Whenever there’s public criticism of the “Bad Boys” era Detroit Pistons, expect to hear from Isiah Thomas.
Thomas made an appearance this week on ESPN’s Get Up and First Take, defending himself and former Pistons teammates from remarks made against them by Michael Jordan (and his teammates) in episodes 3 and 4 of “The Last Dance”, an ESPN “30 for 30” a documentary chronicling Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls.
Thomas’ remarks on both shows have garnered a lot of attention. Interestingly enough, they weren’t even his most poignant ones in recent memory.
Those came about a month ago.
That’s when he was a guest on Knuckleheads, a podcast that’s hosted by former NBA players Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson. On their show, Thomas spoke candidly about his basketball career for nearly an hour and a half. He also spoke on his upbringing, his Chicago roots, and what led him to become a Detroit Piston. It was when speaking on what it took for his Pistons back-to-back NBA Championships in 1989 & 1990 that Thomas made a very profound statement. It was the ultimate compliment to one of his former teammates.
“We never would’ve won a championship if Mark Aguirre doesn’t come to our team”, said Thomas.
“Mark Aguirre [basically] flushed down the toilet a Hall of Fame career to be a champion.”
And you know what, he’s right.
Days As A Maverick
Before coming to Detroit, Aguirre was a prolific scorer. Or as the cool kids say, he was a “walking bucket”. That’s why the Dallas Mavericks selected him with the number one overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft.
He had it all, and he made the entire league feel his presence immediately.
In his first seven seasons with the Mavericks, he was a three-time NBA All-Star, averaging 24.9 points on 50% shooting, and 5.8 rebounds per game. The best statistical season of his career came during this period as well. In the 1983-1984 season, he averaged 29.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and one steal per game.
His success didn’t shock anyone. It was an expectation
However, when the Mavericks traded him to the Pistons in 1988, he would truly shock everyone.
Seeing The Bigger Picture
After helping the Pistons capture the 1988-89 NBA championship, Aguirre had a realization. After seeing his team struggle early on to defend their crown, he went to then-Pistons head coach Chuck Daly with a suggestion. It was to take him out of the starting lineup and start teammate Dennis Rodman instead.
“When he comes over to Detroit, he looks at Dennis Rodman, and he goes ‘This dude can do some things I can’t do, and he’ll help us win more”, said Isiah Thomas on the Knuckleheads podcast.
The bold decision to split minutes with Rodman proved to be the correct one. It helped the team overcame their early roadblocks, catapulting them to the 1990 NBA championship. On the Pistons, he wasn’t the same player he was as Maverick, averaging over 20 points and 30 minutes per game. Instead, he bought into the concept of the team. His sacrifice saw his scoring and his minutes take a dip.
It didn’t matter to Aguirre though.
His ultimate goal was to be a champion.
Hall of Fame career?
Now here’s where things get pretty interesting. Even with Aguirre’s sacrifice, he still finished his NBA career with 18,458 points and 4,578 rebounds. That’s more career points than both Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, two players who were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as small forwards, the same position Aguirre played. And while they have more rebounds (McGrady has 698 more), assists, and All-NBA Honors, he has the two NBA championships that their resume lacks. He also did it while averaging 20 points per game for his entire career, a feat that McGrady and Hill also didn’t do.
Mentioning these facts isn’t an intention to slight the career of those two players. They were both amazing to watch. Instead, it is to illustrate the hefty price he paid with a career decision.
He’s not interviewed as often as his former Pistons teammates Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, or even John Salley. He isn’t as revered as Joe Dumars or Vinnie Johnson are.
He should be though. He’s earned that right.
If the Mavericks did not trade him for Adrian Dantley, it’s safe to say he’d have well over 20,000 points. In that same breath, it’s also safe to say he’d continue to have his fair share of playoff failures.
At the end of the day, he is an All-Star. He is a champion.
In his song “Big Brother”, Kanye West said, “If you admire someone, you should go ahead and tell them, people never get the roses while they can still smell them.”
Let’s not wait to give Aguirre his roses.
Follow Kory Woods on Twitter @koryewoods