still failed to reach the second round of the playoffs. Even after taking a commanding 3-1 series lead as the eighth seed against the number one seed. Even after McGrady’s comments prior to Game 5 in which he was quoted as saying how wonderful it was to “finally be in the position to advance to the second round!” He and his troops would lose Games 5, 6, and 7 by an average of more than 20 points, and Detroit would advance to the next round.

It doesn’t matter what point they are at in their careers, it never seems to work. The trend stays the same. Superstars just can’t play in the Motor City!

Bob McAdoo tanked. Allen Iverson quit.

It’s because players are supposed to become stars in the D.

Isiah Thomas set the tone. Jerry Stackhouse lit up the league. Chauncey Billups was sculpted into one of the best floor generals of his era.

At this point of his career, what makes Tracy McGrady different? Did anyone inform him of how cold it is in the D? It’s gotten so bad that the Little Caesars pizza mogul, Mike Ilitch, has been trying to step in to buy the team so that the franchise won’t get shipped out of town. Last season they stunk up the league, finishing with a 27-55 overall record. This off-season they weren’t even in contention for any big name free agents as they used most of their cap space last summer.

McGrady will also be entering a roster full of wing players which includes Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Austin Daye, and Charlie Villanueva. Determination will have to will him through.

Last season, McGrady’s determination was on display as he showed the Pistons that he still had something left in the tank. Making his first start of the season after coming to New York at the trading deadline, McGrady had his most complete game in years. He posted 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds as the Knicks snapped a six-game home losing streak by defeating Detroit 128-104 at Madison Square Garden on March 3, 2010.

He would only go on to average 9.4 points in 24 games due to his inability to withstand the pounding of consistent minutes, but this won’t be the case this season. The Pistons will use McGrady as nothing more than a spark off the bench which sources have quoted him as saying he would be willing to do already.  His new teammate , Charlie Villanueva, has showed his support in the signing of the legend by going on the record to mention McGrady with a tweet earlier today saying:

“@TheReal_TMAC It’s official, welcome to Detroit Basketball. Doubters will become believers, all will witness your delivery. Let’s get this!”

The seven-time NBA All-Star is gone. The two-time first-team All-NBA star is a memory. The two-time scoring champion no longer exists. Although history isn’t in his favor, deep down I hope that T-Mac can make one last run and prove that a superstar can shine in Detroit.

*This post can also be viewed at slamonline.com!

By Patrick Hayes

The city of Flint has produced dozens of great college and professional basketball players. But while players like Glen Rice, Mateen Cleaves, Eric Turner, Mark Harris and Cory Hightower are always reminisced about, a forgotten name on that list is Flint Northern grad Terry Furlow.

After an under-the-radar high school career in the 1970s, Furlow ended up at Michigan State where he became a scoring machine. He went on to the NBA where he was just coming into his own before he was killed in a car accident in the offseason 30 years ago this past May.

Flint-based writer Eric Woodyard profiled Furlow in this month’s issue of SLAM Magazine, on newsstands now (Dwyane Wade in a Bulls jersey is on the cover). The story is a great look back on Furlow, giving one of Flint’s forgotten greats his due. Woodyard interviewed several people for his story, including former Spartan Greg Kelser and former Flint Journal sports columnist Dean Howe.

I asked Woodyard a few questions about his story. His responses are in italics below.

First, I know you are a Flint guy, but what specifically got you interested in telling Furlow’s story again?

Honestly, I was bugging SLAM magazine pretty much every chance I got to get a feature length story in the mag. I had been hearing about Furlow ever since I was a kid and a lot of people knew about him somewhat but they didn’t know just how great he actually was so that is what got me started. From then I did all my research and took the time to look at all old clips in the Flint Journal’s archive and over the internet and I wanted to tell his story the right way without letting the way he died influence his basketball legacy.

People around Flint always enjoy reminiscing about past generations of basketball players. Did you find it easy to find people with stories about Furlow or memories of him they wanted to share?

Yes and no. Since Furlow was not really in my generation or even close, it was kind of tough to find reliable sources. In the end I used all of my connections that I made at the Palace from covering Pistons games as well as the people in East Lansing and I got to talk to people who actually knew him personally. A lot of my family was also close to his younger siblings so getting in contact with his brothers was easy and once I talked to all of my sources for interviews they did a great job at opening up. Greg Kelser even got a bit sentimental in our interview.

How good do you think Furlow would’ve become as a NBA player had his life not been cut short?

I have never seen him actually play but from what I hear he had to opportunity to be the best. He was right on the cusp of becoming a NBA star. He was averaging 16 points per game for Utah before he died and there were even higher expectations for him the following season. In my opinion, he had the chance to become an All-Star if he had continued to get the playing time and opportunity to make plays.
 
What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned when researching this story?

I learned that Furlow wasn’t really that good in high school and that he didn’t play varsity basketball until his senior season. I also learned that he was a very silly guy and he was always the life of the party. His birthday is also two days after mine so that was pretty cool. It was great to read the chapter in Magic Johnson’s autobiography that was dedicated to him as well. To hear the great Magic talking about how he looked up to a Flintstone was priceless.

