By: Jamie Samuelsen
Tayshaun Prince played for the Pistons for more than ten seasons. His arrival coincided with the start of six straight runs to the Eastern Conference Finals. He won a title. And he authored the single most memorable play in the past decade of Pistons basketball and perhaps the greatest play in franchise history (although Vinnie Johnson might have something to say about that.)
And on Wednesday night he left town for good. And Detroit barely peeped.
Perhaps that’s a slight understatement. The reaction was mostly positive. Fans were thrilled to have the last two and a half years of Prince’s contract off the books allowing a ton of cap space for this summer. And many celebrated Prince’s departure only lamenting the fact that it took two years longer than it should have.
In short, the man played here a long time, played hard, played well and won. And yet he leaves town as one of the more underappreciated athletes in recent memory. It’s not fair to say that he was unpopular. I don’t think too many fans disliked Prince the way that some disliked Darko Milicic or Joey Harrington. But I never saw too many #22 jerseys rolling around the Palace. On the night Prince was traded, there was a great shot on the Pistons broadcast of a fan who was searching for his hero to come running out of the tunnel in Indiana. And when the fan realized that Prince was gone, he ripped off his jersey in frustration. I think we all had the same reaction to this video when we saw it – Tayshaun Prince actually had a loyal fan?
If I’m being too harsh, I apologize. Perhaps I’m misreading the room. But in this town where Red Wings role players like Kris Draper, Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby were treated like royalty after distinguished careers, it seems odd that another role player (and a far more important player) like Prince gets such little fanfare. After all, Prince departs the Pistons after playing in the fifth most games in franchise history. He’s also 8th in scoring, 5th in three-pointers and seventh in blocked shots showing off just how versatile he was. Normally, Detroit loves the blue-collar guy who might not excel in any one area, but does all the little things well.
Here are a few theories why Tayshaun never truly became the Palace Prince.
1) Demeanor – Let’s face it; Prince didn’t exactly bring joy to the floor. He was constantly holding out his arms looking for a foul call and never seemed satisfied with any of the officials who called the Pistons games. It probably didn’t help that he was baptized in this league with teammates like Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Richard Hamilton. All of those players had a penchant for expressing their dismay with every call at every turn, and Prince was no different. But all of those players also brought a certain flair or personality to their individual games. Prince did not.
2) The fifth Beatle – The Pistons in those glory years had stars. Chauncey Billups was the front man. Ben Wallace was the heart and soul guy. Richard Hamilton was the gunner. And Rasheed Wallace was the attitude. Prince just happened to be the fifth guy out there. The ultimate indignity came in the 2006 All-Star Game when the other four players were all selected to the game. This isn’t to suggest that Prince deserved to be an All-Star, but it was a clear separation among the starting five.
3) Overstayed his welcome – The best case scenario for everyone involved would have been if Prince had left when his contract expired following the 2011 season. The rest of the starting five were gone (although Ben Wallace had returned). The sale of the team from the Davidson family to Tom Gores was complete. And the fans had fled away from the Palace after a few years of losing basketball and player revolts against the coach. Prince wasn’t to blame, but he was there as the good turned to bad, and it was clear that the fans had turned on the players as well. But Joe Dumars brought Prince back on a four-year/28-million dollar contract. As far as contracts go, it was one of the least popular in recent memory. Dumars clearly felt loyalty to Prince and wanted his leadership for the rocky transition. The fans simply wanted to turn the page.
The Pistons retired five jersey numbers from players from the Bad Boy era. It will be interesting to see how they handle this era in the future. (Gut feeling – Ben’s a lock. Chauncey is right on the line. The rest won’t get the honor.) So once again, Prince probably won’t be fully appreciated for what he did with the Pistons. But Prince will return to the Palace on February 19th with the Grizzlies. They’ll replay the Reggie Miller block and the game-winning shot against the 76ers. And maybe, just maybe Prince will crack a smile (something we haven’t seen very much). And all will be forgiven and appreciated.
But until then, he leaves town as a misunderstood, underappreciated vital part of a championship team. And in a way, I think he’ll be missed.