clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Syracuse men’s basketball: A look at the impact of Orange legend Dave Bing

Bing didn’t know what to expect when he first arrived at Syracuse. Six decades later, he’s cemented an unsurpassed legacy.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Detroit Mercy v Syracuse Photo by Nate Shron/Getty Images

Attacking the rim was always Dave Bing’s great attribute. On the court, it transformed him into one of Syracuse Orange men’s basketball’s iconic legends and one of the NBA’s greatest players.

That mindset, however, was more than just an on-the-court basketball tactic for Bing: it was his meaning to life. Off the court, Bing ran the point as a successful entrepreneur, businessman, politician and philanthropist.

Bing visited the Syracuse University campus on February 17 for a conversation event hosted by the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, his home college. Four months following that visit, Syracuse Athletics announced that Bing would join Orange legends in the “Ring of Honor.”

NCAA Basketball: USA TODAY Sports-Archive Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Ring of Honor features some pretty familiar faces like Jim Boeheim, Jim Brown, Pearl Washington and Ernie Davis - the man who convinced Bing to join the Orange in the first place. Reflecting on his time in Syracuse, Bing cherished two things at his alma mater: the people and the relationships.

“We were like family and we still are, and then (I) look back and and I can say, ‘you know, we had a lot of good times here in Syracuse,’” Bing said.

Coming to Syracuse was life-changing for Bing, paving the way for all the career accomplishments that followed as explained in his book Attacking the Rim: My Unlikely Journey from NBA Legend to Business Leader to Big-City Mayor to Mentoring Guru.

It also proved to be the start of a unique journey, something rare during Bing’s upbringing.

Bing was born in November 1943, and grew up in the inner-city of Washington, D.C. a majority-Black area which he described in his book as the poorest section in the area. He enrolled at the newly-created Spingarn High School in 1958, four years after the landmark civil rights cast Brown v. Board of Education declared “separate but equal” to be unconstitutional.

Segregation in schools and generally was, at least on paper, illegal. That didn’t mean it turned out that way in practice. Look no further in Syracuse than the destruction of the once predominantly-Black 15th Ward, or the ever-controversial I-81 highway which still makes headlines today.

Black players like Bing turned saw basketball as opportunity after growing up admiring the great Los Angeles Lakers forward Elgin Baylor, who also played at Spingarn. Bing turned to the hardwood and never looked back, despite his young love with baseball, ultimately committing to Syracuse over teams like Michigan and UCLA.

Dominic Chiappone

Why Syracuse? Bing kept it pretty straight forward.

“I knew I was going to play.”

The blue-chip level of program Syracuse became during the heights of the Boeheim era was nowhere to be found when Bing arrived to campus in 1963. The Orange finished 8-13 overall in 1962; the year before that, Syracuse finished with an embarrassing 2-22 record - the program’s worst winning percentage ever. The situation didn’t help itself when the Syracuse Nationals, now the Philadelphia 76ers, played their final game in 1963. A city suddenly lost the only basketball identity it really ever had up to that point.

Miraculously, Syracuse football shined during the 1950s and 1960s thanks to legendary coach Ben Schwartzwalder, the other legend joining Bing in the Ring of Honor next year.

But the state of the basketball program? Practically nonexistent. That is, until Bing came to town.

Bing played 76 total games for the Orange in three seasons from 1964 to 1966, averaging 24.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game as a skinny but undeniably gifted player. He also averaged 6.6 assists per game in the 1966 season, which is when the NCAA began tracking the statistic.

The consensus first-team All-American guard pushed Syracuse to a combined 52-24 record, including an Elite Eight berth in that 1966 season. The Orange wouldn’t advance that far in the NCAA Tournament again until 1975, two years before Bing’s former college roommate and teammate Jim Boeheim took over as head coach.

The Syracuse portion of Bing’s career was pretty straightforward. His next chapter, however, was an interesting one.

Bing desperately wanted to play for the New York Knicks, only miles away from his alma mater. Before the days of ping pong balls and live draft lottery shows on ESPN, the two worst NBA teams flipped a coin to determine who got the first pick. The Knicks took Michigan phenom Cazzie Russell, while Bing was taken second overall by the Detroit Pistons - Syracuse’s second-highest draft selection ever behind Derrick Coleman and one pick ahead of Carmelo Anthony.

Bing admitted he was disappointed at first, but made the most of the opportunity. Bing’s NBA accolades range from great to superb to unthinkable. His most impressive: leading the league in total points as a sophomore ahead of Baylor and the great Wilt Chamberlain. Ditto for winning the 1976 All-Star Game MVP against the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry, Nate Archibald, Elvin Hayes, John Havlicek and Dave Cowens.

Bing played 12 seasons in all with the Pistons, the Washington Bullets and the Boston Celtics. He’s currently one of just 15 NBA players to average at least 20 points and 6 assists per game in his career, joining a list that features the likes of Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and LeBron James.

Interestingly, Bing could’ve kept going. He was a free agent in the 1978 season, the same offseason where the Celtics landed NBA great Larry Bird in the draft. Red Auerbach, Boston’s well-known general manager, wanted him back.

But Bing was humble about his basketball career and, unlike previous stars who didn’t know the right time to call it quits, Bing did.

“For a dozen years I had been fortunate enough to be spotlighted in professional sports, a dominant culture in American life, excelling at one of its favorite games. But to me the game had always been about much more than fame, honor, or statistics. It was about being with my teammates and closest friends through thick and thin, testing myself in game after game against the best in the world and embracing the thrill of competition as an essential feature of my life. And now all that would be entirely gone,” Bing wrote.

He made his mark on the league forever, eventually ending up on the NBA’s 50th anniversary team in 1996 and the newly-created 75th anniversary team in 2021.

He also left an imprint in the city of Detroit forever.

Detroit resembled a lot of the characteristics Syracuse dealt with during the sixties and seventies, a Rust Belt city struggling with immense poverty, a steady decline since the war-time economy of World War II and persistent racism.

Bing soon ran the point as a businessman in Detroit, starting up his own company called Bing Steel and becoming so successful that he received the National Minority Small Business Person of the Year by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1985.

But Detroit was a city economically devastated and filled with corruption. Its previous mayor - Kwame Kilpatrick - resigned after being charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. Bing became the new mayor in 2009, and sought to turn the city’s prospects around.

“The reason that I wanted to be in Detroit was to help the people that needed help, that needed jobs and nobody cared about,” Bing said.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Eric Seals via Imagn Content Services, LLC

After his term in office, Bing founded the Bing Youth Institute, a nonprofit organization which mentors fatherless Black children in Detroit. The program has served four graduating classes and has a 100-percent high school graduation rate, with 80% of the students in college. His work as an entrepreneur and activist turned Bing into one of two recipients of the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award, a tribute to athletes who made contributions to civil and human rights in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, alongside the great Julius “Dr. J” Erving.

It was hard to fully capture what Bing meant as a pro athlete, Syracuse alum, basketball great and general human being. Personally, I don’t think anybody said it better than Mike Tirico in the foreword to Bing’s book:

“In covering sports, we come across greatness often, but we rarely see those stars become Hall of Famers long after the game has ended. In Dave Bing, we have found one, Tirico wrote.”

Bing will officially be recognized in the Ring of Honor at some point during next year’s basketball season, and he will always holds a special place in his heart for the Orange.