Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bing-Go

As a basketball player, David Bing arrived in Detroit at just the right time.

A skinny guard out of Syracuse, Bing was the Pistons' sloppy seconds of the 1966 NBA Draft. The Pistons heartily preferred Cazzie Russell, the dazzling forward from the University of Michigan, some 45 minutes from Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit.

But the Pistons lost a coin flip for the first overall pick, and Russell was snatched up by the New York Knicks. The Pistons then "settled" for Bing with the second overall choice.

"Don't worry," former Pistons player Earl Lloyd told team brass after the draft. "You just got the best player in the country."

Indeed.

Bing revived a moribund franchise with his smooth passing and dynamic moves to the basket. There was reason to come to Cobo and watch the Pistons. Crowds that had been in the 2-3,000 range inched up over 5,000 per night.

In his second season, Bing led the NBA in scoring average and the Pistons made the playoffs.

In 1970, Bing was joined by big man Bob Lanier, drafted out of St. Bonaventure. The pair formed one of the best inside/outside tandems in the league. And both would be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bing, along with Lanier, helped save pro basketball in Detroit.

Sadly, Bing didn't have the same fait accompli timing in his role as Detroit's mayor.

Bing, 69, won't seek re-election this fall. He has bailed, perhaps maybe with a bigger nut to crack in mind---that of being Wayne County Executive. That election happens in 2014. Certainly the incumbent there is vulnerable.

Bing ran for mayor too late, it says here. As a result, he was doomed and was never able to really put his brand on the city that he loves so much.

I would have liked to see Bing run for mayor back in 1993, though that would have meant going up against Dennis Archer in the primary. Coleman Young's last term ran from 1989-93. A Bing-Archer match-up would have presented a clear choice to voters: Do you want a lawyer (Archer) or a businessman (Bing) to be your next mayor?

Bing was 49 in 1993, a perfect age to launch a potentially long run as mayor. Calls for his running began as early as 1989, as some folks urged him to challenge the incumbent Young.

Of course, Bing had his steel company in full force in those days, which might have dissuaded him from running for mayor.

Regardless, by the time Bing finally decided to get into the fray, it was 2008 and the city was still stinking from the Kwame Kilpatrick stench. The finances were a mess and city services were practically non-existent. The city was hemorrhaging citizenry and thus, property tax money. The population had dipped below one million, which at one time was considered unthinkable. Unemployment was through the roof.

Bing won his election, but would soon find that victories would be few and far between, once he took office.



Bing, nearing age 70 by the time he became mayor, seemed to spend most of his time and energy putting out fires and replacing staff. He was like a guy playing the arcade game Whack-a-Mole, in which you pound on the heads of "moles" that pop up with a mallet. The heads come, one after the other. As soon as you whack one, here comes another.

Bing never really governed as mayor. He was bogged down with whacking moles.

That the city is under an Emergency Financial Manager isn't really Bing's fault, but it's there, on his record. Perhaps history will be kind.

Had Bing run for mayor 20 years ago, he might have had a different legacy. But, for him, the time must not have been right.

Dave Bing had great timing as an incoming NBA player in Detroit, but lousy timing in becoming the city's mayor.

He ran too late, but at least he gave it a shot. It just rimmed out. Twenty years prior, he might have sunk it.

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