By Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson
Long before Chauncey Billups was the MVP trophy wielding, big shot taker and playmaker on coach Larry Brown’s 2004 Detroit Pistons Championship team, he had a dark fade haircut and you probably called him a ball hog.
No, for real! Uncoachable, immature and ball hog were terms many used to describe Billups, the third pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. Early in his career, Billups was seen as a point guard who got to the basket at will, but often took shots that many questioned. His style of play was more NBA Jam-like than what pundits felt were in-game appropriate. Was he a point guard or a 2-guard? Many basketball purists felt the need for him to play to the standard of distributing point guards like John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson who had hoop heads spoiled with their threading needle plays and Peyton Manning-esque pin point accuracy that players on opposing teams drooled over.
All homage to them; they’re the greatest. BUT, like Frank Sinatra, Billups did it his way! Billups played 17 NBA seasons with seven teams and averaged 15 points and 5 assists. Billups’ longest tenure was with the Detroit Pistons, where he played 482 of his 1,043 games. A five-time NBA All-Star, Billups led the Pistons to every Eastern Conference Finals from 2003-2008. During that run, the Pistons won an NBA Championship over the Lakers super team of Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2004 and lost to the Spurs the following year in the 2005 NBA Finals.
It was a no-brainer when the Pistons decided to retire the 6-3 Chauncey B-b-b-Billups’ jersey at the Palace of Auburn Hills on February 10. Billups was the second player from the 2004 championship team to have his jersey retired by the Pistons this season. In January, the Pistons retired Ben Wallace’s #3 jersey. “It was such an honor,” Billups told me. “I just remember watching Isaiah [Thomas] and Joe [Dumars] and those Bad Boys just dominate. I never knew that I could make it to that level to one day have my jersey in the rafters and be neighbors with them in the arena. I never thought that was possible for me, so you could imagine how I feel.”
In recent years, a strange thing happened in today’s NBA: Scoring point guards are the new normal! Insert Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul and Kemba Walker. Components of their games that mirror Billups. “Dame Lillard reminds me of myself,” Billups told me. “ I was never the athlete that Russell or Derrick was. I wish I was. I would say Dame Lillard…even before his injury, but Deron Williams reminds me a little of myself. CJ McCollum. Guys that play a certain pace that play with efficiency are guys that come to my mind.”
Last month, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook became the first player in NBA history to win back to back NBA All Star Game MVP trophies following the Western Conference’s 196-173 victory last month in Toronto, it’s kind of ironic that Westbrook, like Billups has never met a shot that he wasn’t afraid to take. Although Westbrook’s ‘go hard’ mentality on the court sometimes leaves folks scratching their heads, you can’t deny that he puts up numbers and plays with heart every night.
Check Out Former Detroit Pistons forward Grant Hill on Brown and Scoop.
If Billups played today, he’d be revered. A cursory look at highlights of games played the last few weeks shows game winners by Curry, Walker and Lillard as they’ve all been Mr. Big Shot on their respective teams. Seeing the play of today’s point guard, Billups knows he’d be received today.
“My game would have been more appreciated today early on,” Billups told my Brown and Scoop co-host Jake Brown. “When I first came in the league, it was more about the pass first point guard. I was a scoring point guard. It wasn’t as appreciated as it is now. Now if you look at almost every elite team, you have to have one of those guys. I don’t think it would have took me as long to catch on and become one of the elite players had this era been a little bit earlier.”
On his 2006 album Hip Hop Is Dead, a lyric in multi platinum lyricist Nas’ Carry On Tradition track states: When they crown you – and you rise up to your position, carry on tradition. BIllups surely did that after becoming the first Detroit Pistons point guard to have his jersey retired at 6 Championship Drive in Auburn Hills, Michigan since Isiah Thomas, a two-time NBA Champion during the Pistons’ Bad Boys era.
“When he came into the NBA, his first couple of years he struggled,” Isiah Thomas told us by phone this morning. “But his perseverance, his commitment to really educating himself and learning the point guard position and becoming a leader speaks volumes from where he started from and he ended up in becoming an NBA champion. It sticks to the Detroit Pistons story of perseverance and Chauncey embodies that.”
Being mentioned in the same breath of Thomas as a retired player is not something Billups takes for granted. In fact, he relishes it.
“After I retired I have those moments all the time where I’m like ‘damn man I really did that,” he said. “I go back into some of the archives and watch some of the games…things that I didn’t do when I was playing and I sit back and think damn, I can’t believe I was that good. During the process you don’t really know because once you accomplish something you throw it to the side and look for the next one, so you don’t celebrate it. Being retired obviously you do. You look back and you start saying wow I did that. It’s amazing to be mentioned with who I felt was the best point guard ever.”
Billups, 39 retired after the 2013-14 season and is now an analyst on ESPN. It’s often said that it’s the duty of elders to pass on knowledge to those who come behind. The South African idealism of ubuntu, which translates as “humanity towards others” is the belief that all humanity is connected through a universal bond of sharing. It was widely popularized by both Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. That idealism was even used in coaching strategy by Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers when he led Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics on their championship run in 2008.
Billups was able to apply that during his last hurrah in Detroit by leaving an indelible mark on youngins like Pistons big man Andre Drummond. Drummond thinks the world of Mr. Big Shot.
“I was able to play with Chauncey,” said Drummond. “He’s a blue collar guy. Everybody loves him in Detroit. I enjoyed playing with him. He’s done wonders for the city so when his jersey was retired, everybody was happy for him because of all of the hard work he’s put in. So they put him in the rafters.”
DJ Khaled has his infamous major keys for success via his snapchat account and in the spirit of ubuntu, Billups has his own set of major keys for scoring point guards following in his footsteps.
“You got to know who you are,” he said. “You’ve got to study the game, study your opponent. You’ve got to know exactly what your guys are like and where they like it [the basketball] at. Those things are the key to success if you’re going to be a point guard in this league, a great one.”
Brandon Robinson is a sports and entertainment writer and TV personality. You can catch him daily on CBS Radio Play.it’s Brown and Scoop Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @SCOOPB and visit www.ScoopB.com.