By Ashley Scoby
When the Pistons drafted Isiah Thomas in 1981, the organization had "no tradition."
The team had never won an NBA championship, and when Thomas lied in the middle of the court during pregame stretches, he and his teammates would look up at the rafters of other arenas – in Los Angeles, in Boston - where banners hung, and dream of bringing the same to Detroit.
"We would lay in the middle of the floor at the Silverdome and say one day we gonna have banners and we gonna have retired numbers and we gonna have jerseys and we gonna have that one thing that they talk about in the NBA called tradition," Thomas said Wednesday during Chauncey Billups' jersey retirement ceremony at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Billups' teammate, Rip Hamilton, had earlier told the story about how he and Billups would lie at center court of the Palace, looking up to see the championship banners Thomas and his teammates had won (in 1989 and 1990). Continuing that tradition – which didn't exist in decades past – was the main goal of Billups' era of Pistons.
And they did so. Billups was the leader on the 2004 team that beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals, finally bringing another trophy back to Detroit.
Tradition isn't just one era of success – it's a sustained pattern of winning, decade after decade, generation after generation.
"This is what tradition looks like, this is what it feels like – numbers, banners," Thomas said.
Then pointing to former Piston Dave Bing (1966-75), himself, the members of the 2004 team and then the Pistons' current bench, he continued: "Generation, generation, generation, next generation. What you guys did … They say the second time around, that's the hardest. What your (Billups') team did in terms of going to the Eastern Conference finals year after year, winning championships, getting jerseys retired – you made it possible for the Detroit Pistons organization forever to have that word called tradition. So thank you, Chauncey Billups."
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