Remember "Rip"? He was an integral part of the team the last time the Pistons won the NBA championship, back in 2004. As the starting "shooting guard", he could ball handle, pass, grab a few rebounds, was lethal at the free-throw line, and did I mention he could shoot the lights out?
While on the court, the man never seemed to stop running, especially without the ball. His motor never ran out of gas. Even after suffering a couple broken noses -- which resulted in him eventually wearing a protective mask -- he took the licking and kept on ticking -- just like the old Timex commercials.
Hamilton was used to winning. After all, in college at UConn they'd won the NCAA title in 1999, and he was the MVP of the tournament. After 3 years of purgatory with the Washington Wizards in the NBA, he got a big break being traded to the Pistons, where their fairly new GM, Joe Dumars, once a shooting guard himself, was in the process of building a champion. Passing on some guy you've probably heard of named Dwyane Wade to take "Darko" in the draft was a huge blunder, of course, but other than that, Joe D made some pretty shrewd moves to obtain other players that everyone else around the league seemed to undervalue. And it worked. Rip would be a champion again.
Following 2004, the Pistons remained pretty good for a few years, but could never quite seem to get over the hump to another championship. Somebody else was always just a little bit better. Along the way, Hamilton surpassed Isiah Thomas as the leading playoff scorer in Piston history. No small feat.
But then things started to go wrong. The Pistons began their not-so-slow descent from the mountaintop to the ditch. Fingers were pointed every which way, and Hamilton got caught up in it. Some say he quit hustling, and maybe even became a locker room "cancer". Regardless, there was definitely serious friction between him and the coaching staff. Rip went from a starter to the last guy on the bench. The "doghouse", if you will. Many games, they wouldn't even throw him a bone during garbage time of "blowouts", either way. Something had to give.
And it did. Just last December, the Pistons waived him. As in waving him good-bye. See ya. They got absolutely nothing in return. Three days later, the Chicago Bulls signed him to a 3-year $15 million dollar contract.
No, barring injuries, Rip likely won't start for them either, because they're loaded with young talent at the guard positions, notably Derrick Rose, the reigning MVP. Yet Hamilton has become seriously relevant again coming off their bench to contribute in a large way. At the not-so-ripe old age of 34, it's as if someone has put some octane booster in his tank because, on the court, he's back to running just like he once did for the Pistons.
The Pistons are still in the ditch, and Hamilton finds himself with an elite team that has as good a chance as any to win an NBA championship in Chicago. And $15 million isn't exactly chump change.
Yep. He's a winner.
Perhaps the next time the Pistons visit the Chicago Bulls' United Center, and are getting blown out by 20-30 points, in no small part due to Rip's contributions, the person in charge of the sound system could fire up a song for poetic justice. No, not Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust". The Detroit Lions tried that a while back, and that's just what they eventually did -- for a very long time.
I'm thinking Patsy Cline's "Who's Sorry Now?" would be very appropriate, in more ways than one.