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‘I’m a Piston’: Jersey retirement astonishes Hamilton

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Even on the day his Pistons jersey was being retired, Rip Hamilton still was in disbelief.

It’s quite the honor, but especially after the way things ended with the Pistons and he signed with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent in the 2011-12 season, Hamilton didn’t think a day like Sunday would come.

The Pistons raised Hamilton’s No. 32 to the rafters at The Palace, joining those of “Goin’ to Work” teammates Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups, along with several other greats in franchise history.

He tried to reflect on the significance in his pregame press conference, but the words still didn’t come easily.

“It’s crazy because when they retired Ben and Chauncey’s then you read the press clippings that I would be coming up next, it’s one of those things you still don’t believe. Really?” Hamilton said. “When I got the phone call from ownership and they let me know they were retiring my jersey, I didn’t have any words.”

But the Pistons’ career leader in postseason scoring and one of the major offensive pieces in that 2004 championship team got the nod as well. The other four members of that 2004 starting squad, Billups, Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace, and their coach, Larry Brown, all sat courtside along with Pistons owner Tom Gores.

And for a while, all seemed sour, with the way Hamilton departed in 2011 — after feuding internally with the organization, including team president Joe Dumars before the trade. Hamilton retired from the NBA in 2013 and it seems that time has healed the wounds, putting him back in good graces and getting the honor.

“When I left here, I didn’t leave on good terms — and I kicked myself in the butt each and every day I was in the locker room with that Bulls uniform on,” Hamilton said. “I said, ‘This isn’t me — I’m a Piston.’

“This is an organization I’ve been competing with and going at the (Bulls’) Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordons. It was bigger than basketball when I put that Pistons jersey on.”

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

Hamilton, 39, is happy to be welcomed back with open arms, with the ownership change and Gores looking to pave the way by reaching out to try to rebuild the relationship. It’s something that reminded Hamilton of his mother, and just growing up and sometimes learning things the hard way.

“What I realized is Tom is just like my mom. My mom always said, ‘You never turn your back on family, no matter what the situation,’” Hamilton said. “That let me know Tom is a real one because he never turned his back on family — and I’m just happy to be part of this time.”

Hamilton said he got to spend time with his former teammates on Saturday night and early into Sunday morning, telling stories and reminiscing. When his family arrived at The Palace on Sunday, it was nostalgic to take the same route that he had taken when he was a player, bringing back more emotions.

But the largest impression was on Hamilton’s children, who got the chance to see their dad in his element, back at The Palace, where he made his mark with the Pistons.

“For me, it’s bigger than basketball — I have little kids. Deuce is 9, Parker is 6 and Payton is 4. They never got an opportunity to experience the sellouts here, when we were winning each and every year and the championship and things like that,” Hamilton said. “For me, the biggest reward of all is bringing my kids in this building, seeing what daddy did each and every day, understanding how daddy went to work, understanding the fans and Detroit and everything about this city.

“I’m just happy they can be a part of this moment.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard