'Yessir!' Rip Hamilton's No. 32 to join Pistons stars

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Just more than a year after Chauncey Billups had his Pistons No. 1 jersey lifted to the rafters, his backcourt mate will be joining him with the honor.

The Pistons will retire Richard “Rip” Hamilton’s number during a halftime ceremony in Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics. It marks the third of the celebrated “Goin’ to Work” 2004 championship team to have their numbers retired, joining Billups and Ben Wallace.

The headband. The braids. The smile.

Now, it’s time for the jersey and the No. 32, feting one of the most unique players of his era, known primarily for his rare mid-range shooting — comparable to the Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller — one of the last of a bygone era.

“He’s one of the best catch-and-shoot guys running off screens that there’s been in my time in the league — and I’ve been around 25 years,” current Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He was really, really tough to defend, not only because he could score the ball, but he could make all the plays.

“Rip could shoot the 3 a little, but he didn’t shoot a lot of them, going back to being one of the real old-school guys in the league, who relied on the mid-range game and was great at it.”

That Pistons group made six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals from 2003-08 and Hamilton was the offensive engine that drove those teams. He was a three-time All-Star and averaged 18.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists during that six-year span, hitting 36 percent on 3-pointers.

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He had good size at 6-foot-6, but his constant-motion, screen-rubbing style was a trademark of that successful group, as were his familiar “Yessir!” responses.

“Rip was a very important and integral piece to that puzzle, one that really fit perfectly with the other parts. He provided that mid-range game that was very important,” said Greg Kelser, Pistons TV analyst.

“He knew his strengths and played to them. He too would expand his range. For that team and what they needed, he was perfect. With Billups, the two of them working together, that was a considerable challenge for any team, having to stop them, and that’s not even talking about the rest of the guys.”

Hamilton, from a tiny town in Pennsylvania called Coatesville, provided inspiration to current Pistons guard Darrun Hilliard, who is grew up about 80 miles away in Bethlehem. There weren’t many models of players making it from outside Philadelphia.

Then came Rip.

“I didn’t really watch him that much in college, but his rookie year and the years at Washington,” said Hilliard, 23. “He’s one of the best. I watched him play with (Michael) Jordan, when Jordan was about to retire and saw him come here and win a championship with the Pistons “It made it more possible — if you see somebody from Coatesville. People wonder where that is and it’s the same thing they say about Bethlehem: I had never heard of Coatesville. He just made it possible in my mind — if somebody can make it out of Coatesville, they can make it out of Bethlehem too.”

While there are plenty of fond memories of Hamilton and the good things he did with the Pistons, his acrimonious departure in the 2010-11 season. His rift with the franchise left a bad taste in the mouths of many with the organization and some fans, but that seems to have cooled in the years since.

Hamilton, 39, played two more seasons with the Bulls, before retiring. Now, he comes back to The Palace, in its final season, to be celebrated and take a place in the rafters among its legends.

“That (departure) leaves a distasteful memory, but time heals — it’s been five years,” Kelser said. “At some point, you go back and remember the good and the positive and do the things necessary to rightfully acknowledge that — that’s what I think is most important.”


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard