Marvin Bagley III, grandfather Joe Caldwell share Pistons, pick

Detroit News
By Steve Kornacki |  Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s family ties, NBA style.

“Jumpin’” Joe Caldwell was the No. 2 overall draft pick by the Pistons in 1964, when he won a gold medal with the U.S. basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics.

He was an All-American at Arizona State and returned after his playing days to Tempe, where his grandson, Marvin Bagley III, played some high school ball before moving to Los Angeles and becoming such a big star that he was courted by Mike Krzyzewski and went to Duke.

Then, in 2018, after one All-American season with the Blue Devils, Bagley became the No. 2 overall pick by the Sacramento Kings — who two months ago traded him to Detroit.

What are the odds on something like this?

The grandson becoming a high draft pick in the exact slot his grandfather did?

The two of them both becoming Pistons?

Bagley was asked what joining his grandfather’s original team means to him.

“It’s been great,” Bagley told The Detroit News. “It’s been fun, man. He was real excited when I first got here. He’s just happy for me and wants me to do well. And now we can swap stories about Detroit, and the times we’ve experienced together.

“Being able to both be No. 2 picks, and now me playing for the organization he played for, has been great so far. I’m very excited.”

Bagley, a 6-foot-11 forward, was Detroit’s top scorer off the bench, contributing 13.6 points per game. Injuries moved him into the starting lineup, where he’s thrived with 15.8 points and 8.1 rebounds in eight starts. However, he’s been a game-day decision since suffering a hip injury March 31.

Caldwell, now 80, was a 6-foot-5 guard-forward who also acquired “Pogo” as a nickname. He averaged 21.1 points, five rebounds and 3.5 assists in an NBA All-Star season for the Atlanta Hawks in 1969-70, and 23.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists as an ABA All-Star for the Carolina Cougars.

He made the NBA’s All-Rookie team in 1964-65, averaging 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists, but Detroit traded him after two seasons, and he blossomed elsewhere.

Pistons Hall of Fame guard Dave Bing was quoted as saying: “When Joe Caldwell guarded me, he gave me fits. Toughest defender I ever faced. He was 6-5 and could jump out of the gym.”

Caldwell scored 12,619 points in 11 NBA and ABA seasons, making four All-Star teams and two league all-defense teams.

He was born Joe Louis Caldwell in Texas City, Texas, and didn’t play basketball until his junior year at Fremont High in Los Angeles, where he grew up in the Watts neighborhood. He picked Arizona State over UCLA and young coach John Wooden, averaged 18.2 points and 11.2 rebounds in his three seasons of eligibility, and took the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament each year.

Caldwell was elected to ASU’s first Hall of Fame class and his No. 32 is retired. He wore No. 27 mostly in the NBA, though, and his grandson wore that number on his earliest teams and then AAU teams.

“But in high school, I rolled with No. 35,” said Bagley, who wears that number in Detroit and for Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant. “I started playing well with it, and it was a number that stuck with me. I used to watch K.D., and 35 was his number. So, I’ll rock in it, and make it a good number. I’ll be rollin’ with it.”

Bagley was the ACC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in his one season at Duke, and then went one pick after Phoenix’s No. 1 selection, Deandre Ayton — his teammate during his sophomore year at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, where his father, Marvin Jr., coached them.

Marvin Jr. played football at North Carolina A&T and with the Indoor Football League’s Arizona Rattlers. He met Tracy Caldwell in Phoenix, they married and raised three sons — the oldest of which followed in his grandfather’s NBA footsteps.

When Grandpa Joe was a rookie in 1964-65, the Motown sound was exploding and “Baby Love” by the Supremes and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” by the Four Tops were among the top hits.

Marvin’s main interest off the court is hip-hop and rhythm and blues. He’s recorded three studio albums and “On the Way” featured a song by Portland All-Star Damian Lillard, whose rapper name is Dame D.O.L.L.A.

“I love music a lot,” Bagley said. “It’s a thing I do well, and something I love doing when I’m on my own time. I have more time in the offseason. I’ve been writing music since I was young and it’s always been in my blood.

“My dad used to play different kinds of music in the car, and I found it interesting and like to tell a story with my writing and make people feel a certain way. It’s beginning to be a passion of mine and I follow through with it. I do the writing and record it.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite I’ve written off the top of my head, but I put my all into every song. I like hip-hop most, that’s my style. But I like R&B. I record and I’m learning how to produce things myself. That’ll come.”

He had a recording studio he frequented in Sacramento, but says he hasn’t had time to look for one in Detroit. He has three games left to focus on this season, and will then begin fielding offers as a free agent.

“Music is secondary right now, but after the season I’ll have time to look at studios and record,” said Bagley.

Playing for the Pistons has been a good experience, and he’s interested in being part of the future in Detroit.

“It’s fun,” Bagley said. “I mean, I’ve been having a lot of fun since I’ve been here. The guys have been great since I got here, and I feel like I fit in.”

Guard Cade Cunningham knows when and where to hit him with passes — particularly with alley-oops.

“My first couple of games, I was just trying to see how he played,” Bagley said of Cunningham, “and where he liked to get to his spots, what his spots were, how could I move around and help him. And it’s been great playing with him so far. Not only him, but all of the guys, and the chemistry is building, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Detroit coach Dwane Casey loves Bagley’s potential.

“I didn’t realize how talented he was until you get him,” Casey said. “He’s really, really talented. So, the sky’s going to be the limit for him. But he still needs a lot of work, and has a lot of work to do. But I’m really impressed with his talent level.”

“Jumpin’” Joe’s grandson also has springs in his legs, is working on his 3-point shot to approach grandfather’s outside touch, and makes his living near the rim.

They shared a high slot in the NBA Draft, and now share a city and an organization — a feel-good story of basketball and family at the highest level.

Mavericks at Pistons

►Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

►TV/radio: BSD/950

►Outlook: The Pistons (23-56) are attempting to win four consecutive games for the first time this season, and tied a franchise record for a first half with 13 3-pointers in the last win at Indianapolis. The Mavericks (49-30) got 33 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds from Luka Doncic in their 116-86 win Feb. 8 over Detroit in Dallas.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.

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