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The Detroit Pistons have seen as many highs and lows as any NBA franchise, with the team launching in 1937 as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, before turning professional four years later. The team won two NBL Championships and changed its name to the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1949 before once again changing its name and, this time, it’s geographical home. After being in the NBA for a few years, the franchise moved to the basketball-starved city of Detroit, becoming the Detroit Pistons in 1957.
The first decades in the NBA were among the strongest for the Pistons. In that time, they also had some great players, with Hall of Famers Dave Bing and Bob Lainer taking to the court for the franchise. However, a lack of depth meant the team never managed to win the championship.
As with many NBA teams, a well-chosen draft pick can change the fortunes of the struggling team. The Pistons selected Isiah Thomas with the second pick of the 1981 draft, and the Pistons’ greatest-ever player spent his entire 13-year playing career in Detroit. Supported by the 1982 trade for enforcer Bill Laimbeer and the hiring of head coach Chuck Daly in 1983, the Pistons began to build one of the most famous teams in NBA history.
The additions in 1985 of Rick Mahorn and Joe Dumars further bolstered the squad, with the additions in 1986 of Dennis Rodman, John Salley and Adrian Dantley completing the group. The Detroit Pistons ‘Bad Boys’ were ready to take the league by storm.
Known for their abrasive attitude and overly physical play, the Bad Boys steamrolled their way through the league. After losing the conference finals in 1987 and the NBA Finals in 1988, the Pistons won back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. On the way to winning these titles, they would beat their hated rival, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls each year. This started one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the NBA. Jordan would have the last laugh in 1991 when the Bulls infamously swept the Pistons, and the Bad Boys disbanded shortly after. However, the legacy this team left on the NBA is undeniable.
A decade of average performances followed the Bad Boys team, but things turned around in an incredible way for the Pistons in 2002. The team made the conference finals six times from 2002, led by a talented roster with Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. Was this team underrated? Maybe, but no one can deny they embodied the ‘Go to work’ Pistons spirit.
The team followed in the footsteps of the Bad Boys and won the Pistons another NBA Championship in 2004 against the favorites, the Los Angeles Lakers. That Lakers team was stacked, with players like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton. However, the Pistons played lights-out defense to upset the odds and win the series in five. The team returned to the NBA Finals in the following year but lost in an NBA classic to the San Antonio Spurs 4-3.
Since 2009, the Pistons have been in a state of constant rebuilding, with only one season over .500. While the struggles continue, Pistons fans hope that the franchise can acquire a standout player via a trade or the NBA draft so it can chase after past glories.