Flint’s known for great basketball talent. Where would you rank Furlow on that list among greatest Flint players?

I would have to rank him probably in the top 3. I would put Glen Rice first on the list then it would be a toss up between Furlow and maybe Eric Turner or Mateen Cleaves because of their impact on the city. Furlow’s funeral attracted basketball heavyweights like Dr. J and Magic Johnson. I don’t think any other player had that type of impact with their basketball skills.
 
I would also like to add that I think I was pretty much destined to tell Furlow’s story just because of how all of the pieces feel into place for me. I don’t think any writer could have done this story in the right fashion if they weren’t actually from Flint. It still baffles me that his jersey isn’t hanging from the rafters at MSU after all the big numbers he put up as a Spartan. The man averaged nearly 30 points per game as a senior! I hope my story can do the man some justice and bring light onto his greatness.

*This post can also be viewed on mlive.com!

By Eric Woodyard

“He had this dream that he wanted to get to the NBA, but he had to get better at what he did, and his freshman year at Michigan State he just vowed that he was going to be a great shooter,” remembers former Flint Journal sports reporter Dean Howe. As a freshman, Furlow served as a sixth man for MSU. This was the first season in two decades that first-year students were allowed to play varsity college basketball, and Furlow made his presence felt immediately, on and off the court.

“I remember when he was a freshman and we traveled by bus a lot, and we went to play Kentucky before the Big Ten season,” Ganakas recalls. “We beat Kentucky at Kentucky, which was unheard of in those days, and then we went from there to Tennessee and participated in a tournament in Tennessee, so we had a long trip. We got to know Terry pretty well and the guy could imitate people, he had a nice deep voice and could sing, and I remember that he was entertaining the players and he was only a freshman.”

By the time Furlow was a senior, he had blossomed into one of the most lethal scorers the Big Ten would ever see. He finished the ’75-76 season as the third-leading scorer in the nation (29.4 average) and led the Big Ten in scoring for a second consecutive season. He was named to the All-Big Ten first team and received third team All-American honors. Furlow finished his career with 1,777 points, at the time the most in MSU history. Furlow even went on a streak during his senior season in which he scored 140 points in six days (a school-record 50 points against Iowa on January 5, 48 against Northwestern three days later, and then 42 points against Ohio State two days later). “The night he scored 50 points, I just marveled at that,” says Ganakas.

After an amateur career in which he’d morphed from a virtual unknown to a college All-American, Furlow became the 12th pick in the 1976 Draft. The 76ers chose Furlow, but he didn’t see many minutes in Philly as he was forced to play behind all-pro teammates Doug Collins and Julius “Dr. J” Erving. After his rookie season, the 76ers traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Cleveland, Furlow averaged 8.9 ppg in the regular season and upped that to 16.0 ppg in the first round of the ’78 Playoffs against the Hawks. Then, 49 games into the following season, the Hawks acquired Furlow and he once again showed out in the postseason, averaging 15.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 3.2 apg over nine games in the ’79 Playoffs.

While never an All-Star, Furlow gained respect as one of the game’s deadliest shooters. “I just remember him popping in that jump shot,” Howe says. “He would go straight up and he just had this great form on his jump shot. He could really get up high and you couldn’t block his shot; and at the top of his jump, he’d just let it go. His follow through was just real beautiful to watch. He was just a great jump shooter.”

Furlow started the ’79-80 season in a Hawks uniform, but after 21 games he was traded to the Jazz. Although the Jazz didn’t make the Playoffs, he was surely a big part of their plans going forward. Then the unthinkable happened.

Furlow’s funeral was flooded with basketball heroes such as Erving, Magic Johnson, John Drew, George McGinnis and Campy Russell, who all made the trip to Flint to pay their respects. Since his death, players like Greg Kelser and Magic Johnson have both come forward and dedicated sections of books they’ve written to pay homage to the deceased hoopster. Each reflected on him as a person with a great personality who played a brotherly role in their young lives.

“During my high school years, Terry took me under his wing and more or less adopted me as his little brother,” Johnson wrote in his ’92 autobiography, My Life. “‘Young Fella,’ he said, ‘you’re gonna hang out with me.’ After pickup games, the two of us would play one-on-one. I thought I was pretty good but Terry was a terrific shooter. For weeks on end, he destroyed me every single time we played. It was always 15-0.”

“There were nights when we would (work out) late into the evening and I would get a little worried because I was staying in the dormitory, so they stopped serving dinner at a certain time, and I also had to get to study hall four nights a week,” Kelser says. “I was worried that I wasn’t gonna eat dinner and Terry would say, ‘Don’t worry about dinner, you can come and eat with me.’ He had an apartment and he obviously had plenty of food in that apartment and he would say, ‘Hey! You’ll just come and eat with me!’ That to me was just the epitome of leadership, because here’s a senior taking massive interest in a freshman and showing him the ropes, and I wanted very much to be just as good as Terry Furlow. He was tremendous”

Furlow will be remembered by some as a player who worked tirelessly to perfect his basketball skills in order to become an NBA star. “I envision that he might never have been an All-Star, but I think Terry could have been a very solid NBA player for at least 10 years,” Kelser says. But for others, he will be remembered as a brash kid who was taught a very important lesson about driving under the influence. Terry Furlow may not have become a household name, but to so many who knew him, Terry Furlow was a man they will never forget.

