In what turned about to be one of the worst trades in Detroit Pistons history, on September 6, 1979 the Pistons traded two first round draft picks to Boston and acquired five time All-Star and future Hall of Fame scoring forward/center Bob McAdoo as compensation for the Celtics signing M.L. Carr who had averaged 18.7 points and a league leading 197 steals for Detroit.
When the deal was announced, second year Piston head coach Dick Vitale was ecstatic and said that with the addition of McAdoo “we’re now playoff contenders” even though the team had been a perennial sub-.500 team and were in a rebuild. At the press conference Vitale said: “I just hope and pray this is his last stop and that the only uniform he ever plays in is one of a Detroit Piston.”
Former NBA MVP and Rookie of the Year
At the time, McAdoo, the NBA Rookie of the Year in ’72-’73 and the league MVP in ’74-’75, had averaged 27.4 points per game, third highest all time behind Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He also was the NBA scoring leader for three consecutive seasons from ’73-’74 through ’75-’76 while playing for the Buffalo Braves.
At 6’ 9” McAdoo possessed powerful offensive skills including post moves, turnaround jumpers, and bank shots that helped the former North Carolina All-American became one of the NBA’s greatest scorers from the center and power forward positions.
With the Pistons playing in their second season in the cavernous Pontiac Silverdome in front of sparse crowds, McAdoo joined a lineup that included future Hall of Fame Center Bob Lanier, rookie and former Michigan State star Greg Kelser, and three players who had starred for Vitale at the University of Detroit, John Long, Terry Tyler, and Terry Duerod. Only Lanier, Leon Douglas, Eric Money, and John Shumate remained from the ’77-’78 squad.
As it turned out, McAdoo was of no help as the lowly Piston’s misfired right out of the gate going 4-8 as Vitale was summarily fired by owner Bill Davidson and replaced by Richie Adubato.
After a 7-16 start McAdoo told the Detroit Free Press, “This is the first time I’ve been on a team losing like this.”
The season continued to be a disaster as Bob Lanier, who missed six weeks due to a broken finger was traded in February and soon McAdoo, disillusioned with the Piston’s fortunes asked to be traded. On March 4th, McAdoo suffered a pulled rectus muscle and battled with a bone spur and missed much of the remaining season.
The Pistons finished in the cellar at 16-66, still, the worst record in franchise history while McAdoo, who only played in 58 of the 82-game season had a scoring average of 21.1%, far below his career average of 27.4.
The next year McAdoo would only appear in six games of the ’80-’81 season due to injuries. Ultimately the Pistons decided not to play him.
Pushed out by younger players
Some thought McAdoo was a malingerer and didn’t want to play for Detroit. McAdoo, in the last year of a five year $525,000 per year contract at one point claimed he was ready to play but Piston’s GM Jack McCloskey said the team wanted to give more minutes to younger players.
On March 5th, The New York Times reported that Larry Fleisher, general counsel for the NBA and Bill Madden, McAdoo’s lawyer tried unsuccessfully to convince McCloskey to change his mind. The league then gave the Pistons until the next Monday to allow McAdoo to play and if the Pistons refused, they would ask for expedited arbitration.
The Times reported that Madden thought the Pistons were either truly concerned about McAdoo’s health, that they might be manipulating his contract for next season or that they might prefer to finish last and be involved in the coin toss for the first selection in the college draft.
McAdoo told the Times that he didn’t want to play in Detroit the next season, saying:
”I just want to be on a team that will still make it fun to play,” he said. ”I do not want to be the scapegoat on anybody’s team anymore. I don’t want to be the one guy they blame when they lose.
”My main concern now is being with a championship team. I have had all the individual awards that any player in the N.B.A. can possibly want. Now I want to be the right piece in the puzzle that makes everything click.”
Finally, on March 13th, after being placed on waivers by Detroit, the New Jersey Nets claimed McAdoo who only ended up playing 10 games for them.
Championship years for Lakers
Despite a growing reputation as a sometimes malcontent when playing on different teams, as luck would have it for McAdoo, on Christmas Eve 1981 the Lakers sent a 1983 second round pick to the Nets in exchange for him. McAdoo went on to become a valuable reserve player off the bench helping Los Angeles win world championships in 1982 and 1985 before ending his 14 year NBA career on seven different teams after one season in Philadelphia in 1986.
McAdoo went on to play in the Italian League from 1987-1992 and is now in his 28th season with the Miami Heat where he has been an assistant coach and is currently in his eighth season as Scout/Community Liaison.
Now, 71, in 2000 McAdoo was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and in in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He was elected to the NBA 75th Anniversary team in 2021.
Although his short-lived time with the Piston’s was a major disappointment for everyone, it does not take away from Bob McAdoo’s legacy as one of the greatest shooting big men in NBA history.