Chris Webber had an amazing basketball career and was recently named to the latest class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. But the Michigan native only played part of one year in the NBA for his hometown Detroit Pistons.
Now, it was a very exciting half a season, as he took on LeBron James for a spot in the NBA finals.
If the league still had its old territorial rights rule, Webber might never have left the state of Michigan.
At the beginning of the NBA, college basketball was far more popular. Because of that, owners wanted first dibs on their local college stars, hoping the fans who followed them in college, would also want to see them play in the NBA.
So, from 1950 to 1966, the NBA had a ‘Territorial Draft’ rule. A team could forfeit its normal first-round pick to take a player who played within 50 miles of its home arena.
One of the more interesting uses of the Territorial Draft occured when the Philadelphia Warriors got Wilt Chamberlain, even though he then played for the University of Kansas, which was a bit more than 50 miles from their arena.
Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb’s argument was that Kansas was not near any NBA teams, so his rights should revert to high school, and Chamberlain was from Philadelphia.
His argument worked, as Chamberlain, although out of Kansas, went to Philly as a territorial pick.
The Detroit Pistons also profited from the Territorial Draft.
In 1962, the University of Detroit had a really good forward named Dave DeBusschere, who averaged 27 points and 19 rebounds his senior year.
He was also a city native, having played at Austin Catholic High School (not the one in Chesterfield, the Detroit school that closed in 1978).
The Pistons used the territorial draft to select DeBusschere. It turned out to be a smart move. DeBusschere made the All-Star team three times with Detroit, and helped the Pistons make the playoffs in 1963 and ’68 (taking the Bill Russell-led Celtics to six games that year).
He was such a heady player, DeBusschere was eventually named the player-coach for the Pistons. He was traded during the 1968-69 season to the New York Knicks, where he would help them win two NBA titles.
In 1965, the Pistons again used the Territorial Draft, this time to take University of Michigan star (and Northern High standout) Bill Buntin. He did not work out as well as DeBusschere, and only lasted a year.
If the Territorial Draft had still been around in 1993, when Chris Webber came out, the Detroit Pistons undoubtedly would have used their territorial pick on him, and Webber might have been a Piston for life.