The Best Sidekicks in Detroit Sports History

Clockwise from top left: Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas; Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker; Johnnie Morton and Herman Moore; Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio.

Everyone needs a pal. Batman had Robin. Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson. Wayne had Garth. Putin has Trump.

The sidekick has been around a long time, and it’s evident in all parts of society, especially in sports. Some of the most famous sidekicks in sports have been: Lou Gehrig (to Babe Ruth), and Scottie Pippen (Michael Jordan’s lesser shadow).

Notable contemporary sidekicks include Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors, and Gioncarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge of the Yankees.

Let’s look at the greatest sidekicks in Detroit sports history. I think this is bound to spur heated debate, so be sure to share this article and comment below or on our Facebook page.

The first name will be the “Han Solo,” the second name is the “Chewbacca.”

9. Jack Morris (Dan Petry)

In the 1980s these two were at the top of the Detroit rotation, and in 1984 when the Tigers won the World Series, they combined for 37 wins.

Morris was the better of the two, winning more games in the 1980s than any other pitcher in baseball, but Petry was no slouch. He made the All-Star team once and averaged 14 wins per season from 1980 to 1984.

8. Bill Laimbeer (Rick Mahorn)

The 1980s Pistons came to be known as “The Bad Boys” largely due to the tough play of this duo. Laimbeer was the wide-bodied center who could knock down a three-pointer or an opposing guard. He was the most hated man in the NBA. Mahorn loved to use his hips and prominent backside to move players out of the lane. Together they were the enforcers for the Pistons when they won the 1989 NBA title.

7. Herman Moore (Johnnie Morton)

For about five years in the 1990s, Moore and Morton were the best wide receiver duo in the National Football League. The pair combined for eight 1,000-yard seasons, and in 1997 they combined for 184 catches and more than 2,300 yards. At one point Moore held the record for catches (123 ) in a season and the pair caught at least one pass each in 59 straight games.

6. Kris Draper (Kirk Maltby)

Among the great duos in the history of the Red Wings, Draper and Maltby might have been the most badass. Draper was the center on the “Grind Line” which featured Maltby and Joey Kocur as the wings. Draper was known for his ability to win faceoffs and Maltby and Kocur were bruising, rugged enforcers.

5. Henrik Zetterberg (Pavel Datsyuk)

During the Red Wings run of success in the first decade of the 21st century, Zetterberg and Datsyuk were on the same line, where they utilized their fast skating and shooting skills. Both players honed their skills in eastern Europe in a wide-open style of play, which translated very well to the NHL. In 2008 they led Detroit to their most recent Stanley Cup title.

4. Dick LeBeau (Lem Barney)

When Lem Barney arrived in training camp with the Detroit Lions prior to his rookie season in 1967 he met Dick LeBeau, a star defensive back. Almost immediately the two combined as a shutdown unit in the Lions’ secondary.

Barney was essentially replacing Dick “Night Train” Lane, a star cornerback who retired a year earlier. With Barney on one side and LeBeau on the other, the Lions presented a puzzle for opposing quarterbacks. It started immediately: in Barney’s first game he intercepted the first pass thrown in his direction and scampered for a touchdown. All the sweeter was the fact that the pass was thrown by Green Bay’s Bart Starr.

In their six seasons together LeBeau and Barney combined for 68 interceptions, 38 by Barney and 30 by LeBeau. Both players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

3. Gordie Howe (Alex Delvecchio)

On the second “Production Line”, Gordie Howe was teamed with a young, clean-cut skater from Fort William, Ontario. Delvecchio assumed the center position between Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.

While Howe was dominating the NHL with his rugged style of play, Delvecchio played with finesse and was considered one of the most honorable players in the league. He was durable too, missing only 14 games over the last 16 seasons of his career.

2. Alan Trammell (Lou Whitaker)

Now we’ve drifted onto shaky ground. With Trammell and Whitaker we’ve got two co-equals rather than a Batman and a Robin. But…it’s tough not to think of them side-by-side like the crime-fighting dynamic duo in the middle of the diamond.

Trammell and Whitaker made their major league debut on the same day, got their first hits off the same pitcher, and often batted one-two in the Detroit lineup. They spent 19 years together and are as connected as peas and carrots and Bert and Ernie.

If you look at the stats in depth you’ll see that Trammell and Whitaker were of comparable value, and in fact Sweet Lou may have been the better player. But perception trumps reality, and Tram’s in the Hall of Fame while Whitaker is not.

1. Isiah Thomas (Joe Dumars)

One of the great superstar/sidekick duos in sports history, this duo formed one of the most talented back courts in NBA history. Together they helped the Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989-90.

As a kid growing up in Louisiana, Dumars idolized Isiah, so when he was drafted by Detroit in the first round of the 1985 NBA Draft, it was a dream come true. Rather quickly it became apparent that Dumars was going to make an impact. His stifling defense, ball-handling, and rainbow jump shot made him an NBA All-Star.

Isiah and Dumars are both in the Hall of Fame, their years together with the Pistons shaped a generation of basketball in the Motor City.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a web producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.