The NBA’s Boston Celtics are headed to the finals for their sixth straight year, but it hasn’t always been easy.
In a recent episode of the podcast “Bill Simmons Podcast”, former NBA player and current 76ers president Jerry Colangelo revealed that he routinely had to take nap stops on his way to playing against Gervin. The reason? George was always running up and down the court, or beyond it in pursuit of steals. Eventually, Colangelo said he began looking for excuses not to play against him – ones that would result in taking a break from battling Gervin every nightOn the off chance you’re reading this, Derrick Rose is probably your favorite NBA player. Maybe not that much of an accomplishment – he’s arguably the best basketballer to ever play in his league after all – but nevertheless it’s a career highlight worth celebrating on its own merits., Although for many players George Gervin was their first professional superstar they would see as a child, I’ll never forget my favorite moment with him. That moment was during sixth grade when St. Cecilia High School won our district championship game against St. Bernard Parish High School by one point and ultimately lost in overtime because of me missing two free throws at the end..
George Gervin is an American basketball player who was born in San Antonio, Texas. He played for the NBA from 1971-1986 and had a career scoring average of 26 points per game.
Isiah Thomas, a Chicago native, not only struggled with being forced to play for the Detroit Pistons early in his career. He also had to wrestle the Motor City from Detroit native and Hall of Famer George Gervin.
Magic Johnson was to East Lansing what the Iceman was to Detroit. Gervin, in addition to being one of the finest players in NBA history, endeared himself to the local community by performing at a renowned church gym on Detroit’s west side.
As a Chicago native, Thomas recognized the depths to which he would have to go in order to exceed Gervin’s legendary position in the Motor City. There were several runs at St. Cecilia’s as well.
When the Pistons picked Isiah Thomas in 1981, Detroit was still owned by George Gervin.
For most of the 1960s and 1970s, basketball fans in Detroit could only rely on local heroes. Fortunately, one of their own became a legendary figure in the sport.
In the ABA, George Gervin earned a reputation as one of the cleanest scorers in the league. Gervin’s scoring prowess carried over to the NBA, where he won four scoring championships with the San Antonio Spurs.
The last of those scoring crowns came in the 1981-82 season, when the Detroit Pistons finally had something to cheer about in the form of Isiah Thomas, a rookie guard.
Zeke’s light shone brightly from the beginning. In his debut season, he was named to the All-Star team after averaging 17.0 points, 7.8 assists, and 2.1 steals while leading the Pistons to an 18-win improvement year over year.
However, although Thomas instilled excitement in the Pistons, he and his teammates could never hope to match Gervin’s level of enthusiasm, particularly in the famed St. Cecilia’s gym.
At St. Cecilia’s, Thomas remembered the atmosphere that surrounded Gervin.
Isiah Thomas (left) and George Gervin (right) | Images courtesy of Bettmann/Getty Images
Isiah Thomas went on an exhibition tour with George Gervin and Magic Johnson around Michigan and the American South shortly after being chosen by the Pistons.
During the trip, the Iceman worked with Zeke. At a gym at St. Cecilia’s church on the west side of the Motor City, he kept alluding to his legendary reputation. Thomas had had enough of the chit-chat. Last year, he told The Athletic that he wanted to play at St. Cecilia’s and get a feel for the place.
“I just wanted to go back to Detroit.” “All I wanted to do was get away from George Gervin and reach St. Cecilia’s,” says the narrator.
–The Athletic, via Isiah Thomas (2020).
Thomas would go to St. Cecilia’s with the aim of gaining popularity among the fans and becoming the face of basketball in Detroit. Gervin’s seriousness, on the other hand, was unrivaled.
“You could’ve brought anybody into the gym, and no one would’ve ever packed it as well as George Gervin,” Thomas told The Athletic. “What he meant to the area and the community. So the Pistons would turn up, and we were local guys who were working our way up the league in terms of titles and all that, but there was nothing like it when George Gervin came home and stepped into the gym. Nothing.”
In terms of arenas that have a major importance in the history and development of basketball, St. Cecilia’s has been compared to Rucker Park. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Gervin — a guy whose scoring talent and approach transformed the NBA — was such a big presence there, particularly considering his Detroit roots.
While Gervin received unequaled love and admiration at St. Cecilia’s, Thomas made his own path as a popular basketball figure in Detroit.
Isiah Thomas contributed to the Pistons being one of the most recognizable teams in NBA history.
As Isiah Thomas and the Pistons prepared to take over the NBA, George Gervin retreated into the background.
During the 1986-87 season, Gervin played his last season of professional basketball in Italy, where the Pistons took the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. That series was a watershed moment.
In 1988, Detroit eventually dethroned Boston as Eastern Conference champions. Despite losing in the NBA Finals against Magic and the Lakers, Thomas and the Pistons went on to win back-to-back titles and establish their status as one of the league’s finest dynasties.
Gervin’s St. Cecilia legends most certainly inspired Thomas to create his own legacy in Detroit, whether he realized it or not. Zeke achieved exactly that, establishing himself as a pivotal figure in Pistons history and one of the best point guards in NBA history.
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