Often calm in the eye of the storm, Chauncey Billups was an unlikely orchestrator for an unlikely Pistons team that found itself contending every year during his prime.
Days before turning 38 years old, Billups knew it was time for his long, winding journey to end, as opposed to latching onto a contender for one more shot at a title.
He admitted he could often fight off the stress of high-intensity playoff basketball but Father Time is undefeated.
"My body, it's the best I've felt in three years," Billups said. "It's ironic. It's how I hoped and prayed I would feel like this when I walked away. It feels weird, but it's a relief.
His number 1 jersey hanging in The Palace rafters should be part of his near future, along with conversation that should merit consideration for nomination to the Naismith Hall of Fame.
"It's just time."
The best of times
His Detroit career reads like a multi-platinum recording artist, where every song, every album is a registered hit, a Motown classic.
In six seasons, Billups made sure fans made the long trek to Auburn Hills an annual rite of spring and early summer. Coaches changed, personnel changed but Billups was a constant, the maestro with the ball in his hands as time wound down and the Pistons played into June every year.
"I put on for that organization, that city," Billups said. "I really did."
Joe Dumars and Rick Carlisle believed he could be a full-time point guard and leader when they courted him in the summer of 2002. Billups' history of bouncing around since being drafted in 1997 (Boston, Toronto, Orlando, Denver, Minnesota) before finding a home in Detroit preceded him.
When he arrived, "Smooth" was Billups' only nickname but within months of putting on a Pistons jersey, "Mr. Big Shot" followed soon thereafter, courtesy of buzzer-beaters against Atlanta and Golden State at the Palace.
While other teams had taken flak for not being able to unlock Billups' potential, he candidly admits "I wasn't ready."
"My game wasn't mature enough. I'm not surprised at all it didn't work (elsewhere)," Billups said. "Joe and Rick, they did their homework and they knew what they were getting. They could've gotten other guys. It wasn't surprising at that point because I was finally ready."
Billups quickly differentiates between his own individual game and the team success he said wouldn't have happened had he stayed in Minnesota, making way to what he called "the perfect marriage" between himself and Detroit.
"Words can't describe what my time in Detroit meant. It was a perfect marriage for me," Billups said. "There was a need for me. I felt like I needed the team like they needed me."
He wanted to be valued, which at the time the Pistons did by giving him a six-year contract. What he couldn't foresee, though, was the adulation that came from being a Piston.
"I couldn't have done it in a better fan base. A more appreciative base," Billups said. "I'm a basketball player. I'm not gonna give exciting basketball. If you know ball, you'd love me and appreciate me."
"If you wanna sell tickets you won't appreciate me. The fan base, they know basketball. When they fell in love with me, I fell in love with them. I did it for the right reasons. Not for the stats, but for the way I played."
Going to school
If Carlisle gave him the freedom he so desperately craved, Larry Brown harnessed the energy into a more balanced force — one where Billups' most important attributes were his eyes and ever-sharpening mind.
"Me and LB, we had an adjustment period we had to get through," Billups said. "It was never nothing personal. Just on the court. He never coached a scoring point guard. He doesn't like 3-point shots. You know we'll have an issue. But we talked through it."
Ben Wallace was the foundation, Richard Hamilton provided scoring, Rasheed Wallace brought the attitude, Tayshaun Prince added glue, and Billups proved to be the most important piece of a championship puzzle, when the Pistons were in the conference finals for six straight years (2003-08).
Billups ran circles around Gary Payton and Derek Fisher on his way to winning NBA Finals MVP in 2004 (21.0 points, 5.2 assists), in a five-game romp. They returned a year later, falling just short against the Spurs but stayed in contention every year.
"We made it look easy. We were there every year. We set the bar high but it wasn't easy," Billups said. "We had a bullseye on our back every year. People, we weren't surprising anybody any longer."
But Billups was surprised when he was traded in the 2008-09 season, back to his hometown of Denver. Although coming home was one thing, he was initially bitter about being uprooted from the place he finally called home.
Billups said: "Of course, everybody knows, even the people from Denver where I was born and raised, if I had my way, I would've finished my career as a Piston. If it was my choice.
It sent him back to a nomadic existence, as he wore three more jerseys before coming back to finish out his career last season. It wasn't where it began but Detroit left the biggest imprint.
"I have no bitter feelings at all," Billups said. "With the way my career ended, with the way it started, it happened the way it was supposed to happen. No bitter feeling at all."
His basketball career is merely turning a page, not at full completion.
He's made no bones about his desires to be a front office executive well-known, but is beginning to hedge on coaching.
"Maybe I'll feel I'm not affecting the game enough," he said while still making it clear it's a distant third. "The front office is one, the other is TV, either TNT or ESPN. I got a few fires in some situations."