The last man standing got a phone call from the former last man standing.
“Tay, I know you’ve been hearing about the Rudy Gay trade…” Joe Dumars began.
And Tayshaun Prince knew what was coming. After 101/2 seasons, his career as a Detroit Piston was over.
The long, lean, soft-spoken forward already had watched his former championship teammates disappear over the years. Ben Wallace went to Chicago. Chauncey Billups was traded to Denver. Rasheed Wallace signed with the Celtics. Rip Hamilton fell from grace and was waived.
Prince had been the sole survivor, the final guest at a really fun party, the last to remember that sweet celebration over a stunned Lakers team at the Palace in 2004, the last to know how it felt to be Everybody’s Underdog and the NBA’s Champion.
“He was good on the phone,” Dumars recalled Thursday. “It was an hour before the game Wednesday when it came down. I told him if it were up to me it wouldn’t have happened at that time, but there were two other teams involved. He said, ÃÂNo, no, I understand.'”
Did you think about the fact that you were trading the last of the 2004 team, Dumars was asked?
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” he said. “It may be something that scrolls across the bottom of a TV screen to most folks, but these are people’s lives here, man. If you don’t feel something, it’s time for you to be doing something else.”
Legacy of the Bad Boys
Dumars could particularly relate to Prince’s position. Not only were the two men drafted by the Pistons, won titles with the Pistons, and were somewhat similar in basketball demeanor (neither spoke very much as a player, and both were known for their defense as much as their scoring), but just as Prince watched the parade pass him by, so did Dumars witness the departure of every one of his Bad Boys teammates.
Rick Mahorn was stolen in the expansion draft. James Edwards was traded to the Clippers. Vinnie Johnson was waived and went to San Antonio. Mark Aguirre was cut. John Salley was traded to Miami. Bill Laimbeer retired early in the 1993-94 season. Isiah Thomas retired at the end of it.
Only Dumars remained in sneakers.
“I remember that first training camp after Isiah was gone,” Dumars said. “I thought to myself, ÃÂMan, this is really weird.'”
After that, Dumars became more of a leader – as well as a team historian. He was there to tell the story – although most of his new teammates weren’t all that intrigued.
“It sort of skipped a generation,” Dumars said. “After I retired, the next group of guys, Chauncey, Rip, Tayshaun – they wanted to know what it was like.”
Prince has his own story to tell. He can talk about the six straight Eastern Conference finals, the two NBA Finals, the Olympic gold-medal run, playing alongside personalities like the Wallaces or Billups.
It’s a good tale.
But he’ll be telling it in Memphis now.
The challenges of change
Dumars is right. Most trades, to fans, are little more than a scrawl on the bottom of the TV screen. But for the players involved, it’s a total upheaval. Imagine today for Prince, after an entire career in one place, pulling on a different colored jersey, sitting next to guys he has never played with.
“I told him once here – after the old guys were gone – to embrace the change,” Dumars said. “Embrace the newness.
“Tayshaun was such a bright, articulate, very aware guy. He did an excellent job as a leader – especially this year. He did embrace the new guys.”
And now, at 32, he’ll do it again. It’s funny. Dumars drafted Prince in his second year in the front office. He made the call welcoming him to the team.
And Wednesday, he broke the news that he had been traded. Last man standing. Former last man standing. Always intertwined.
“We thought we’d be together forever,” Prince told the media in Indianapolis after the trade was announced. “But slowly but surely a piece would fall, and now it’s a wrap.”
It’s a wrap. I’ve heard several people since this trade was made say, “There goes the last guy I knew on the Pistons.”
Imagine how they feel.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.