Spider and Worm

Visits from Salley, Rodman to stir memories for Pistons fans

John Salley and Dennis Rodman were the duo that helped bring championships to Detroit.
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I know I’m not the only one looking forward to the visits over the next two weekends – John Salley on Saturday night for the Indiana game and Dennis Rodman next Friday for the Chicago Bulls – at The Palace from two of the central figures on the great Bad Boys champions. I know Pistons fans old enough to remember those title teams are going to have a lot of memories stirred and emotions brought to the surface by their returns.

When I think back to the time they were drafted, I was so convinced Jack McCloskey was going to get it right as I looked at the upsides of both of those guys. He felt like if there was one thing the Pistons needed, it was some guys who could get after people defensively, play above the rim and fly up and down the court.

And when I first saw these guys, I knew exactly why he liked them. They added an entire new dimension to the Pistons. In fact, the Pistons were so good by the end of that 1986-87 season it was scary. I’ll tell you how scary. John McLeod, who later broadcast games with me and was coaching a very good team in Dallas at the time, told me every coach in the league suddenly feared the Detroit Pistons on some level.

Once Worm and Spider were added, the Pistons had all the bases covered. The veterans were still young and these guys were like racehorses. You didn’t have anybody with anywhere near middle-age miles on them and you had these two young guys who could absolutely fly.

John Salley, of course, came from a Georgia Tech program that among the best in the country at that time, so everybody had seen him play on TV a bunch. But none of us knew a lot about Dennis Rodman, except that he had a reputation as a great rebounder.

At the time, Dick Motta was broadcasting games with me. When we saw Dennis in the preseason, Motta – and here’s a guy who’s on the Hall of Fame ballot himself – said he could be an outstanding rebounder in this league. The next time we did a game – still in the preseason, remember – coach Motta said to me, “George, I have to tell you, this guy is going to be the best rebounder since Bill Russell.” He said that after seeing Dennis twice in the preseason.

I think all the rebounding titles back up what Dick said. It didn’t take us long to realize that Worm was the real deal. And the players always said he was such a great athlete that if you gave him 45 days with a world-class coach, he could win an Olympic medal in some event or another. He was just freakish in that way and wanted so much to be a good teammate that he would do whatever you asked him to do and then some.

John Salley was, like all the rest of the Bad Boys, a great teammate and a very intelligent player. He brought so much smarts to the table and was willing to accept his role. One of them, other than blocking shots and getting up and down the court and causing matchup problems, was making the last-second shot on the shot clock.

When they ran plays all the way down to about five seconds and didn’t have anything going on, they’d throw it to John. That’s a tough position to be in, but I bet if we could go back and track those times he made about 65 percent of them as the last option. He could make shots. And demoralize the opposition when he did.

Spider was a very funny guy. He had such a quick wit. He had a way of phrasing things in a way you wouldn’t forget them. One of his great contributions was the nickname he hung on Chuck Daly when he said “our coach dresses like a millionaire so we call him Daddy Rich.” That will forever be the late, great Chuck Daly’s moniker. Chuck loved all his players, but I know he had a special spot in his heart for both Dennis Rodman and John Salley and the feeling was mutual.

They were so much a part of those championship teams. They weren’t called the X-factor for nothing. They brought the Pistons up to a world championship level as soon as they laced them up for the Pistons.

Witness what happened in 1987. If it weren’t for one unfortunate pass that Larry Bird picked off and a collision between Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson in a Game 7, the Pistons would have been in the Finals in their rookie year. And with all their skill and new-found athleticism with Worm and Spider, they might have won it that year.

They were the last real pieces that needed to be added to the puzzle to make the Pistons one of the greatest teams of all time and that’s really saying something about two young players.

That’s why there will always be a soft spot in my heart for that entire team, including Worm and Spider. When you think about the Bad Boys being one of the greatest teams of all-time and you think about the fact those are probably the two guys who put them over the top, just to see them again will be great.

I saw John earlier this season – he’s a great guy, certainly a friend and somebody who deserves all the success in the world. He’s an entertainer these days and a darn good one. We all know he was an entertainer back in the day, as well. For Dennis to come back, as emotional as he is, and have his number retired, will be a great way for the Pistons to give back to him for all the blood, sweat and tears he gave to the Pistons in making them champions. I’m looking forward to seeing both of these great Pistons come back to The Palace.