1989 Detroit Pistons: Where are they now?

Clockwise from left: Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas in the NBA Finals; Dennis Rodman after his career; Rodman wrestles away an rebound from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA Finals; and team captain Isiah Thomas at a reunion for the 1989 NBA Champions.

Can you believe it’s been 30 years since the Detroit Pistons won their first NBA title? It’s true. And though the years have slipped by, leaving us all a bit older, the memories of that famed Detroit team remain. The Pistons won a franchise-record 63 games that season (a mark since surpassed), and dispatched three teams on their way to a return to the NBA Finals. Their rematch with the Lakers was a yawner, as Detroit swept the defending champs to complete their quest for the trophy.

The Bad Boys are one of the most memorable teams in sports history. They played the game differently, they had a swagger, they ushered in a new era of defense. They changed the game of basketball and made Michigan the center of the hoops world for a few years. The characters on that team, Zeke & Buddha & Horn & Lams & Spider & The Worm, are impossible to forget.

Here’s a look at each member of that team, what they did after their careers, and where they are now.

Mark Aguirre

Aguirre was a childhood friend of Isiah Thomas, so when the Pistons traded Adrian Dantley for him on February 15, 1989, it was a reunion of sorts. The deal shocked Detroit fans and removed Dantley, a clubhouse presence that threatened the balance of the team. Detroit went 31-6 after making the trade and Aguirre became a valuable scorer off the bench, giving Detroit a threat with his jumper or his post moves in the paint. He scored 19 points in a crucial Game Five win against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals and won another ring in 1990 with the Pistons. He played in the NBA until 1994 and averaged 20 points per game. He currently plays a lot of golf in retirement.

Adrian Dantley

His exit in the Aguirre trade was controversial, but it was the correct move. Dantley’s low-post scoring was effective, but it brought the Detroit offense to a grinding halt. After his departure the team moved the basketball more fluidly and they Chuck Daly was able to move Dennis Rodman into the starting rotation. Rodman’s defensive intensity sparked the team.

Dantley was bitter about the trade for years, and he’s never returned to Detroit to celebrate the season with his teammates. He and Aguirre remain rivals of sorts, in ESPN’s documentary on the Bad Boys, Aguirre spoke poorly of Dantley, who refused to participate in the project. Perhaps AD got the last laugh: he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, while Aguirre has not received that honor.

Dantley was an assistant basketball coach at then-Towson State from August 1993 to 1996. Dantley later worked for the Denver Nuggets as an assistant coach for eight seasons. He briefly served as the team’s head coach during the 2009–10 NBA season, filling in for George Karl, who was fighting cancer. In his spare time, Dantley now tutors young players in Maryland, where he resides.

Darryl Dawkins

The man they called “Chocolate Thunder” served as an elder statesman and team leader for two seasons in the Motor City. He rarely got into games, but when he did, fans gave him a great ovation for his previous success as one of the NBA’s most electrifying dunkers. After his NBA career, Dawkins briefly played for the Harlem Globetrotters, before moving into broadcasting roles here and there. He was the head coach of the American Basketball Association’s Newark Express. He was also the player/coach of the Winnipeg Cyclone, a team in the short-lived International Basketball Association in 1999–2000. Dawkins was also the head coach of the Allentown, Pennsylvania-based Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs of the United States Basketball League until they folded.

Dawkins was the first player from the Bad Boys to die, passing away after a heart attack in 2015 at the age of 58.

Fennis Dembo

The Pistons chose Dembo in the second round of the 1988 NBA Draft. A star at Wyoming, Dembo was a dynamic scorer from the small forward position in college. Unfortunately, Dembo’s skills never translated to The Association, and he only played the one season. He made the playoff roster and briefly got into one game in the NBA Finals. After the Pistons released, Dembo, he played nearly ten years in Europe and the CBA. Later, Dembo worked a variety of odd jobs, including as a prison guard and a maintenance worker. In 2003, he shot and killed an intruder in his home, and was shaken by the incident. No charges were filed, but Dembo took the time to reflect on his life and returned to school to get an engineering degree. He currently lives in the San Antonio area.

Joe Dumars

When Dumars was growing up in Louisiana, he idolized Isiah Thomas. When he was drafted by the Pistons, it was a dream come true. The pair went on to combine to form one of the greatest back courts in league history. With his tenacious defense and rainbow jump shot, Dumars forged a Hall of Fame career. He was the NBA Finals MVP thirty years ago. In the latter years of his career he transitioned to point guard where he played in the back court with Grant Hill.

