Pistons lucky to have Cade Cunningham. He again showed why in Isaiah Stewart-LeBron mess

Detroit Free Press

Cade Cunningham didn’t hesitate.

When Isaiah Stewart charged after LeBron James on Sunday night at Little Caesars Arena — after James threw his elbow and his hand jacked Stewart in the face — Cunningham grabbed his teammate.

He wrapped his arms around Stewart.

Blood was streaming down Stewart’s face — he would require stitches — and Cunningham was trying to get him to calm down, turning him around. Trying to get in his face. Screaming in his ear.

“Trying to stop him from maybe getting into trouble, something like that,” Cunningham told reporters.

DEBATE: LeBron James started it, but Isaiah Stewart ‘completely out of control’

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Cade to the rescue

It was a moment of pure leadership by the Pistons’ rookie point guard.

Say what you will about Stewart for how he reacted — yes, it was a crazy scene and he was out of control.

Say what you will about James for what he did — there is no doubt he should be suspended.

But for a second, I’d like to focus on Cunningham.

Because that intense, emotional moment revealed everything about him.

And he emerged as a true leader.

You can build a franchise around that kind of leadership. That kind of calm when everything else is spinning out of control.

As the Pistons tried to walk Stewart to the locker room, and as Cunningham walked with him, continuing to try to calm him down, Stewart took off again.

Stewart ran after James, ramming through the scene, looking like a fullback, breaking through a secondary. Breaking tackles.

Cunningham ran up to him and tried to put a shoulder into him. A left shoulder tackle. OK, so he bounced off. He won’t ever be confused with a defensive back.

But Cunningham didn’t give up. He continued to try to stop his teammate.

Cunningham got both arms around Stewart’s waist and held on.

When the game resumed, Cunningham took another role.

The voice of reason.

“Trying to recenter yourself and remember why you are there,” Cunningham told reporters. “You are there to win a basketball game. When something like that happens, I think just trying to recenter yourself and stay in the moment, that’s huge.”

At this moment, I’d like to remind everybody this is a rookie talking about “recentering” yourself. Recentering the team.

“I think, just talking with your team and bringing each other together,” Cunningham said.

When the Pistons drafted Cunningham, they talked about how he connected people. And it’s clear he does it on the court. But he also does it off the court.

“The biggest thing you can do in a moment like that is not separate,” he said. “If you start being too worried about the environment and what’s going on, everybody standing up, things like that, it can get ugly. I think we did a pretty good job of getting our mind back on straight.”

Man, now that’s impressive.

CLUTCH CADE: Cade Cunningham shows he’s exactly the leader Pistons need

Giving thanks

Three nights earlier, I spent about an hour with both Stewart and Cunningham, as the Pistons gave away food for Thanksgiving.

Stewart was hilarious and gregarious, dancing with a miniature glow stick.

“You look like you are having fun,” I said.

“I’m having a blast,” he said.

He was engaging and delightful. He handed out food the same way he plays basketball — full of emotion.

Cunningham was a few feet away, working with fellow rookie Luka Garza.

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Cunningham and Garza would pick up boxes and put them into trunks. Cunningham was not flashy. He was not loud or crazy. He kind of blended into the background and he simply did his job, taking it seriously.

“It’s cool,” Cunningham told me. “I think it means a lot to the community, and I think it has a big impact.”

In many ways, he already embodies Detroit. The essence of the Motor City.

Work hard. Protect your friends. Have their backs. Do the right thing. Help others.

After seeing him behind the scenes and then seeing what he did Sunday night, there is no doubt in my mind.

PISTONS REACT: Should Isaiah Stewart be suspended? ‘Shouldn’t be facing anything’

Detroit is lucky to have Cade Cunningham.

The Pistons have their leader.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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