Motor City Magic

The Pistons and NBA spruce up Detroit community center

Dikembe Mutombo shows his building skills with volunteers outside the Butzel Family Center.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing knew when he took office last summer he’d seek the help of his friends at the NBA and the Pistons to help turn the city around.

On Wednesday, dozens of NBA and Pistons personnel heeded Bing’s call, volunteering their time to renovate Butzel Family Center on Detroit’s East side.

Among the former Pistons in attendance were Derrick Coleman, James Edwards, Greg Kelser John Long and Don Reid. Detroit native Tim McCormick, who had a 10-year NBA career, and Dikembe Mutombo, an eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, participated on behalf of the NBA Players’ Association.

“So often when you are successful, when you make a lot of money, when you are a star, you kind of live in a different world,” said Bing, who achieved wealth and fame in the NBA as a Hall of Fame point guard and later as a successful entrepreneur. “And as I see these guys coming back to help out, I want to let everybody know that the NBA, as a family, is involved. They care and they give back.”

Bing’s close friend and Pistons teammate for five seasons, fellow Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, helped coordinate the NBA’s involvement in this initiative between the Pistons, the NBA, the NBA Players Association, the United Way, City Year and the City of Detroit.

“My heart and soul is in Detroit,” said Lanier, who continues to hold the Pistons’ highest career scoring average (22.7 ppg). “My younger years were spent here, I made great relationships here with people. The city of Detroit was a very robust city at that time. It saddens me to see how things have turned. What gives me hope is doing stuff like this.”

Lanier was among the volunteers to help sweep trash away from the outdoor basketball court, which also had its backboards repainted and the surrounding fence repaired. Old nets were replaced and court lines touched up to bring the court into top shape. Nearby, volunteers also added fresh mulch to a playscape and built new benches for the park.

Former Piston Rick Mahorn jokes with Ben Wallace inside a renovated, Pistons themed room.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Inside the center, the technology lab was refurbished with 15 new computers and volunteers painted new murals to decorate the activity rooms, which were outfitted with new amenities like a foosball table, an air hockey table, a basketball pop-a-shot game, and a television.

Pistons owner Karen Davidson, announcers George Blaha and Mark Champion, mascot Hooper and several Automotion dancers were among the 100 volunteers from Palace Sports & Entertainment to accompany the players. Blaha and his Fox Sports color analyst, Kelser, both helped paint murals.

“It’s going to be exhilarating,” Davidson told the volunteers before work began. “There’s nothing like good, hard labor.” She backed up her words, working outside to put fresh mulch around the playscape.

Mutombo, who continues to be one of the NBA’s greatest philanthropists one year after the end of his 18-year playing career, said it is rare to be involved in a community initiative like this in which the mayor himself is present.

“He really cares,” Mutombo said of Bing. “He really wants a change in this city. He wants this city to have a different image.”

Mutombo and fellow Georgetown alum Don Reid kept the mood lighthearted for workers, playfully ribbing Coleman, who attended Big East rival Syracuse, as they rolled wheelbarrows of fresh mulch to the playscape.

“It’s overwhelming and heartwarming to see them invest in the community,” said Butzel Family Center director Cecilia Walker. “It gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling because a lot of these kids don’t feel like being in the presence of legends is even possible. So to have them come here just really makes it real. It’s awesome.”