Dave Bing on the Playoffs, Kobe, LeBron and Motown.
by Adam Popescu
Thirty-two years after retiring from the NBA, Dave Bing is still balling. One of the 50 Greatest NBA players of all time, the 66-year-old works 14-hour days as the mayor of Detroit, donating his salary to the police department, working to change the political culture of a city marred by scandal and woe.
The challenges facing the motor city are major: a $325 million deficit, more than 70,000 vacant houses and a city that seems to be disappearing—half of its 140 square miles are uninhabited. His plan calls for downsizing and creating incentives to attract new businesses. This challenging role is the culmination of a journey filled with success over tough competition.
After graduating from Syracuse University with an economics degree in 1966, Bing was drafted second by the Detroit Pistons, earning a rookie of the year award for the ‘66-67 season. The Pistons of the late 1960s were so bad that when Bing tried to get a mortgage from the National Bank of Detroit, he was denied just for being on the team (and having no credit history).
A year after his rookie of the year award, Bing was offered a job by the same bank that turned him down. Before the era of lucrative endorsements, it was common for players to work in the off-season. Needing extra-income to support his family, Bing took that job, working for seven off-seasons for the National Bank of Detroit. The sharp shooting guard retired from the NBA after 12 years, averaging over 20 ppg, in over 900 games.
In 1980, Bing started an automotive manufacturing company with four people. In his 29 years at the helm, the Bing Group would swell to a staff of 900, with gross sales over $400 million.
On May 5, 2009, Bing was elected by the people of Detroit to serve the remaining term of the much-maligned Kwame Kilpatrick. Bing was re-elected to a full term on November 3, and has three and a half years to go on his term. The city of Detroit does not have a term limitation on the position.
SLAM: You played in an era of greats like Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier. Who was the hardest to defend?
Dave Bing: I’d have to say Oscar because of not only his skill, but his size. Oscar was the prototype big guard of that era. And not only was he unbelievably skilled, he was just bigger and stronger than everybody, so I would say he was the toughest guy to guard.
SLAM: What was your training regiment like?
DB: I did a lot of running more than anything else. Back in that era, there wasn’t a lot of weight lifting and strengthening, we didn’t do a lot of that. So, I ran a lot and that’s really the bulk of my training: running.
SLAM: Do you think guys today are stronger because of being in the weight room?
DB: No doubt, yes. No doubt about it. Yes.
SLAM: What other differences in the game today versus when you played?
DB: I think guys are more specialists today. I think in the era that I played in guys were maybe more complete from a fundamental standpoint to today guys are superior athletes. They play one sport; they play year round, all of the training activities that they’ve got available to them in terms of strength and strength coaching and things of that nature. They are better equipped today to be a specialist than anyone else would have been in my day.
SLAM: Who do you like in the Playoffs?
DB: Who do I like? I think anyone watching the game today, you gotta look at Cleveland. Not only just LeBron, they are a very deep team. They seem to play well together. They seem to get along well. And I think they’re going to be very difficult to beat.
SLAM: Do you think the Kevin Garnett elbow was dirty?
DB: I really didn’t see that, but you know, you gotta keep your elbows down. I really didn’t see it, so it’s kind of hard for me to comment on that.
SLAM: All right, Kobe or LeBron?
DB: You can’t go wrong. Today, I think when you look at these guys and you compare them as players, and you look at potential, obviously, LeBron’s still got upside, because of his age. But, Kobe has accomplished so much over his career and right now I think I would still take Kobe because I think he’s a better defensive player. He’s got a killer instinct. [Laughs] I don’t think anybody in the League is like that.
SLAM: A lot of good players, look bored sometimes or just fall out of the game.
DB: And I think there’s probably some truth to that, you don’t see guys as committed to playing the entire time—playing hard the entire time that they’re out on the floor. Some of them will get—whether it’s boredom or whatever the case may be, they will coast. And, you know, none of the coaches want to see that, but that’s a reality that we’re dealing with and as a fan, you don’t want to see that either. You want to see guys play hard all the time.
SLAM: What’s next for the Pistons?
DB: Well, there are two glaring weaknesses that they have. They don’t have a big man with an inside game, and outside of Will Bynum, they don’t have a real true point guard. So, whether it’s the draft, or whether it’s through trades or free agency, those are two holes that they absolutely have to plug. And if they don’t, they’ll be a middle-of-the-pack kind of team.
SLAM: So you don’t think Rodney Stuckey is a point guard?
DB: No, he’s not a true point guard. He can play the point for a while, but he’s not a true point guard, because, point guard, you gotta get people who think pass first, and scoring second. He has the ability to do both, but he’s not a true point guard.
SLAM: Back to the Cavs for a second. They have a lot of players like Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon who played in Europe and International Leagues. How do you think those leagues and players compare?
DB: They’re very talented, I think, but when you talk overall skill, they don’t compare to American players. There are a lot of better players from a fundamental standpoint, but they’re not better athletes. If they were the same kind of athlete, they would have been in the NBA a long time ago. Because that’s where the rubber meets the road, here in America, in the NBA.
SLAM: Any guidance on young players, young athletes, what’s a good way to get better, an honest way to get better?
DB: There’s no shortcuts. I think you have to be honest with yourself. Understand what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, and really work on your weaknesses, because too often guys who are good at a certain phase of the game, that’s what they work on. If you’re already good at that, you don’t need to work on it as much. But because we don’t like failure, we don’t like to look bad, we don’t like to be embarrassed, we don’t work on the things that we’re weak at. That’s the only way to get better. You’ve got to put in the time and be honest with yourself.
SLAM: How do you apply your training and discipline as an athlete to politics and the business world?
DB: Well, I think the first thing is being competitive. A commitment to competition. It really doesn’t matter who you are up against, you want to go out every night and make sure that you feel that you can win—that you will play well. The other thing is how you relate with, and play off of your teammates. Because, whether it’s sports, whether it’s business, whether it’s politics, your success or failure really is really dependent upon the people around you. I use Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Michael, you know, in his first three or four years was obviously the best and most talented player in the League, but he hadn’t won a championship until he got the right pieces around him. Once that happened, he was able to do all the things that he was doing all along, but he didn’t have to carry the team. There were guys who understood their roles—I think that’s so important. We need to play within ourselves, we need to manage within ourselves, and understand that our teammates play a very important role in all of our success.
SLAM: Who do you like for the championship this year?
SLAM: And from the West? Do you see the Lakers going?
DB: I said that the trade that Dallas made, getting the two guys from Washington. It’s not over for them. I think that made them the dominant team in the West. Time will tell. If they don’t win it this year, I don’t know that they’ll have another shot…But you got a good, young, up and coming Portland team. If they’re healthy, they’re as good as anybody.
SLAM: Are you really getting $1 to be the mayor?
DB: No, I’m getting 90 cents. I had to take a 10 percent cut like all the other employees here, so I took a 10 percent cut. I’m getting 90 cents.
SLAM: And that’s literally a check, per year?
DB: All of my compensation goes to the police department.
SLAM: I’ve never heard of a politician doing that before, are you one of the first?
DB: I don’t really know to be very honest with you, but I said that it was important. I’ve been blessed in my life to be somewhat successful. I didn’t do this for the money. I did this as a challenge. There was a need, and I thought I could fulfill that need and play a role in bringing this city back. Rather than come in here and try to make money, I knew how important that police department was, I donated my salary to the police department.
SLAM: Who’s your favorite musician?
DB: It’s kind of hard to say who my favorite musician is. There are a lot of them out there, and I don’t want to, quite frankly—I can’t say I have a favorite musician. I like a lot of them.
SLAM: Well, who do you listen to on a regular basis?
DB: I don’t get a chance to listen to much of anything anymore because I’m in my office for 14-16 hours a day. But, there’s a lady Mesa, who I really like, she’s jazz. I like Bob James. I still go back to the Motown days, and you know obviously all of them are gone at this point, but I go back and listen to a lot of their music because a lot of those folks I grew up with here.
SLAM: Motown was the place to be during Berry Gordy days.
DB: Absolutely, absolutely.
SLAM: What’s next for the city of Detroit and Mayor Bing?
DB: Well, there are a lot of things that we’ve got to fix. We’ve got a lot of challenges here, but I think we’re trending in the right direction. This city will come back, it will never be what it was, it’ll be different, and that’s one of the challenges that I have. I wanted to make sure rather than just sitting on the sidelines, pointing at people saying it’s too bad that we’re this and we’re that, I figured I got to get in the game and make a difference. Coming back, it’s going to take 10 years, I think. But, the trend is going in the right direction right now, so that’s a positive.