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Considering Rip Hamilton’s legacy

Hamilton will be the third “Going to Work” Pistons to have his jersey retired

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In many ways, no one person signified the “Going to Work” Pistons more than Richard Hamilton.

Hamilton, who joins Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups, as members of the Pistons of the first decade of this century with their numbers retired by the Detroit Pistons, never jumped off the page.

He was a three-time All-Star who averaged 17 points per game in his career. He never sniffed an All-NBA honor and won’t be going to the Hall of Fame. Truly, Hamilton’s body of work never really stood out.

There were always players who were stronger than him, faster than him, shot the ball better and played more suffocating defense.

But he was relentless.

And what better word could be used to describe the Going to Work Pistons than relentless? They, like Hamilton, never stopped moving. They, like Hamilton, played all 24 seconds of every possession. During their best years, both Hamilton and the team had a tireless work ethic.

Another thing that strikes me as I reflect on Hamilton’s legacy is that as that Pistons’ era is defined by team ball with no superstars, Detroit’s entire offensive engine was built around Hamilton’s four teammates working to set up open looks for Rip’s mid-range attack.

Hamilton was known as the best-conditioned athlete in the NBA, and a player that would never stop moving. But Hamilton needed to have those screens, often a thankless task, set by Wallace, both Ben and Rasheed, and to have Chauncey expertly bait opponents to create the passing lane that would connect Mr. Big Shot to one of Hamilton’s countless curls.

It wasn’t sexy, it didn’t lead to highlights on Sportscenter, but damn if it didn’t work well enough to keep Detroit’s offense humming well enough to stay one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA for eight years.

Of course, there is an unfortunate irony to talking about how Hamilton and the team never quit. It was true ... until it wasn’t.

Hamilton, unfortunately, also personifies the buffoonery of the post-Going to Work Pistons. The ones who walked out on coach John Kuester, who complained publicly and privately while happily cashing checks. Who forced a buyout from the Pistons before fading away during two forgettable years in Chicago. It all goes into the calculus into what Hamilton means to Detroit.

Perhaps, however, it’s also important to think about Hamilton and his place as perhaps the last of an old-guard of players. Before an analytics revolution led NBA offenses to load up on a pace-and-space style that priortized shots at the rim and beyond the arc, there was Hamilton.

Always moving. Down sreens, back screens, cross screens, curl screens. double screens. Hamilton used them all, and at the end he would since a 16-foot jumper and run full-speed down to the other end. For 48 minutes every night.

Not sexy, but it worked. Yessir.