| Detroit Free Press
During nine seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Richard “Rip” Hamilton carved out a legacy as one of the most consistent scorers to ever play for the franchise.
His midrange game — and his mask — are two of the defining aspects of the Goin’ To Work era. He led the Pistons in scoring during their 2004 upset of the Los Angeles Lakers for the Pistons’ third championship, and his No. 32 jersey is hanging in the rafters at Little Caesars Arena.
Hamilton retired from the NBA in 2015, and has spent the past six years involved in the AAU circuit and making up for lost time with his wife, T.J., and their children Deuce, 13, Parker, 10, and Peyton, 8.
A new era is underway for the Pistons after Troy Weaver was hired as general manager last June, and Hamilton, 42, is a fan of what he has seen so far despite the 2-8 start.
The Free Press talked with Hamilton on Tuesday about the Pistons’ rebuild, memories of the Goin’ To Work era, why he’d thrive in today’s NBA and why it would’ve worked with Carmelo Anthony.
The Pistons changed a lot in the past seven months. Weaver came in and he had a good reputation across the league for being able to identify talent. How much did you know about Troy before he took this job, and what do you think so far?
We have a lot of mutual friends. Me, especially having a house in D.C. and playing for the Wizards for the first couple of years of my career, and he’s a Maryland guy, D.C. guy. A lot of my friends and former colleagues, especially in that area, had nothing but great things to say about Troy. This is prior to Troy actually getting the job with the Pistons. You just look at his track record, what he was able to do in OKC and now coming over here and the first thing that I love about him, that he has reached out to the alumni, reached out to the guys. Just from a conversation standpoint, trying to figure out how do we get the team back to where it was. If you look at the previous championship teams with the Bad Boys, when we came in, the Bad Boys had an identity. Hard nosed, toughness, accountability. They were going to grind games out. They represented the city. We fell in line with that, our 2004 championship team, Goin’ To Work, put on your hard hats. And the fans can identify with that. The people from Detroit can identify with that. We’re not just going to relate to anything, but we bought into that because that’s what represents the city. The one thing he has done, especially with a lot of changes, is bring in guys who fit that model. Two-way players, guys who can play on both sides of the ball. Guys that can play multiple positions. Guys that are selfless. You need to build that identity and that culture with the team, especially in the locker room, because that’s what the fans are going to get behind. That’s what the city of Detroit is going to get behind. We don’t go for anything. I just think that he has the right mindset, but we all have to be patient.
Weaver said he is drawing inspiration from those past championship teams — yourself and Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups and everyone else. What has it been like to see him embrace the past?
That’s big time because so many times, when you’ve got new leadership, people come in and they’ve got their own way of doing things. Especially when you’re dealing with a great organization that won, and won championships and has all of the banners in the rafters to prove it. The city embodies what the team does. The team has to represent what the city is, and I just feel as though when you’re new to the city and you move to a new location, you have to ask the people around you. You have to ask people who are embedded and have real equity in the city of Detroit. And I love that he’s doing that because he wants to build a winner, and he wants to get the fans engaged, to where it’s sellout crowds like when we led the league in sellout crowds every game. I think he has the right mindset for that
One thing about the Goin’ to Work era is that most of its core players weren’t drafted by the Pistons, but found their niche in Detroit. You mentioned yourself, starting off with the Wizards and then coming to Detroit. You have Chauncey, who bounced around before establishing himself here. Ben Wallace too. You look at the team now, Josh Jackson who started off in Phoenix and Memphis and is now playing well. Jerami Grant was the big offseason signing and is playing like one of the best players in the East. Do you see parallels there?
Absolutely. Again, patience. You watch them play this season, it’s not like we’re getting blown out every game. We’re in every game. Guys are still learning how to win. You’re learning the other guys on the team. You’re learning the new system. We’re dealing with COVID. Guys are not in the gym as much as they were in previous years, especially in the summertime building that chemistry. So there’s a lot of things. Learning a new system, coach (Dwane) Casey. It’s a lot of different intangibles that people don’t look at when it comes to winning and having that type of success in the NBA. The thing that I do know is that Troy’s doing his best to go out and get the right players that fit. Do I think it’s going to happen overnight? No. They’re playing against the best players in the world, guys that have been on teams multiple years and are understanding each other’s game. But I do think we’re moving in the right direction.
What have you seen from the identity of this team so far?
I see that they’re coming out playing hard. That’s the big thing. When you look at Jerami Grant, how his game has evolved from an offensive standpoint. We all know he was a great defender, long, lanky, can do all of the cleanup stuff. But he has added different tools to this game, especially from a scoring standpoint, being the guy. He’s looked at as being one of the better players in the Eastern Conference. You look at this ball club, you got a good mix of veteran guys with Derrick (Rose) and Blake (Griffin) and then you got a good mix of younger guys, young rookies coming in for us. Just trying to mesh that and trying to bring that together. Guys are still learning each other on the fly, but as long as you work hard and you believe in the team, and not individuals, good things will happen.
What has it been like to see owner Tom Gores to make it a priority to move the team from Auburn Hills to Detroit and invest in the Detroit area?