Dumars spent nearly 14 seasons as President of Basketball Operations for Detroit, where he achieved remarkable success. The Pistons won the NBA title in 2004, as Dumars became the first african american general manager to lead a team to a championship. The Pistons repeated as conference champions and made six consecutive conference finals and won six division titles under Dumars. He left the position in 2014, but recently returned to the front office as a special advisor for the Sacramento Kings.

James Edwards

Edwards was known for his quiet personality, fu manchu mustache, his “Buddha” nickname, and fall-away jumper. He averaged 12.7 points in a 19-year career spent with eight teams. Edwards was a reliable and nearly unstoppable low-post scorer off the bench for both of Detroit’s NBA titles with the Bad Boys. Edwards lives in Detroit in retirement where he occasionally does speaking engagements and consults with local businesses.

Steve Harris

Harris was a former first-round pick out of Tulsa who played shooting guard for the Warriors and Rockets. In December of 1988, when Joe Dumars was sidelined with an injury, the coaching staff brought Harris in as an option off the bench. With Isiah, Vinnie, and Micheal Williams ahead of him on the depth chart, HArris saw little game action. His NBA career ended in 1990 with the Clippers. In 2016, Harris died of colon cancer at the age of 52.

Vinnie Johnson

Like Edwards, Vinnie Johnson was instant offense off the bench, which is why he was called “The Microwave.” In 13 seasons the long-armed guard with the line drive jumper averaged 12 points in 24 minutes per game. Johnson formed a fantastic three-guard rotation with Zeke and Joe D, a trio that created matchup problems for every opponent. After retirement, Johnson remained in Detroit where he has operated several successful businesses while providing jobs in the inner-city.

Bill Laimbeer

No one personified the “Bad Boy” image more than Laimbeer, a confident, steadfast player who got every ounce of ability out of himself and helped the Pistons to their first two titles. Laimbeer had a wide body, thick legs, and even though it seemed like he couldn’t jump more than an inch off the floor, he was a rugged rebounder and interior defender. With Thomas, he was one of the primary leaders on the Pistons in that era.

After his playing career, Laimbeer started a box company in inner-city Detroit, which operated until 2000. He accepted a position as head coach of the Detroit Shock in 2002 and the following season he led the team to the WNBA title. Laimbeer and the Shock won two more titles in the decade as he established himself as a successful coach. Laimbeer expressed his desire to become an NBA coach and his name was linked to openings, but he never got an offer. He currently serves as head coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA.

John Long

A longtime favorite in Detroit, Long was near the end of his successful playing career when he returned to the Pistons during the 1988-89 season. In his first stint with Detroit, which lasted eight seasons from 1978 to 1986, Long averaged 16 points per game while using his patented “rocking motion” jump shot. The 32-year old played sparingly off the bench during the regular season, made the playoff roster, and was successful on his only field goal attempt in the NBA Finals.

Long played his final game in the NBA when he was 41 years old, before embarking on a career as a radio analyst for the Pistons, a position he has held for nearly twenty years. He still lives in Detroit.

Rick Mahorn

With Laimbeer, Mahorn served as one of the enforcers in the paint for the Bad Boys. With an occasional elbow and his big backside, Mahorn was an intimidating force. He averaged seven points and seven rebounds per game in the 1988-89 season for Detroit. Shortly after the team won the title, Mahorn was drafted by the Timberwolves in the expansion draft. He spent the remainder of his career in Philadelphia and New Jersey before coming back to Detroit for a second stint.

Mahorn found a job as part of the Pistons’ radio broadcasting team in the early 2000s before accepting a position as assistant coach to Laimbeer on the Shock, where he won three WNBA titles. He later succeeded his former teammate as head coach of the Shock, circled back as radio announcer for the Pistons, and currently serves as head coach in the BIG3 three-on-three basketball league founded by Ice Cube.

Pace Mannion

As the season dragged on in the early months of 1989, the Pistons needed some front court assistance to chew up some reserve minutes after both Rick Mahorn and John Salley suffered minor injuries. Mannion was brought in for a pair of 10-day contracts and appeared in only five games, getting into only 14 minutes of action. The following year he did essentially the same thing for the Hawks and that was the end of his NBA career. Mannion lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he operates his own business consulting business.

