Chauncey 'Mr. Big Shot' Billups finally decides to call it quits

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By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network

After 17 NBA seasons, 15,802 points scored, five All-Star games, one Finals MVP and countless clutch shots, Chauncey Billups has decided to hang up his sneakers.

Before he took the floor as the leader of the mid-2000s Pistons teams that revitalized the franchise after the teal jersey era, Billups was a rising star growing up in his home state of Colorado.

Colorado is not exactly a basketball factory. The only current NBA player who spent his youth there is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson, who was also born in Italy and went to college in Boston.

Billups was the exception. He was thrice Colorado "Mr. Basketball" and a selection for the 1995 McDonald's All-American Team. When it came time to choose a college, Billups attended the University of Colorado.

Billups was named to the Big 8 All-Freshman team after averaging 17.9 points, six rebounds and over five assists per game. In his sophomore season, he posted a near 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game stat line and capped off the year with an 18-point NCAA Tournament first round upset over Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers.

After declaring for the NBA draft following his sophomore season, Billups was picked third overall by the Boston Celtics and this is when the story gets interesting.

The Celtics had just come off of a 15-67 season, the worst record in franchise history, and their best player was rookie Antoine Walker. They fired head coach M.L. Carr and hired the wildly successful University of Kentucky coach Rick Pitino to replace him. Pitino was, by and large, a failure in Boston -- starting with his development of Billups.

Not knowing whether to play Billups at point guard or shooting guard, nor whether he was a fit in the Celtics' system, Pitino, who was also the team's president and front office manager, traded the 3rd overall pick midway through his rookie season to Toronto for one-time All-Star point guard Kenny Anderson.

Billups played just 29 games for Toronto before being traded to the Denver Nuggets. By 2001, Billups was now a back-up point guard on the Timberwolves, his fifth team at just 24 years old.

After struggling to find a foothold in the league, the 2001-02 season was a revelation for Billups. Starting point guard Terrell Brandon underwent surgery on his knee in December, and Billups was given starting minutes at his natural spot.

He started 54 games that season, the most since his rookie year, and in the first round of the playoffs he averaged 22 points and 5.6 assists during a three-game sweep by the Dallas Mavericks.

Then, with Billups confident to shed the bust label off of his name, he signed the first long-term deal of his career -- a six-year, $35 million contract with the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons had just drafted former SEC Player of the Year Tayshaun Prince with the 23rd overall pick and in September they traded their leading scorer from the season prior, Jerry Stackhouse, along with Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda for 24-year-old attacking two-guard Rip Hamilton, Hubert Davis and Bobby Simmons. Along with three reigning award-winners in Ben Wallace (Defensive Player of the Year), Corliss Williamson (Sixth Man of the Year) and coach Rick Carlisle (Coach of the Year), Detroit was looking to make its first deep playoff run since 1991.

And that's what the Pistons did. Billups started all 74 regular season games for which he suited up and averaged over 16 points per game as the Pistons finished with a 50-32 record and the league's stingiest defense.

Despite his series against the Mavericks as a member of the Timberwolves, Billups had not yet earned his now-famous moniker -- Mr. Big Shot. After the first round of the 2003 playoffs, he was earning it.

In the seven-game series victory against the Tracy McGrady-led Magic, Billups averaged 22.6 points including Game Six and Game Seven scoring outbursts of 40 and 37 points, respectively. The Pistons went on to beat Allen Iverson's 76ers in six games before being swept by the Nets in the Conference Finals.

By the start of the next season, the Pistons acquired the boisterous and talented big man Rasheed Wallace and, with Prince coming into his own during the playoffs the season before, the Pistons had a very talented starting five.

As it turns out, Billups, Hamilton, Prince, and the Wallace duo did in fact make a very talented starting five. In an era of NBA basketball where individual greatness was being held on a higher pedestal than team play, the Pistons were a tight knit band of brothers.

Under head coach Larry Brown, the Pistons won the 2004 title in five games over the powerhouse and highly favored "Kobe-and-Shaq" Lakers. Billups averaged 21 points and 5.2 assists in the series and was named Finals MVP.

Still just 27-years old, Billups had gone from highly regarded top-three draft choice to journeyman draft bust to a Finals MVP. Two seasons later, he made his first of five straight All-Star teams in a game that featured four Pistons.

Billups spent the rest of his tenure with the Pistons enjoying great individual and team success. He was twice voted to the All-NBA team, a second-teamer in '06 and on the third team in '07. The Pistons lost in the Finals against the Spurs in '05 and made three straight Conference Finals appearances from '06 to '08.

Just two games into the 2008-2009 season, Pistons GM Joe Dumars decided his team needed a change after three straight years without Finals appearances. Dumars traded Billups, Antonio McDyess and Chiekh Samb to Denver for Allen Iverson.

If there is any anecdote as to how important Billups was to the Pistons, it's this: since he was traded, the Pistons were swept in the first round in '09, haven't made the playoffs since and have gone through and let go of five different head coaches.

Most of that falls on Dumars, who has since stepped down as GM, but not having Billups there to right the ship on the court as well as in the locker room certainly affected the team.

The Nuggets made the playoffs in both of Billups' two years in his second stint with the team. In his first year, Denver finished with the second-best record in the West and made the Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers.

If you're keeping track at home, that means for seven seasons in a row Billups was the starting point guard of a team that went to the Conference Finals.

In his last full season with the Nuggets, and at 33-years old, Billups averaged a career best 19.5 points per game and made his final All-Star team.

Billups would remain an effective scorer but injuries would keep him sidelined for much of his last four years in the league. Following a disappointing one-year reunion with the Detroit Pistons last season, Billups called it a career.

So what will we remember most about Chauncey Billups? Will it be that he is the fifth-most accurate free throw shooter or that he has the sixth-most three-pointers made in league history?

There's no doubt it will be his penchant for making shots when they matter most.

In Game Five of the Pistons' 2004 Conference Semifinals duel against the Nets, they were down 88-85 with 2.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter and inbounding from underneath their own basket.

Billups got the inbounds pass from the elbow three-point line, took two hard dribbles and spotted up six feet beyond the half-court line with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. The ball went off the glass into the basket, and sent the game went into overtime.

On April 11, 2005, the Pistons were down by one with 14 seconds left in overtime and the division title on the line against the Bulls. Billups got the ball and sized up Chris Duhon before crossing him up and calmly hitting the go-ahead jumper from the top of the key with eight seconds left. The Bulls called timeout.

Pistons play-by-play announcer Fred McLeod was on the call and, as Billups walked back to the bench, he summarized what he saw and in turn Chauncey Billups' entire career.

"He does it for the 10-millionth time with the game on the line! Unbelievable, the guy is fearless."


Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo
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