Remembering former Piston John “Crash” Mengelt

How we remember him: Nicknamed “Crash” for his all out hustle and reckless abandon in diving for loose balls, 6-2 guard John Mengelt was a fan favorite as he electrified the Pistons crowd at Cobo Arena from 1972-1976 with his aggressive style of play. Acquired from Kansas City in 1972 for a second round draft, the former Auburn All-American and 1971 SEC player of the year had his best season with Detroit in 1974-75 averaging 11.0 points per game.

After the Pistons: Sold to Chicago early in the ’76-’77 campaign, “Crash” played four seasons in the Windy City where he also became a fan favorite. After being cut by Chicago, he played one year in Italy before closing the door on his 10 year NBA career with Golden State at the tail end of the ’80-’81 season. For 20 years Mengelt was a play by play basketball color commentator on WGN in Chicago, ABC, and in the mid eighties on Piston telecasts.

Today: He is the owner of Breckenridge Partners, a retained executive search firm based in Northbrook Illinois that he started in the early 1980’s.

On who gave him his nickname: “In a final scrimmage in my rookie year with Cincinnati, Norm Van Lier who was nicknamed “Crash” and I both dove for a ball and we hit heads. Norm ended up with 13 stitches, and I didn’t have any. After the game he said ‘you are now Crash.’”

On his playing philosophy: “ I believe you should play every game like it’s your last and I did that since high school. When people pay you money, they deserve everything you’ve got.”

On his favorite Piston memory: “I can’t pick any one moment out, but what I miss is the unique bonding that takes place on team with people you might not otherwise have a lot in common with. I miss the camaraderie with teammates and the jiving before and after practice. I also miss the fans, but you can’t replace the kind of relationship that develops with a classy guy like Dave Bing.”

On his most memorable “crashes”: In my very first NBA exhibition game, I have an angle on Earl Monroe and I’m going in to lay it up like I did in college. Gus Johnson came out of nowhere and hit me five rows into the bleachers where I fall through the steel. He came over and said, ‘don’t bring that stuff here anymore.’” With the Pistons we were in L.A. and I dove for the ball as Happy Hairston gave me a hip. I went head over heels, and broke Jack Klugman’s nose in the front row. It’s bleeding all over and I said, ‘Geez I’m sorry Jack.’ He said, ‘you can’t tell my nose has been broken ten times?’”

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.