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com as well as in SLAM 140!

by Eric Woodyard

Thousands of cars drive on North Saginaw Street in Flint, MI. Filled with various urban landmarks, including liquor stores, pawn shops and fast food restaurants, most residents don’t even notice Gracelawn Cemetery, which lies in the middle of all the action. In the midst of the cemetery is a tall, light burgundy marble tomb planted into the ground which reads, simply, FURLOW. Underneath this headstone rests one of the greatest players who ever balled in the city of Flint, Terry Furlow.

“I pass that grave almost every day,” says Terry’s younger brother, Eric Furlow. “My mom passed a couple of years ago, so she is buried right next to my brother, and I basically go down Saginaw Street every day where their graves are by each other.”

Before his untimely passing 30 years ago this spring at the age of 25, the 6-4, 190-pound Furlow was on the cusp of becoming a household name. Not only was he in his fourth season in the NBA, but he had just averaged a career-high 16 ppg for the Utah Jazz after being acquired from the Atlanta Hawks during the 1979-80 season. Everything was finally falling in place, not only professionally but also personally.

“(My) fondest memory is when we went to Atlanta, when he was playing with the Atlanta Hawks, and he had bought a house down there. He invited all of the family down there, and I’m talking about all of my brothers and sisters and all the family members, and he really showed us how to live,” Eric says. “He put us up on a lot of things and he told me and my siblings that we could basically be anything and do anything in the world that we want to do.”

On May 23, 1980, Terry Furlow stepped behind the wheel of his 1979 Mercedes Benz following a party in Cleveland for one of his former teammates, Clarence “Foots” Walker. On the way to his destination, his car went out of control on Interstate 71 in suburban Linndale and crashed head-on into a steel utility pole at about 3 a.m. Furlow died instantly. An autopsy revealed traces of cocaine and the tranquilizer Valium in his bloodstream.

His death had a profound affect on his family, friends and teammates. “I was devastated when I heard the news from my father, who was a big Terry Furlow fan,” former Michigan State University teammate and current Pistons TV commentator Greg Kelser recalls. “I got a telephone call from my dad the morning after the accident and word had got out that he didn’t survive the accident, and I just could not believe it. I could not believe that I was hearing this news because in my mind and in my eyes, Terry was such a persona, and I could not imagine him being dead at 25 years of age.”

“I remember when I came home from Utah and somebody told me that he ran into a land pole. That was a sad day in my life. I will never forget that day,” former Jazz teammate and current Nuggets coach Adrian Dantley says.

Furlow was hardly the first NBA player of his era to make mistakes with drugs or alcohol. Earlier in 1980, Jazz forward Bernard King was arrested on charges of assaulting a woman in his apartment and agreed to alcohol treatment. In June of that same year, All-Star starter “Fast” Eddie Johnson was also forced to dodge bullets in a parking lot on the south side of Atlanta after prior suspicions with drug involvement. Johnson was arrested three weeks later for possession of cocaine.

Considering Furlow’s past, which also included a history of fights and run-ins with the law, most fans may have viewed his passing as just another tragedy from his era. Others have a more nuanced approach. “The thing that I would like people to know that [Furlow] should not be condemned for the choices he made that may have led to his own demise, because he was probably, more than anything, a victim of the thinking of that day of young people,” Kelser says. “Just for him, unfortunately, it proved to be fatal, but there were lessons to be learned from that. And who knows? His negative circumstance may have saved other lives and awakened other people to the perils of driving while impaired.”

*****

Born on October 18, 1954, Terry Furlow grew up on Flint’s north side and attended Dort Elementary, Emerson Junior High and Flint Northern HS. At Flint Northern, a storied program that most recently produced NBA players such as Trent Tucker, Glen Rice, Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves, Furlow didn’t even make the varsity squad until his senior year. As a senior, he played for Northern’s undefeated 1972 state champions, who were coached by future Michigan coach Bill Frieder. Although Furlow was respected as a tremendous shooter, his skills didn’t initially attract the state’s bigger universities. Instead, those big-time programs were interested in his teammate, Wayman Britt, who had moved to Flint with his family only a year earlier from North Carolina. “Terry played for the front line of that team where all of the players were kind of the same size and kind of shot the ball well from the baseline. Terry was one of those guys,” says Gus Ganakas, who was head coach at Michigan State at the time. “Went 6-4, could shoot, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to him. We had sent Terry a preliminary application to see if he would respond to find out his academic record, and that was as far as we went with it because we were gonna take Britt, and that was the only player we wanted from Flint Northern at that time.”

After Britt received late interest from Michigan, Ganakas had a scholarship to spare at MSU. With Frieder pushing on his behalf, Furlow was offered the scholarship and officially became a Spartan in the fall of ’72. He never made an official visit. He’d only talked to Coach Ganakas once.

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com and in SLAM issue 140!