First Ben. Then Mr. Big Shot.
Chauncey Billups was the picture of eloquence.
But perhaps Rip Hamilton matched his passion.
Before the Palace crowd hung on every word from Billups during the Piston great’s jersey retirement ceremony, Hamilton was the handpicked teammate from the 2004 world champions to help introduce the man of the hour Wednesday night.
Hamilton talked of his perfect synergy with Billups when they formed the best backcourt in the NBA.
He spoke of Billups’ greatness on and off the floor, telling an anecdote of his children asking the meaning of being a role model.
He recalled getting on the Internet and showing his children a picture of Billups.
Hamilton spoke briefly, but it was long enough to symbolize the scars from his untimely Pistons exit in 2011 have fully healed.
Ben Wallace saw his No.3 raised to the Palace rafters last month.
Billups’ No.1 came Wednesday.
Hamilton’s No.32 will come next.
No date has been set, but Hamilton will be the next Piston from the 2004 NBA title team to have his jersey retired, a person with firsthand knowledge of the organization’s thinking told the Free Press on Wednesday night.
It’s probably too late this season to plan such an event, but it’s quite apparent the bridges Hamilton burned when he was paid not to play for the Pistons after the NBA labor lockout in 2011 have been repaired. Billups campaigned for it.
“Rip has to be next,” Billups said during a news conference before the game. “I would love for him to be next week, next month. Rip Hamilton holds so many records here. He had a long run here. He did a lot of great things in the community here. I’m looking forward to that day.”
Hamilton is all over the all-time Pistons record book. He ranks 10th in games (631), seventh in minutes (21,679), sixth in field goals made (4,352), seventh in three-pointers made (413), sixth in free throws made (2,465), seventh in assists (2,419) and fifth in free-throw percentage (84.9).
Hamilton, 37, told the Free Press he was “hopeful” at a party at the Palace after the Pistons’ 103-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
But he said earlier it was not necessarily a goal while he was playing.
“It’s not something I played the game for,” Hamilton said. “When I came to Detroit, I played here to win a championship.”
And that’s what they did.
“For the accolades that Chauncey got (Wednesday night) and Ben had, we didn’t play for that,” Hamilton said. “We played to win as many championships as possible.”
Some suggested Hamilton would not be honored by the Pistons because of the controversy surrounding him when he left the organization.
Things soured to the point where both sides were ready for the relationship to end before the 2011-12 season and a buyout agreement was reached with longtime Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars. Hamilton signed with the Bulls and spent the final two seasons of his 14-year career in Chicago.
It was arguably the first major business decision under owner Tom Gores, who bought the Pistons shortly before the start of the lockout. But the Gores regime wasn’t around as the relationship unraveled, so it was open to repairing bridges with Hamilton.
“Certain things you aren’t going to like on both sides on the parting,” Hamilton said. “It happens. You understand that when you retire. It’s a situation where it was just business.
“We all wished we had retired here. But it didn’t happen.”
Besides, Hamilton said he has the only honor that matters — a championship banner that hangs in the Palace.
“My jersey is up there,” he said. “That’s from winning that championship. That banner. That’s what we played for. As a kid, you grow up, watching the NBA, you grow to say, ‘You know what? I want to win a championship.’
“You don’t grow up saying, ‘You know what? I want my jersey retired,’ because it’s so far-fetched. And winning a championship is so far-fetched. But when you can win something like that, with a group of guys, that’s a special feeling.”