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Dave DeBusschere was born to play sports. He was a two-sport standout on the college level in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Wooed by college coaches across the nation, Dave’s abilities were on the radar from a young age. His decision to study in his hometown carried over into his professional play as well. The Detroit Pistons became his first employer in the National Basketball Association. DeBusschere’s performance during his first year was noteworthy, but it did not eclipse the season’s dominant performance by Rookie of the Year Terry Dischinger of the Chicago Zephyrs. DeBusschere’s 6’6” height enabled him to play with a powerful presence in the paint. Most of his scoring opportunities came down to skirmishes won beneath the basket. However, DeBusschere was no stranger to the outside game. He was not afraid to launch attempts from long range. The proof of his abilities often materialized on the scoreboard. Dave’s versatility enabled him to play successfully at both the forward and guard positions.
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One of the best decisions made by the Detroit Pistons Organization during 1964 was the change in leadership. Negativity reigned during Charlie Wolf’s tenure. The team’s confidence plunged with their win-loss record. A coaching shift designed to boost morale and improve the image of the team was in order. Don Wattrick was hired to fill the executive manager’s position. His hiring resulted in Wolf’s immediate removal. A sudden meeting with Dave DeBusschere resulted with his installment in the coaching position. Dave DeBusschere’s hiring as the youngest coach in NBA history sent shock waves throughout Detroit, generating interest and fan support because the hometown boy’s charisma and take charge attitude was a welcome change. His fellow teammates were also pleased by the coaching selection because Dave was one of their own, and he implemented changes in practice techniques and motivational leadership. He was already a respected leader on the court and this eased the transition.
The Piston’s losing trend continued under DeBusschere’s command, but the blood loss was not as severe. The total number of losses during the first successive season was reduced from fifty-seven losses to forty losses, but this statistic can be misleading because statisticians only count sixty-nine games that were played with Dave listed as coach during the season. The following year, the team recorded fifty-eight losses. During DeBusschere’s third season, forty-five losses were tallied. The losing trend contributed to another coaching change.
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DeBusschere’s coaching career with the Pistons was short-lived. He returned to the bench only as a player after Donnis Butcher was hired as his coaching replacement. DeBusschere later reflected, “As soon as I was back on my own again, I had my best season. I was scoring better, rebounding better, defending better and doing everything else better.” The Detroit Pistons were often approached with offers to take Dave out of Detroit. The Pistons refused to strike a bargain with other teams because Dave was their most prized possession. In 1968, however, the tide shifted when Paul Seymour came aboard and took the team in a different direction. The Pistons’ hometown star was traded to the New York Knicks where he spent the remainder of his playing time. Instead of shrinking from the move, DeBusschere embraced a chance to move into a situation where winning was a possibility.
And, the possibility became reality. DeBusschere’s shooting ability ramped up a notch under the new circumstances. DeBusschere, playing the power forward position, added spice to the Knicks’ games. On any given night, an impending twenty points were obtainable when DeBusschere stepped onto the court. He averaged 16.3 points per game during his first season dressed in a Knicks uniform. Wearing the Knicks’ blue supercharged DeBusschere’s career; he was selected for the All-NBA Second Team.
Coach Holzman became aware of the treasure he had acquired in DeBusschere. The first season was a kind of getting to know you phase for Coach Holzman and Dave DeBusschere. The next season Holzman’s defensive scheme depended upon DeBusschere’s defensive expertise. Holzman called on Dave to pound the boards and snag rebounds. He averaged 10 rebounds per game during regular season play. Also on the offensive end of the floor, DeBusschere was credited with an average of 2.5 assists per game. Once the power forward helped his team enter the playoffs, he stepped up his game in post-season play. He averaged 11.6 rebounds during the post-season, along with 2.4 assists per game. The highlights of the Championship Finals were DeBusschere’s outstanding plays on defense while squaring off against the Los Angeles Lakers’ star, Wilt Chamberlain. Shutting Wilt down was Dave’s assignment. A difficult task, but DeBusschere was up to the challenge. The Knicks defeated the Lakers in Game 5 in large part due to DeBusschere’s impressive defensive display. He also let loose during Game 7 and garnered a double double. He racked up 18 points and snatched 17 rebounds. His dogged pursuit of Elgin Baylor also contributed to the Knicks’ victory.
The 1970 win over the Lakers was only the first championship series in which DeBusschere and the Knicks were involved. They returned to win the Championship Series during the 1973-74 season. DeBusschere claimed the top spot in rebounding and was a close second in scoring. He scored 16.3 points per game. The Celtics provided stiff competition during the Series, but the Knicks completed their mission with outstanding play.
DeBusschere started his career as a hometown fan favorite and with his supercharged playing ability and smart take charge attitude, he won over the crowd in his adopted home of New York. His skills heightened the frenzied crowd packing Madison Square Gardens until his final appearance on the hardwood. In 1974, DeBusschere took over his first behind the scenes position. He remained a part of the Knicks operation off the court until his retirement at the beginning of the 1986-87 season.
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