Dave DeBusschere arrived at a crossroads in 1965 when he felt he had to choose between baseball, as a pitcher in the Chicago White Sox chain, and basketball, as a forward for the Detroit Pistons. DeBusschere opted for basketball, a decision that paid off when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.
One of the best defensive players of his era, the 6'6" DeBusschere made life miserable for opposing forwards. After the Pistons traded him to New York in 1968, he became the inspirational leader of the Knicks championship teams in 1970 and 1973. When the Madison Square Garden faithful chanted "dee-fense, dee-fense," they looked to DeBusschere to set the tone. His efforts earned him a standing spot on the NBA All-Defensive Team.
Born October 16, 1940, in Detroit, DeBusschere was a pitcher and a basketball player at Austin Catholic High School and then at the University of Detroit. He signed contracts with both the White Sox and the Pistons in 1962. That summer, he went 10-1 in the minor leagues and appeared in a dozen games with the White Sox. With the Pistons, he averaged 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds and made the All-Rookie Team. For four years, he worked for both organizations, but his baseball career stalled. In 1964, the Pistons offered him their coaching job as incentive to quit baseball. With that, DeBusschere, 24, became the youngest head coach in NBA history.
The Pistons failed to approach .500 the next three seasons, so in 1967 DeBusschere resigned to concentrate on playing. He went to the Knicks soon thereafter. His arrival in New York pushed Willis Reed, who had been playing out of position at forward, back to center and set the stage for the glory days of Knicks basketball. The Knicks began the 1969-70 season with a 23-1 record and ended it with their first championship in 24 years.
Over the course of his 12 years in the NBA, DeBusschere averaged 16.1 points and 11.0 rebounds. Upon retiring from the Knicks in 1974, he served as general manager of the New York Nets for a year before becoming commissioner of the American Basketball Association. He died in 2003.