Chauncey Billups retirement invokes patience with Trail Blazers youth


Chauncey Billups has announced his retirement after 17 seasons of NBA basketball. The renowned leader of the Detroit Pistons during their 2004 championship season informed Yahoo! Sports of his decision on Tuesday evening. Billups impacted the game as a star in his prime, and impacted those who play it as a player-coach in his twilight. He has done what he came to do and is ready to call it a career:

"“It’s just time. I’m happy, excited. The game was very, very good to me. I felt like I was equally as good to the game the way I played it and the way I respected it and the way I carried myself through the process.”"

Known around the league as “Mr. Big Shot,” Billups is remembered for his veteran savvy, though his early journey is often forgotten. Like many players who found eventual success in this league, he was not an instant star on a dedicated team from day one.

Drafted third overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1997 NBA draft, Billups lasted 51 games in Boston before being traded at the February deadline to the Toronto Raptors[1]. He had struggled to coexist with Celtics Head Coach Rick Pitino at the time and was seen as expendable.

Billups played for the Raptors until January of 1999 when they traded him as part of a three team deal to the Denver Nuggets[2]. Initially from Denver, this move was supposed to be good for him as he hoped to find a good fit.

He maintained a mediocre level of play in Denver until injuring his shoulder in December of 1999. He was consequently traded to the Orlando Magic in February of 2000[3]. Billups did not play a single game in Orlando as he waited out his rookie contract, and was widely considered to be a bust after three migrant seasons.

He signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves as a free agent in the summer of 2000, where he played backup to point guard to Terrell Brandon, until Brandon suffered a career ending knee injury in February of 2002. Billups increased his upcoming free agency value with a strong performance in the 2002 NBA playoffs, starting in Brandon’s place.

It was only then that his storied career began to take shape, when he signed with the Pistons after five seasons in the NBA. Billups is one of the most beloved players of this generation, with an outside chance of future induction into the hall of fame—so why focus on his early struggles?

Dec 9, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward Thomas Robinson (41) warms up prior to a game against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Because they illustrate the importance of patience with today’s youth. In the past couple seasons, there has been abundant “bust” talk about players that are just now beginning their journey. We hear it about Thomas Robinson because of his trade history and draft position, we hear it about C.J. McCollum because of his foot injury and struggle to fit in, and we hear it about Meyers Leonard because his level of play has underwhelmed thus far.

Each of these players is facing early adversity, as Billups did, in one way or another. They may or may not find similar levels of eventual success, but we don’t know what the future holds for them until we can watch it unfold. Proclaiming that a player is a bust during their rookie contract is often as premature as handing out star status in summer league or preseason.

So take a moment to reflect on the entirety of Billups’ career. He was an NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP, and 5x NBA All-star— but before that… he was a kid under a lot of pressure just trying to make it. As we bid farewell to one of the most memorable players of the last two decades, remember that today’s potential busts could be worthy of warm remembrance in decades to come. Time will tell. Be patient.

Follow @DavidMacKayNBAFollow RipCityProject