I wish that we had the opportunity to play in Detroit. I think that having all the sports teams down there, if you’re a fan of the game and you’re a Detroit fan of the Tigers, the Red Wings, Lions, Pistons, they’re all in the heart of the Detroit district. So you have all of your teams right there. I love the Palace of Auburn Hills. We won there. That’s always going to have a special part in my heart and my life. But I wish I would’ve gotten an opportunity to play downtown because I feel as though that’s the heartbeat of the city. Fans there weren’t always going to get the opportunity downtown to drive all the way up to Auburn Hills. When you have all the major sports down in the city, that’s something you don’t see in every state. I think it’s good for the fans and good for the city of Detroit.
For you, it’s gotta be a little bittersweet, right? Given that you did win a championship in Auburn Hills, you did have that sellout streak in Auburn Hills and the Palace is no longer there.
Man, like I said, that’s home. For us, as players that drove into Auburn Hills every day to the practice facility, driving into the arena, seeing Cindy (Button, a former longtime Pistons operations manager) park our cars and hang out and knowing every room in the building. We won a world championship there. We led the league in attendance for multiple years. That’s a home that you grew up in your first 18 years of your life, and you tell your mom ‘you better not ever sell this house.’ Mom says ‘Oh, this is too big for me and dad, all our kids are gone. We just need a condo,’ or whatever. It’s the same type of the knowledge of I love it, I miss it but I understand the growth and where the team needs to be downtown with the other teams. It’s definitely a bittersweet thing.
What stands out most about that era when you look back?
I think the thing that stands out is that we represented the city. We were brothers and we still are brothers to this day. We called ourselves ‘the best five alive’ for a reason, because we really felt that. We still speak to each other probably three to four times a week. Me, Chauncey (Billups), Tayshaun (Prince), Ben (Wallace) and Rasheed (Wallace). It wasn’t something that was fake or phony. When you come to Detroit, you can’t be fake or phony. You will get exposed. So it’s the same thing. That team right there, we built a brotherhood and the way we went out there and showcased that, going to work each and every day. That’s stuff that you remember for a lifetime.
You’ve talked about this recently, and it’ll always be a topic for fans — if the team had drafted Carmelo Anthony, it would’ve given you guys more success. How would Carmelo have fit that team as a pure scorer, on a defense-first team?
When I was in Washington, I was more of a score first-type of player, more offensively. There was something defensively I had to work on. Once I got to Detroit, it had an identity already and it started with Ben Wallace. He was pretty much the foundation of the team before me, Chauncey, Tayshaun and Rasheed got there. Hard-nosed, going to work. We understood getting there that oh, we had to buy in. In order for us to win, it’s not just what we do from a scoring standpoint but it also has to be from a defensive standpoint and a togetherness. You gotta have those qualities. I just feel as though if we had been, because I hate to keep going back and that’s what everybody talked about, if we allegedly drafted Melo, I think he would’ve bought in. He would’ve bought in just like we all bought in because at the end of the day, our common goal was to win, and we knew that we couldn’t win unless we did it together.
How would you fit into today’s NBA, with teams prioritizing the 3-point shot? You’ve always prided yourself on your conditioning, coming off screens and doing damage from midrange. How would your game fit today? Do you think you’d take more 3’s? And what are your thoughts on the direction the game is going?
First, I think I would’ve scored way more because the game is a lot easier. When you look at the game when I played, everything was played from the free-throw line in. Everything was shell principles, keep everybody out the paint. When you look at it from an analytics standpoint, try to get the most high-percentage shot. A layup or closer to the basket or whatever. Now the court is, from a standpoint, way wider. Not as congested as it was when I played. When you see you’ve got two bigs in the paint 80% of the time on the offensive end. Now the bigs are out on the wing, they’re spacing all the way out to the 3-point line. I feel like I would be able to score more, I would be able to get into the paint more. I think I would shoot way more 3’s. Larry Brown hated me shooting 3’s, but I think that one year I led the NBA in 3-point percentage, all because in my mind, I was like ‘ok, everybody knows I’m great at the midrange shot. I’m going to show them I can shoot 3’s too.’ It would’ve definitely been fun to see because back then, the game was rough. Every time you went to the paint, you were getting hit, tripped, elbowed or whatever. Now it’s a lot more freedom of movement. With my off the ball movement, I think I would’ve got a lot more wide open shots
Is there a player today you see yourself in, or shades of your game in?
I love to watch guys that I feel like are very similar and have a similar style of game that I played. One, Klay Thompson coming off of pindowns, moving without the ball. Steph Curry too, but he shoots lights out. This dude is ridiculous. But just his never standing still, always moving without the ball, being able to get his shot off anywhere on the floor. Bradley Beal, same thing. I like DeMar DeRozan, just from the midrange game, the way he’s able to get his shot off. Those guys really stand out to me. Those are the guys I really like watching play
What do you hope to see from the Pistons, not only this season but in the future as Weaver continues to build the identity he wants here?
Just to get back to that. Having that identity again. That’s huge, that’s big, especially when you’re trying to win and trying to win big. The fans there, you can’t trick them. Can’t trick the fans in Detroit. They now what winning basketball is, they know what a winning culture is. They know if the team embodies what the city is. I feel as though as long as they get back to competing every night like it’s your last, playing together, good things are going to happen. More importantly, just doing it together, playing hard, toughness, having that grit and grind and you can see Troy Weaver going out and getting players that fit that model. Also knowing that we have to be a little bit patient.