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Former NBA star Elvin Hayes, a successful car dealer in Cleveland, Texas ($11.9 million in '90), adds, "There's no $100,000 job waiting just because you once shot a basketball."
Bing's biggest obstacle was getting financial assistance to start his steel business. "Because I was a high-profile former athlete," he says, "people thought I was already rich and, of course, spoiled, lazy and stupid. You know, we as Americans have done a damned poor job of protecting our own people, our values, our cities. And now here come the Japanese!"
Bing doesn't do business with Japanese companies, because he thinks they have taken from the U.S. without giving back—a Bing no-no. "My employees can't drive foreign cars," he says. Bing also believes that Japanese businessmen do not like American blacks "because of what we've let ourselves become." He understands that attitude, however unfair it may be, because he knows there was a time when Americans did not take the Japanese seriously, either. "Then, bam!" he says. "In 10 years they got 35 percent of the auto market. They look at things long-term, not short-term, the way we always do."
Bing had the ability to think long-term even when he was young. Much of that skill was instilled in him by an exceptional coach at Spingarn High in Washington. Dr. William Roundtree, now a Baptist minister, taught his basketball players that team-work was all. In Bing's senior year seven players on the Spingarn team averaged in double figures. "If I'd had a different philosophy, David could have scored 40 points a game," says Round-tree. "But he believed in me, and I believed in esprit de corps."
Two years ago Bing spearheaded a drive to raise $600,000 to save the sports, music and arts programs in Detroit's public high schools. He believes the money was well spent. "All these things will come back to benefit all of us in the community," Bing says.
"I just idolize Dave Bing," says Bob Lanier, the Piston center during much of Bing's career who now operates a promotional merchandising business in Milwaukee. "He had such wisdom, and all he did was give people encouragement. He is just blessed with being able to endear people to him, to lead."
Bing is a quiet, congenial man, but the fire in him burns hotter than even he may realize. Once during a Piston home game, for instance, he threw his 6'3", 185-pound body at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and slammed home a monster jam. Why? "He was just there," says Bing with a shrug.
"Man, he rocked whole Cobo Hall," recalls Lanier. "My in-sides were exploding. He could just blow your mind!"
Bing went to Syracuse mainly because he was recruited by Ernie Davis, the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner who played football and basketball for the Orangemen. Bing's college roommate for a couple of years was Jim Boeheim, now the basketball coach at Syracuse and a man who credits Bing with teaching him, the hick from Lyons, N.Y., to act with dignity and polish. When Lanier joined the Pistons in 1970, he talked management into letting him room with Bing on the road so that he could learn from the older man. "He was my mentor," says Lanier. "We'd just sit around and talk about life."
"A lot of what I've gotten is from luck," says Bing. "But there are no shortcuts. I used to study my opponents hard and work on my conditioning all the time. You have to do that in life, too."