Cade Cunningham, the Pistons’ likely selection with the No. 1 overall pick in next week’s NBA draft, is looking to make an immediate impression on the Detroit sports scene.
During his visit to work out for the Pistons ahead of the draft, Cunningham received a warm reception at Comerica Park, with fans chanting: “We want Cade!”
Even before that, the city already had made an impression on him.
“I love Detroit. I’ve already been listening to Detroit music and things like that way before the draft lottery or any of that stuff,” Cunningham said Friday on a media call. “I was already hip to the culture in Detroit. It’s a city that has a lot of things going on and I feel like getting a sports team rolling again would be huge for the city.”
Picking Cunningham would be a boost for the Pistons, who are coming off 22-50 record last season. They won the draft lottery for the first time in franchise history and they look to be focused on Cunningham, who was an All-America selection in his one season at Oklahoma State.
He’s poised to bring that star power to Detroit.
Cunningham said he was impressed with the Pistons organization during his meeting last week, including the front office and some time with team owner Tom Gores.
“I took a lot away from (the meeting). The organization has a lot of great people within it, starting from the owner,” Cunningham said. “Troy Weaver is a great general manager and then all the way down, they’ve got just great people throughout. I learned a lot on my visit and if they take me, I’d definitely be excited to be there. They’re a great organization and they’ve got a lot of good things going for them.”
In assessing their roster, Cunningham said he was impressed with Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, who made the NBA All-Rookie Team, and saw the young core as a positive for the overall arc that the team is taking.
He even has taken the vernacular for the rebuild, adopting Weaver’s preferred label.
“I think they’re in the restoration period — I don’t think they’re rebuilding; I think they’re just trying to restore what they’ve got going on,” Cunningham said. “It’s definitely an exciting time for that organization.”
Throughout the 15-minute Zoom call, Cunningham seemed to embrace the Detroit spirit and the city’s blue-collar work ethic. He named off some of his favorite Detroit musical acts, including the Temptations, and said he wanted to become a representative of the city and state.
“If Detroit picks me, that’s the main thing I would try to do — step in and embody the swag that people from Detroit walk with, the people from Michigan, in general,” Cunningham said. “They kind of have an underdog go-get-what-you-want feel to them, and I like that about the city. If I am able to go in there and be the No. 1 pick, I’m going to try to carry that same swag in how I walk on the court and make the most out of wearing red, white and blue.”
If Cunningham is the Pistons’ pick, he could become Detroit’s most popular athlete almost immediately. There’s a high level of anticipation around the pick, and he’s gotten a glimpse of what the atmosphere in the city is like.
His experience at Comerica Park seemed to cement the love he has for Detroit and its sports fans.
“Yeah, that was cool. They showed a lot of love throughout and when I’m walking through the city and through the stadium; it’s a lot of love,” he said. “That type of stuff means a lot, any time they can show love.
“I remember dreaming of being a top guy and now I’m a kid from Arlington (Texas), I’m all the way out in Detroit and people saying, ‘We want Cade!” and it’s surreal for me. I know I’ve played in a lot of big games and things like that, but that type of stuff still kind of gives me the chills — and I’m still super-appreciative of it.”
The draft is Thursday at Barclays Center in New York.