Terry Duerod, legendary Detroit basketball player and city firefighter, dies of cancer at 64

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Here's what you need to know about Terry Duerod.

The guy had range — especially on the basketball court as one of the most-prolific shooters in Detroit history.

"He had range," said Dick Vitale, Duerod's coach at the University of Detroit, and then later with the Detroit Pistons, "the minute he stepped out of the locker room."

Terry Duerod runs through drills as a Detroit Piston in September of 1979.

And Duerod had range in life — most notably, transitioning after college and professional basketball, to a second, nearly three-decade-long career as a firefighter in the city of Detroit.

Duerod died Friday morning at the age of 64, surrounded by friends and family at his home in Westland. He quietly battled leukemia for the past seven months, and was in hospice care for the last week.

Few friends knew he was sick, other than his best friend, former teammate at Detroit, Earl Cureton.

"He's like a brother to me," said Cureton, 63, who played at Detroit Finney before Detroit, and had known Duerod since they were both teens, never meeting in high school but facing off against Duerod in several all-star and pickup games at St. Cecila's. "He was a great guy. He's always been the same person, ever since I met him. A guy you could trust, a guy that was always a man of his word.

"If he said he was gonna do it, then he always did it."

Duerod certainly did a whole lot in his basketball career, starting at Highland Park High School, which he led to a state championship in 1975 before he went on to Detroit.

He was a significant "get" for Vitale; Duerod was recruited and signed by assistant David "Smokey" Gaines, who died in September. Known as "Sweet Doo" during his Detroit days, he played for the Titans from 1975-79, finishing with 1,690 points, which was fourth when he graduated and now is sixth all-time. He continues to be in the top 10 in Titans history in field goals (790) and attempts (1,542).

He helped lead Detroit to the NCAA Tournament in 1977 and 1979, and the NIT in 1978.

Terry Duerod (42), Dick Vitale and Detroit celebrate a victory over Arizona in 1976.

In 1977, the Titans won 25 games, including games against Michigan State, Arizona on a last-second shot, and eventual national champion Marquette in Milwaukee. Detroit  then beat Middle Tennessee State, 93-76, in the NCAA Tournament, before losing to Michigan.

That year's success earned Vitale the job as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, which springboarded him to an eventual rich life as a Hall-of-Fame broadcaster.

"He played a vital part of my career," Vitale said. "It just tears your heart out.

"I'm heartbroken, to be honest with you."

His senior year, Duerod was an All-American, averaging 23.3 points. He scored 47 in one game against CCNY. This was before the 3-point line. When he'd make a basketball, the Calihan Hall P.A. announcer would bellow, "Doooooooooo-rod," a precursor to, "Doooooooooo-mars" for the Pistons' Joe Dumars.

Duerod entered the Detroit athletics Hall of Fame in 1993, and in 2017, he had his No. 42 retired by Detroit in 2017, the seventh Titans player to receive the honor. Vitale was among those in attendance.

"As a kid, you see that happen and you never think that will happen to you," Duerod told The News before the ceremony. "That's like a dream. I'm still dreaming."

Former Detroit coach Bacari Alexander called Duerod "Detroit sports royalty" in a Twitter post.

Terry Duerod with Dick Vitale in 2017.

The Pistons, then coached by Vitale, drafted Duerod, a point guard, in the third round of the 1979 draft. In a five-year NBA career, he played for the Pistons, Mavericks, Celtics and Warriors. He averaged 9.3 points, shooting 47.2%, as a rookie with the Pistons, who extended condolences on social media Friday.

He was left unprotected in the 1980 expansion draft, and picked up by the Mavericks. Playing with the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, he won an NBA championship with the Celtics, for whom Duerod was a fan favorite, in 1981. Bird credited Duerod for his famous step-back move.

After the NBA, Duerod played for the Detroit Spirits of the Continental Basketball Association and briefly played overseas.

Then came his second act as a Detroit firefighter, with Engine 55 at Joy Road and Southfield on the city’s northwest side. He took the test in 1989.

The decision to become a firefighter, he said, was simple: pro basketball didn't pay that much back in those days, and he needed to make some money.

“He’s one of the best (fire engine operators) I’ve ever ran with,” Sgt. Roberto Romero told The News in 2016. “He’s really competitive, which is probably why he’s so good at what he does.

"Nobody will beat him to a fire, that’s for sure.”

Firefighter Terry Duerod

Duerod quickly fit right in with his new teammates, of course playing on the department's basketball team, which, with him, won 100 championships. He also learned to cook so he could make meals for his coworkers. He specialized in fish and steak and chicken, and was a frequent shopper at Detroit Eastern Market. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get Cureton to start cooking, chiding him, "You're going to starve." If Duerod ate something and didn't know how to make it, he'd learn — and, Cureton said, always make it even better than the original.

Duerod was forced to retire from the fire department, per the city's age rules, in 2016, when he turned 60. He did the job for 28 years.

Even after his second retirement, Duerod stayed plenty active, though, in the UD community and at home. He got into home improvement, particularly during the pandemic. He had just built a closet. He had just put in a fish pond.

"There was nothing he didn't excel in," said Cureton, who was best man at Duerod's wedding, while Duerod was godfather to Cureton's daughter, Sari. "There were just so many great things about him.

"There was nothing he couldn't do."

Duerod, who was born in Royal Oak, and wife Rosemary were married for 38 years.

Funeral arrangements were pending Friday afternoon.

George Hunter contributed


Twitter: @tonypaul1984