Rip Hamilton: Love for the NBA evolution

Rip Hamilton (Photo: Keith Allison)

Born on Valentine’s day, former Detroit Pistons shooting guard Rip Hamilton’s love for the game still lives on.

Retiring in 2015 following a foot injury the man himself described as ‘freak’ problem, he’s seen his jersey hung in the rafters and continues to stay involved in the NBA.

Joining the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in their trip to the UK, Hamilton comes from a different era of basketball.

In between the hard-hitting 80s and early 90s and today’s small-ball focus, he joined the league in 1999 – drafted by the Washington Wizards. Heading into the early noughties he joined the team most remember him from, the Detroit Pistons before playing his final years with the Chicago Bulls.

But despite playing the game in a league known for its physicality – he doesn’t believe the league has become as soft as many others think.

Rip Hamilton (Photo: Keith Allison)

Rip Hamilton remembers playing in a much more physical league. (Photo: Keith Allison)

“I think the game is different, I really do. I don’t think it’s soft at all, I just think that it’s different.” he said, in a tone as calm and smooth as his fondly remembered jump-shot.

“The reason I say that is because, when I played and Michael Jordan used to play we used to sit at Washington and say ‘if we could hand check…’¬†because at that time they could hand check and keep their hand on them while defending them.

“We played and you had to release that hand, but you could also be physical and stuff like that.”

Rules in today’s NBA protect offensive players far more than in previous decades. The likes of Steph Curry and James Harden are known for their finesse. Their ability to evade defenders, and when those players ‘rough them up’ they head to the free throw line.

Hamilton’s Pistons side was far, far different – and one which he believes could have cut it against the current NBA champions – given that it was played in the way he remembers.

“It would be all about match-ups.” he laughs, knowing that many who listen to him might give a chuckle of their own having seen the current star quality the Warriors possess.

“It would be tough, they play so fast and they can score. They can score an abundance of points in a small amount of time.

“But if it was us [the Championship winning Pistons], we would definitely have to slow the game down, definitely make it a half-court game.

“Me and Chauncey [Billups] talk about it all the time, whoever Steph Curry was guarding, we would take him in the post, slow the game that way, get him in foul trouble early and try and get him out of the game.

“Because offensively he’s too good, he can shoot the ball too well.

“Draymond Green, who’s he going to guard? Is he going to guard Rasheed Wallace? And if he is on Rasheed Wallace we’re attacking him every time down the court.

“It would be all about trying to get those guys in foul trouble and get them out of the game and then that way we could dictate the pace by slowing the game down and getting to the free throw line.”

Hamilton’s love of Wallace is evident throughout the interview. He would be a man suited to today’s league given his long-range shooting ability and highly competitive attitude.

Rasheed Wallace is a man Rip Hamilton fondly recalls (Photo: Keith Allison)

Rasheed Wallace is a man Rip Hamilton fondly recalls (Photo: Keith Allison)

In so many ways he can compare to Draymond Green, but the two shared just a single season in the league.

But Hamilton believes that going head to head, ‘Sheed would have the upper hand on the versatile forward.

“We had great guys coming off the bench like Mike James and Lindsey Hunter who were physical defenders.” he remembers.

“I always look at the match-ups, like they’ve got great guards, and our backcourt was considered the best of the best at that time and then you throw in a guy like Rasheed Wallace?

“I don’t think they have anyone on that team that could guard ‘Sheed.”

Of course, even over a decade following their success, the league’s evolution is something that Hamilton is aware of – and something which he thinks would dictate any result against the Warriors.

“Honestly, it depends what type of rules we’re playing at, if the referees allowed us to hold and grab, and play physical like we did, I don’t think they [Golden State] would have a chance.” he said.

“But if we’re playing in the new age rules right now? I don’t think we’d have a chance.

“And that’s honest because the game is wide open right now. But when we played, you could grab and you could hold. It was much more of a physical game.”

But whilst his recognition of the Warriors is blatant, you may be surprised to hear that Hamilton doesn’t think that they’ll be heading for the NBA Championship for a second straight season.

Instead it’s their bitter Eastern Conference rivals, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who he honestly believes will be smiling come the end of the playoffs – even with them chasing the number one seed in their conference.

“I’m still going with the Cavs, I think that they’ve got a lot of veteran players on their team that have Championship pedigree.” He said.

“You have Dwyane Wade right now, sometimes people look at how he’s playing now, but he’s a guy that when the big stage happens – especially the playoffs he knows how to step up.

“Lebron trusts him, knows where he’s going to be at on the floor. Then you add a guy like Isaiah Thomas who’s probably one of the better fourth quarter scorers in the game.

“They’ve got a lot of great defenders that they’ve picked up, they picked up Jae Crowder, they picked up [Jeff] Green, guys that can play multiple positions.

“I think for them, they’re all about trying to match up with the Golden State Warriors. If they figure out a way to not try and outscore them, but out-defend them, I like their chances.”

Lebron James is a man Hamilton is backing to win another ring this season (Photo: Keith Allison)

Lebron James is a man Hamilton is backing to win another ring this season (Photo: Keith Allison)

The harsh truth for NBA franchises is that success isn’t defined by records, memorable highlights or big names. It’s defined by Championship wins.

The 39-year-old is aware of the critique regarding his former side, who won ‘just’ a single title in their time together. But he’d also willingly trade some of their numerous trips to the conference finals for trips to the ultimate stage.

“When you talk about history it’s all about how many championships you win.”

“For us as players, us going to six Eastern Conference Finals was like ‘we don’t care about it’.

“It’s not something that, we want somebody to say ‘you guys were great, you went to six Eastern Conference finals’. No, we don’t like that at all.

“We wish that we only went to two, because that’s the two years we won.

“One we went and beat the Lakers and one we lost to San Antonio. The six to us really doesn’t mean anything because we wanted to win the whole thing.”

So whilst his love for the game is still evident, it’s obvious that for Rip Hamilton winning is what really helps that love prosper…

BouncyOrangeBall would like to thank Dean Cruickshank for gathering these quotes from Rip Hamilton in relation to this feature.

Luke Hatfield is the creator and editor of BouncyOrangeBall, with an extensive knowledge of the NBA and basketball in general.

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