Forever A Piston

Stan Novak helped build the Bad Boys

Pistons' Director of Scouting Stan Novak.
NBA Photos/Getty Images
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Before the NBA exploded into a multinational, multibillion-dollar business, franchises were run like a mom-and-pop corner convenience store. And the best ones had a strong leader and a sidekick or two in whom complete trust was warranted.

That’s the way the Detroit Pistons operated in the days when they were sowing the seeds for what would become their Bad Boys dynasty. Jack McCloskey arrived as that strong leader and leaned hard on the two people who made up his scouting department, Detroit legend Will Robinson and a man far more content to avoid the spotlight, Stan Novak.

“Stan was a stay-in-the-back kind of guy,” recalls Oakland University basketball coach Greg Kampe, whose friendship with McCloskey resulted in Kampe working closely with Robinson and Novak in the days when the Pistons would hold their practices in Kampe’s OU gym. “He didn’t want anybody to know what he was doing. He was like a secret agent. He would never take credit.”

Stan Novak, one of the first additions to the Pistons organization made by McCloskey in 1980, died of complications from a stroke over the weekend at 82. A memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday near Novak’s longtime Philadelphia-area home at the Radnor Hotel in St. Davids, Pa.

“There wasn’t a finer human being than Stan,” said Pistons trainer Mike Abdenour, who was with the team when McCloskey hired Novak and remains so today. “I don’t think the guy had a malicious bone in his body. He was a true gentleman and just a real kind individual.”

“What I remember about Stan is that he always had a smile on his face,” said Dan Hauser, executive vice president of Palace Sports & Entertainment. “He was one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life. He was just a real credit to the organization. He was a big asset to the organization at the time it was growing, and Jack relied on him a lot for his knowledge and expertise.

“He was a really, really good man who would come in and sit down, talk a while. In those years, the organization was much smaller than it is today. All the basketball and business people were together in a small office. So we all got to know Stan. He was a great guy, and we all feel bad for his passing. We lost a good man.”

Kampe remembers being in the draft room the day the Pistons added two of the final pieces to the Bad Boys puzzle – the 1986 draft in which they picked up John Salley and Dennis Rodman.

“Jack believed and trusted in Stan,” Kampe said. “When a guy would go off the board and you’d come to the next guy, Stan would speak and people would listen. They had a very close, trusting relationship. They’re the guys who built the Bad Boys – Jack, Stan and Will. It was an experience for me to be around that and see how they worked.

“They drafted Joe Dumars. Joe would not be where he is today without Stan and Will and Jack. If the Pistons had drafted him, I guarantee you Stan had seen him and Stan had liked him. Jack would have never drafted someone if Stan didn’t like him.”

McCloskey and Novak shared Pennsylvania roots. Novak graduated from West Philadelphia High School and the University of Pennsylvania, where he captained the basketball team. He coached 31 years in the Continental Basketball Association and its predecessor, the Eastern League. The league eventually named its Coach of the Year award for Novak.

“He’ll always be a part of the Piston family,” Abdenour said. “Especially for how important he was to building the Bad Boys, he made his contributions to our success. He’ll be missed and I’m sure he’s found a better place that can give him suite service and front-row seats to whatever game the good Lord has up there.”