The New York Knicks had the first selection in the 1966 NBA Draft and the Detroit Pistons were slotted to follow them with the second pick. Both teams were looking to rebuild their teams and potentially contend for a title. Both teams coveted the same college player.
At the University of Michigan, Cazzie Russell had led the Wolverines to three straight Big Ten titles, as well as trips to the Final Four in 1964 and 1965. In his senior year, Russell averaged 30.8 points per game and was named an All-American. A 6’5 swingman, Russell was an electric performer on the court, scoring inside and outside, as well as being a good passer and rebounder. He seemed to have it all.
Which is why both the Knicks and Pistons wanted him. But onky one team could get gim, and when New York made Russell the #1 pick, the Pistons took Dave Bing, a guard from Syracuse. Ironically, Bing had almost gone to Michigan, where he would have been a teammate of Russell’s.
Bing looked like less of a superstar than Russell, but it didn’t take long for the rookie to show that he belonged in the NBA. After starting the season on the bench and struggling to get his shots to go down, Bing finally let loose in a game against the San Francisco Warriors, scoring 35 points. From that point on, Bing was in the back court for the Pistons. He ended up averaging 20 points and being named NBA Rookie of the Year.
The Pistons won just 31 games that season, but with Bing and the addition of other players over the next few seasons, they climbed their way to respectability. Bing emerged as a star in the league, earning All-NBA honors three times. He was especially fired up when he played against the best competition in the league. He scored nine points and had four assists in the first of his seven NBA All-Star Games. In the 1976 Game, he netted 16 points in 26 minutes and was named MVP of the game.
In each of his first seven seasons, Bing averaged at least 20 points, with a high of 27.1 in his second season. Bing was known for his soft jump shot and long range. Playing both the point and shooting guard as needed, Bing was the leader of the team in the late 60s and early 70s.
Russell won a title with the Knicks in 1970, and had a long NBA career, but Bing became a legend. In 1990 he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 1996 the NBA named him one of the 50 greatest players of all-time.
Though he wasn’t the Pistons first choice on draft day in 1966, Bing earned affection and respect in Detroit. In 1980 he started Bing Steel in the Motor City, growing it from four employees into a multi-million dollar company. In 2009, he won a special election to become Mayor of Detroit.