Gov. Whitmer picks Pistons’ Cunningham for top NBA rookie: ‘It’s a no-brainer’

Detroit News
Steve Kornacki |  Special to The Detroit News

Detroit – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer knows a thing or two about campaigning, and had this to say about the Rookie of the Year candidacy of Pistons guard Cade Cunningham:

“I think he should be rookie of the year,” said Whitmer. “He’s the all-time scorer for a rookie, and in the top five for rebounds and assists. So, it’s a no-brainer.”

The governor knows her stuff.  Cunningham leads all NBA rookies with a 17.4 scoring average, is second with 5.6 assists, and fifth with 5.7 rebounds.

Whitmer, wearing a team baseball cap, attended Thursday night’s game at Little Caesar’s Arena with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I’m here to watch the Pistons beat the 76ers!” she proclaimed.

Her pre-game prediction came true on the final scoreboard: Detroit 102, Philadelphia 94.

Whitmer chatted on the side of the court during the pre-game shoot-around with Detroit Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas as well as numerous current Pistons such as Isaiah Stewart and Isaiah Livers – who had been finding their 3-point shooting rhythms.

“I’ve been coming to Pistons games my whole life,” said Whitmer, “and my favorite player is Isiah Thomas. I remember cheering for the ‘Bad Boys’ when I was in middle school. I grew up on the west side of the state in Grand Rapids.

More: ‘Next-play mentality’ still a work in progress for young Pistons

“My dad brought us to games. I loved the ‘Microwave’ (Vinnie Johnson). I loved the ‘Spider’ (John Salley). Joe Dumars! There were so many great players. But I think Isiah Thomas incapsulates the organization.”

Asked for her favorite current Piston, the savvy of a politician entered into the answer: “You know what? I had the opportunity to go to one of their practices last year, and I had a ball. Cade wasn’t even a part of the team yet. I got to meet a lot of the players, and it’s a great group – a lot of leaders.”

She said her schedule doesn’t allow her to watch every game on TV, but she watches when she can.

“I am a basketball fan,” said Whitmer. “I wanted to be a broadcaster! That was my original plan.”

The governor was asked about the impact the Pistons have had since moving downtown for the 2017-18 season as well as promoting social issues for their fans.

“From (owner) Tom Gores’ leadership to what the organization has done in the community for individuals and using platforms is impressive,” said Whitmer. “It would be great if more would replicate it, to be honest.

“This is a moment to recognize the LGBTQ community tonight. There’s just one more example. Whether it’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ or urging people to mask up (for COVID), this organization has been great for the community by using their platform.”

Whitmer added that “it helps get the message out” for issues she and the state support.

More: ‘Representation matters’: Pistons’ female executives pave way for change

“It’s not what we’re promulgating,” said Whitmer. “When people they (fans) look up to are encouraging doing good in their communities and support for every person, I think it’s really powerful and it just continues to do good work.”

Getting back to basketball, Whitmer was asked about whether her favorite team might get back to the playoffs next year. The Pistons entered the game 20-56, but have a strong core of young players who advanced this season under Coach Dwane Casey.

“I hope so,” she said with a smile.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.

Pistons at Thunder

Tipoff: 8 p.m. Friday, Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City

TV/radio: BSD/950

Outlook: The Thunder (22-54) have been 2-2 in their last four games – beating Orlando and Portland. They are 30th in the NBA in scoring (103.9) and 28th with 22.2 assists. Seems to be a correlation there. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-foot-6 guard, scores at a 24.5 clip.

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