Bing offered the Pistons yet another clean slate, a fresh starting point in changing the narrative of an organization known more for its intrinsic bungling. It made no sense that they waited 17 games before finally starting him for the first time—November 18 against the Los Angeles Lakers at Cobo Arena.
Player-coach Dave DeBusschere’s rationale was that the rookie needed time for acclimation. But it wasn’t long before everyone realized the natural maturity and leadership that belied Bing’s lack of NBA experience. He was already vocalizing his concerns during practice when players weren’t properly running the correct plays.
There were rumblings that DeBusschere kept using Bing off the bench as long as he did because he felt threatened that this rookie was usurping his power as the team’s top player. It was part of the fraternal hazing in sports, veterans putting the neophytes in their proper place.
Owner Fred Zollner wondered why DeBusschere waited. It’s not as if the Pistons were a genuine playoff contender. They stunk. They’d still reek regardless of whether or not they entrusted a rookie as their starting point guard. Just throw him out there. Let him learn. Let him grow.
There wasn’t much public interest in the introduction, either. Cobo was half empty, even with the popular Lakers as a visiting draw. But Bing got the attention of everyone there, scoring a game-high 35 points, with some of those numbers coming in dazzling fashion. Lakers’ star Gail Goodrich, in his second year out of Wooden’s UCLA program, drew the defensive assignment of staying with Bing. He required a GPS. Most of the evening, he couldn’t find the speedy rookie; the only evidence that Bing was in the vicinity was the trail of rear exhaust. There was an explosiveness in Bing’s play that neither the Pistons nor their fans had ever witnessed before. Bing was a smooth scorer, but speed was the primary element of his game.
“There was nobody who could keep up with me,” Bing said. “I’m not saying that I thought the game was easy just starting out, but I thought there was a facet of my game that some of these guys already in the league hadn’t seen before. I could outrun anybody.”
Bing’s play was an indication of what was to come in the NBA in the coming years with the addition of more athletic, exceptionally quick guards capable of bringing a more exciting off-the-dribble dimension to the professional sphere. NBA games in 1966 were not typically played at an accelerated pace. The style of play was slow, stodgy, and predicated on positioning and designed movement. This style was sold as selflessness, dedicated to the concept of team. But the integration of lightning quick backcourt players such as Bing with a strong handle and deadly eye would change the look of the NBA.
The new athleticism—a term that was code for black—would change the game. But like most change, it encountered resistance. And a strong prejudice against black players still existed, a biased underestimation of their mental acuity and ability to handle the responsibilities of controlling the game from the point guard position.
In addition to his 35 points, Bing had seven assists and eight rebounds in his starting debut. Moreover, he made an impression. Laker great Jerry West praised Bing after the game and assured the young rookie that he had a great future ahead of him. West marveled at how Bing always seemed in control. That simply wasn’t natural for a first-year player. The point guard, charged with distributing the ball and getting his teammates involved, was also able to easily adapt to being the primary scorer when necessary.
Bing averaged just over 25 points a game in his first 10 starts. And the Pistons won 6 of those 10 games, including beating the ubiquitous Celtics in three of their four meetings during that 10-game stretch.