Coming off screens and knocking down mid-range jumpers like it was his day job.
Scratch that, it was his day job.
I’m talking about Richard Hamilton, perhaps better known by his moniker of “Rip.”
Recently, Hamilton told the Detroit Free Press that he thinks the Pistons of his era should have won “three or four” NBA Titles. Safe to say that they couldn’t have challenged for so many had it not been for Rip’s talented game.
He was acquired by the Detroit Pistons from the Washington Wizards in September of 2002 in the highly publicized Jerry Stackhouse trade.
The reaction of many fans to the move, including young fans like myself at the time, was that the Pistons were sacrificing most of their ability to win in the immediate future to build a winner for the long-term future.
There was also a sect of Pistons fans that thought that then-Detroit GM Joe Dumars was crazy for making the move.
Stackhouse had become a fan favorite in the Detroit community, and not only for his impressive play in those ugly teal uniforms. He also became well-known for his advocacy of diabetes awareness, which even brought him to my grade school of St. Thecla in Clinton Township, Mich., for a speech on the matter.
Boy, were fans wrong for criticizing the trade, though.
“Stack” made two All-Star Games with the Pistons, and after leaving Motown, never made another one the rest of his career. In contrast, Hamilton became a three-time All-Star over the course of his nine seasons in Motown (2002-03 until 2010-11).
Subsequently, “Rip” is a nickname that forever will be a part of Pistons lore. For a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, his extremely efficient shooting from two-point range helped the Pistons make six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances from 2002-03 until 2007-08 as well as two straight trips to the NBA Finals in 2004 and 2005.
During the Pistons’ six-season stretch of ECF appearances, the University of Connecticut product made 47.5 percent of his two-point shots while also shooting 46.3 percent from the field.
Secondly, Pistons fans will never forget the dynamic duo that he formed with fellow Pistons backcourt mate Chauncey Billups.
To no surprise, the three seasons when Rip proved to be the most efficient from two-point range (from 2005-06 until ‘07-08 when he shot no worse than 48.3 percent on his mid-range shots), his backcourt partner Billups put together the three finest seasons of his NBA career as a facilitator. Billups averaged more than six and a half assists each season, with a single-season career-high in dimes during the 2005-06 season (8.6 assists per game).
The same three seasons equate to the three campaigns in which Rip was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
There was no finer 1-2 punch in one backcourt during this time. Rip and “Mr. Big Shot” complemented each other like peanut butter and jelly. Like peas and carrots. Like 8 Mile and Eminem.
And if you want further proof of how well the strong play of Billups complemented Hamilton during their peak seasons in the Motor City, just take a look at Rip’s Player Efficiency Rating.
It was never lower than 18.1, and it was at 18.2 during two of the three seasons (in ‘05-06 and ‘07-08).
Billups made it “easy like Sunday morning” for Rip to perform at his highest possible level.
And when the two-pointers were dropping like they often were for Rip, it made it that much easier for Billups to connect from downtown.
In fact, during the peak years of Rip’s two-point shooting prowess, Billups recorded his best single season as a three-point shooter. It came in 2005-06 when he knocked down 43.3 percent of his three-point chances.
Those were the indelible, lasting marks that Rip made on the franchise from a pure basketball perspective, and they’re the reasons why Rip is set to be the next former Piston to have his jersey retired, following teammates Billups and Ben Wallace.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the fan-centric aspect that makes Rip one of the most iconic Pistons of all-time.
His trademark facemask.
Rip originally wore it during the 2003-04 season after breaking his nose, which he did twice that season and once before in 2002.
According to the Pistons’ NBA.com page, Hamilton was advised to wear the mask for the rest of his career or risk having to undergo significant nasal reconstructive surgery.
Guess what? Rip embraced wearing it, and became just as well known, if not more well known, for wearing it as did his two-point shooting prowess.
He made it cool for young kids to wear a mask to protect their noses, and it became as trendy as donning Ben Wallace’s afro at a Pistons game or around town.
If any kid felt different or was getting bullied at school because of wearing such a mask, he or she could always look to Rip, and see how much fun he was having on the basketball court despite the mask’s presence on his face.
Along with Billups and Big Ben, Rip helped provide the Pistons with the tough edge that formed Detroit’s identity during one of the most successful eras in franchise history.
But just leaving that as Rip’s legacy would sell him short.
His superb shot-making ability from inside the three-point line was so crucial to a team that didn’t always feature the most superb offenses. And you bet he had a heck of a lot of fun in knocking down mid-range jumpers, especially when they came against the Nets, the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat and other rivals of the Pistons at the time.
Yet, his 4,352 field goals and 3,939 two-pt. FGs with the Pistons — good for No. 6 and No. 7 in franchise history, respectively — don’t fully define him, either.
Lurking beneath his cool, calm exterior, Hamilton had an engine that was always running. Hamilton had one speed – all out, and he never seemed to stop moving on the court.
“He’s got some kind of sickness because he never gets tired,” Billups said. “I don’t understand it. It’s crazy. He’s a freak of nature.”
Opponents tired of chasing Rip around the court as he ducked around screens and sprinted across the baseline.
“He never stops. He is like a little Energizer bunny,” said Lakers forward Devean George.
There were many layers to the player Rip was, and because of that, the “masked man” will go down as one of the most iconic Pistons of all-time.