Dennis Rodman

Of all the Bad Boys, Rodman had the most interesting career after the championship seasons. In the 1990s, Rodman evolved into an even more dominant rebounder and defensive player. He was twice named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was named seven times to the first-team NBA All-Defensive Team, and he led the NBA in rebounds every season from 1992 to 1998. He won three more titles after leaving Detroit and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Since his NBA career ended in 2000, Rodman has been busy, and sometimes it feels like he’s done it all. He’s been an actor, an author, had a movie made about his life, and he’s even dabbled in politics, forging a friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He currently lives in Florida and Las Vegas and still gets his name into the news, as happened recently when he slapped a man at a bar in South Beach.

Jim Rowinksi

The former Purdue walk-on (and Big Ten MVP) was signed to a pair of 10-day contracts late in the season to provide big man insurance off the bench. He got into six games for the Pistons and scored exactly zero buckets, though he did sink 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. The Sixers signed him a week after Rowinski’s second Detroit contract expired. Rowinski lives in Florida, where he works in health care as a recruiter.

John Salley

The Pistons drafted Salley in 1986, the same draft that produced Dennis Rodman. The pair quickly emerged as a dynamic young duo off the bench, blocking shots and rebounding. Salley was one of the most outgoing and funny men to play in the NBA during his era, serving as an ambassador to the media and fans. He was the first player in NBA history to win championships with three franchises, as well as the first player (and only one of two, the other being Tim Duncan) in the NBA to win a championship in three decades.

Salley briefly had his own TV talk show after his career and has dozens of credits in TV and movies. He resides in Miami with wife and is an active advocate for a vegan lifestyle and healthy living.

Isiah Thomas

The leader of the Bad Boys and the greatest small guard in NBA history, Thomas drove the Pistons to the top of the basketball world and two titles. He selflessly surrendered his own scoring to help the team become champions. In 1990 he was named NBA Finals MVP. An injury ended his career in 1994, but he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame and also named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.

Thomas had a strange and controversial career after his playing days, but he remains a legend in Detroit. He was an executive with the Toronto Raptors, a television commentator, an executive with the Continental Basketball Association, head coach of the Indiana Pacers, and an executive and head coach for the New York Knicks. He was later the men’s basketball coach for Florida International University for three seasons from 2009 to 2012. In early May 2015, amidst controversy, Thomas was named president and part owner of the Knicks’ WNBA sister team, the New York Liberty.

Micheal Williams

The youngest member of the ’89 champs, Williams was a Pistons’ second-round selection in the 1988 NBA Draft. Williams was a traditional point guard, which meant there was no opportunity for him to get much time on the court with Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars handling the ball. He only spent the one season in Motown, getting into 49 games and averaging seven minutes. He went on to play a decade in the NBA and had some decent years with the Pacers. Williams set an NBA regular season record with 97 consecutive free throws made. He returned to his native Texas after retiring from the NBA and operates a commercial construction business.

Chuck Daly

Chuck Daly was the perfect coach for the Bad Boys: polished on the outside but burning on the inside with an intense desire to win. In his nine seasons in Detroit, “Daddy Rich” led the team to a .633 winning percentage, nine playoff appearances, three division titles, three conference championship titles, and a pair of NBA titles. He was adept at handling the egos in his locker room, as well as the rigors of a long NBA season.

Daly resigned after the Pistons lost in the first round of the 1993 NBA Playoffs. The following year he coached the Nets where he returned that team to the playoffs. He finished his career with the Magic later in the 1990s. His final record showed 638 wins in the NBA, a .593 winning percentage and twelve playoff appearances.

Daly was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2009 and died on May 9, 2009, at the age of 78. He is buried at Riverside Memorial Park in Tequesta, Florida.

Jack McCloskey

The architect of the team, McCloskey was a maverick who followed his own blueprint to build a stifling defense-first team that won two titles. McCloskey drafted Isiah Thomas, which was a no-brainer, but he also drafted two other future Hall of Famers: Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, neither of whom were household names as college players. He traded three players to get Bill Laimbeer in the early 1980s, and his gutsy trade for Mark Aguirre was the final piece of the puzzle for the Bad Boys.

“Trader Jack” left the Pistons after the 1992 Playoffs, and later served in the front offices of the Minnesota Timberwolves (1992–1995), and the Toronto Raptors (2004). In 2008, McCloskey had his name honored in Detroit, with a banner raised at The Palace of Auburn Hills. He died in 2017 at the age of 91.

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