The star player noticed things on the court that he shouldn’t have been able to see.
Dave Bing won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year honors (1967) and league scoring title (1968). He landed on seven All-Star teams (1968, 1969, 1971, 1973-76) and secured the MVP award in one of those games (1976). And after cementing productive seasons with the Detroit Pistons (1966-75), the former Washington Bullets (1975-77) and the Boston Celtics (1977-78), Bing unquestionably earned spots in the Naismith Memorial Hall-of-Fame (1990), the NBA’s Top 50 (1996) and the league’s subsequent 75th Anniversary Team (2021).
Bing reached these milestones despite nursing vision problems in both of his eyes throughout his 12-year NBA career.
“I had an injury that I never overcame,” Bing said. “I just had to live with it.”
Bing learned that tough lesson early in his life. As a young child, Bing played a game of stickhorse that accidentally ended with him falling on a stick that went through his left eye. Bing’s parents could not afford for their son to have an operation. So, the family hoped that Bing’s eye could just heal naturally.
Bing recovered, but he still struggled with his eyesight. It hardly prevented him, however, from seeing the ball, the court, his teammates and opponents on the court. Bing excelled well enough in high school (Spingarn in Washington D.C.) and college (Syracuse) that the Detroit Pistons selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 1966 NBA Draft.
Bing still fielded skepticism about his vision and whether he could still attack the basket with his listed 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame against taller, bigger and stronger players in the NBA. His Rookie of the Year and scoring title proved otherwise. So did Bing’s appearance on the All-NBA’s First Team (1968, ’71)
Once again, though, Bing began the 1971-72 season eliciting more concerns about his vision. In an exhibition game against the New York Knicks, teammate Happy Hairston accidentally poked Bing in his right eye. Two days later, Bing needed an emergency operation before doctors advised him not to play again. Bing determined, “If I can see again, I can play again.” So that was that.
“I had to change my game totally,” Bing said in the video below. “I became more of a point guard than a scoring guard. Fortunately, and God willing, I was able to play another seven years.”
Bing may have struggled with blurred vision, but he maintained a positive and clear outlook on life. Bing lost depth perception and even admitted that he recognized his teammates more for their uniform colors than their actual faces. Yet, that hardly seemed noticeable to any teammate, coach, opponent or fan that watched Bing perform.
Just look at the footage below of Bing’s 32-point performance against the Boston Celtics on Nov. 8, 1974. Bing attacked the cup and canned pull-up jumpers. He fed teammates with sharp passes, while also deftly playing on and off the ball against both single and double teams.
Bing hardly looked like a player who had vision problems. Instead, his opponents seemed to have more problems sensing where he would turn up on the court. Bing camouflaged those challenges well. He couldn’t hide his frustrations, however, with the Pistons franchise. Detroit accommodated Bing’s trade request to play for Washington so he could play in his hometown, play at a faster pace and play for an NBA championship.
The hometown fans became pleased enough with Bing’s play that they voted him as a starter in the 1976 All-Star game in nearby Philadelphia. Bing admitted in the video below that he “had mixed emotions.” On one hand, Bing appreciated the nod. On the other hand, Bing said he felt Phil Chenier and Calvin Murphy deserved the spot more than him.
Bing hardly gave fans any buyer’s remorse. He won the 1976 All-Star MVP after scoring all of his 16 points in the second half. A microcosm of his NBA career, Bing scored with his silky smooth outside shot and with unrelenting confidence attacking the basket.
Bing’s return to his hometown did not go as planned, however. The Bullets released Bing following the 1976-77 season where he averaged a career-low in points per game (10.6). The Celtics picked him up after both parties accepted he would take a reduced role. Bing then retired after one season.
In 1983, Bing had his No. 21 jersey retired and was voted as the greatest Detroit Piston of all time. But Bing was just getting started in having a successful second act in the Motor City.
Just like he did on the court, Bing had the ability off the court to turn challenges into success stories. With the city of Detroit struggling with crime, poverty and a depleted manufacturing sector, Bing became intent on overseeing the city’s economic comeback.
Bing founded “The Bing Group,” a major auto industry steel supplier that employs over 1,100 people. Overseeing a Black-owned company, Bing opened the plant in the actual city instead of the suburbs for a specific reason. Bing sought to hire those that were either unemployed or underemployed. As Bing explained in the video below, he sought to oversee a company that could equally prioritize its profits, employees and quality products. Bing’s city-wide leadership expanded when he became Detroit’s mayor from 2009-13.
And, to think, Bing once repeatedly fielded skepticism on whether he could play basketball with limited vision and if he could help the city of Detroit as both a businessman and politician. But Bing stubbornly did things his way, and he had the vision to ensure he followed a winning path.
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