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Current Tampa Bay Lightning General
Manager Steve Yzerman, a former Red Wing
VP and GM of Team Canada, was inducted
to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in the
autumn of 2009 after a record-setting
playing career with the Red Wings.
The longest serving Captain in NHL history,
Yzerman hoisted three Stanley Cups for Detroit
in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
If Detroit management had its way, Yzrerman
would never have been a Red Wing.
New Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch had purchased a team devoid of
talent which played in a relatively new but mostly empty Joe Louis Arena. The
Red Wings needed a star player to draw fans to the building while a contending
club could be built around that player.
Detroit's preference in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft was Waterford, MICH
resident Pat LaFontaine, who was a star amateur player for the Verdun Juniors
in the QMJHL where he scored 104 goals and 234 points in 70 games.
However, via a 1981 trade with the lowly Colorado Rockies, the defending
Stanley Cup Champion New York Islanders owned the third overall selection in
the 1983 draft. The Isles grabbed LaFontaine one slot ahead of where Detroit
then took Yzerrman.
LaFontaine didn't turn pro with the Islanders until after skating with the
1983-84 US National/Olympic team. He was an instant sensation once he
joined the Islanders with 13 goals in 15 games at the end of the 1983-84
season. LaFontaine would play for the Isles, Buffalo Sabres and New York
Rangers until a concussion induced retirement in 1998 and once quipped,
"I got to play for three great organizations in my career and never once had
to buy new license plates."
LaFontaine preceeded Yzerman into the HoFame in 2003.
Yzerman wasn't the only "accidental" future Hall-of-Famer drafted in Detroit
DID YOU KNOW NBA Hall-of-Famer Dave Bing only became a Detroit Piston
because somebody else was selected one pick before Detroit drafted Bing?
Now serving as the 70th Mayor of the City of Detroit, Bing was the Pistons'
consolation prize at second overall in the NBA Draft.
As with LaFontaine almost two decades later, the Pistons wanted a local fan
favorite with their first round selection in order to sell tickets for a generally
half-empty (or more) Cobo Arena.
A three-time All-American including twice a first team All-Am, Cazzie Russell
was named the 1965-66 NCAA AP Player-of-the-Year in collrege basketball. The
star of the Big Ten Champion Michigan Wolverines, Russell led UofM in the (then)
22 team NCAA tournament. Michigan drew a first round bye, then edged Western
Kentucky 80-79 in the second round of the Mideast Regional when Russell sank two
free throws at the end of the game from a controversial foul call off a jump ball.
Eventual NCAA Tournament runner-up Kentucky then eliminated the Wolverines
84-77 in the Mideast Final.
The New York Knickerbockers foiled Detroit's plans by grabbing up Russell first
overall in the 1966 draft.
While no HoFamer, Russell certainly proved to be a solid pro player. Russell played
a dozen years in the NBA for four different teams, spending his first five years with
the Knicks, three with the Golden State Warriors, three more with the Los Angeles
Lakers and Russell's last season was with his hometown Chicago Bulls. In an era before
the 3-point field goal, Russell averaged 15.1-PPG over his NBA career.
Russell joined Bing on the NBA All-Rookie first team in 1966-67. Once named an
All-Star with the Warriors in 1971-72, Russell achieved one thing Bing did not:
Russell was a member of the 1969-70 NBA World Champion Knickerbockers.
And what did Detroit get besides a future Mayor?
After achieving All-American status in leading Springarn High School to a
1961 City Championship in Washington, DC, Bing was recruited by both UCLA
and (ironically) Michigan. Instead, Bing chose Syracuse University where he
led the Orangemen in scoring three consecutive seasons as the school's first
consensus All-American hoopster in 39 years before he joined the Pistons.
Bing's style of play was unusual for the 1960s. A lean and athletic point
guard, he scored as much as passed. It translated into instant pro success.
Bing was NBA Rookie-of-the-Year in 1966-67 and led the league in scoring
in 1967-68 with 2,142-pts (27.1-PPG). In his 10 seasons with the Pistons
Bing played in seven NBA All-Star Games during his 10 Detroit seasons.
During his Detroit tenure Bing almost jumped to the rival ABA in 1969
for a big money deal with a franchise in his Washington DC hometown.
However, when that team was transfered to Norfolk, VA, Bing's 3-year,
$500-thousand contract was voided and he leveraged a 3-year, $450-thousand
pact with the Pistons.
At Bing's request he eventually did return to Washington in exchange for
guard Kevin Porter in a Piston/Bullets trade prior to the 1975-76 season. Bing
was named MVP of the 1976 NBA All-Star Game. After his release by Washington
Bing played a final NBA season as a third guard with the Boston Celtics in
Former Piston player, scout and coach Earl Lloyd perhaps best summed
up Bing's abilities when he said, "Maybe some other player does this better,
and another player does that better. [But] nobody does as much as Dave does."
Elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990, Bing's #21 jersey was
retired by the Pistons in 1996, the same year he was named one of the NBA's
50 Greatest Players.
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