Bill Laimbeer is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing figures in NBA history. He was a key member of the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, known for their rough and tumble style of play. Laimbeer’s physicality and aggressive play made him a feared opponent and a fan favorite in Detroit, but also earned him a reputation as a dirty player.
Despite his controversial style of play, Laimbeer’s on-court accomplishments cannot be denied. He was a four-time NBA All-Star, a two-time NBA champion, and one of the best rebounders and three-point shooters of his era.
But the question remains: is Bill Laimbeer Hall of Fame worthy for his playing career?
While Bill Laimbeer’s accomplishments on the court cannot be denied, there are several reasons why he does not belong in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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How Good Was Bill Laimbeer?Embed from Getty Images
Bill Laimbeer was a highly controversial NBA center known for his physicality and aggressive play on the court. He played 14 seasons in the NBA, primarily with the Detroit Pistons, and was a four-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA champion.
You can see his career stats below:
Laimbeer’s college career at Notre Dame was somewhat similar to his NBA one: he didn’t put up much in the way of stats, but his teams won.
Even before that, Laimbeer flunked out of school after his freshman year. Somehow, I am not surprised. He returned for his final two years at Notre Dame and put up meager stats (7 points and 6 boards per game) on teams that made the Final Four and Elite Eight.
You would not have predicted the Hall of Fame at this point in his career. He began his pro career in Italy where he started putting up real stats.
He came to the NBA and caught on with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a season and a half before moving on to Detroit where he would play the rest of his career.
For the Pistons, while Laimbeer’s individual statistics were not particularly impressive, he was a key member of some of the best teams of his era.
His ability to rebound and shoot from beyond the arc made him a valuable asset on the court, and his toughness and leadership helped the Pistons win back-to-back NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.
Despite his on-court success, Laimbeer’s style of play was highly controversial. He was known for his physicality and often crossed the line into dirty play, earning him a reputation as a villain among opponents and fans alike.Embed from Getty Images
Why Isn’t Bill Laimbeer in the Hall of Fame?
While there is no official criteria, voters for the Hall of Fame often rely on three factors in determining their votes: winning, accomplishments and career statistics. Below, we’ll look at all three for Bill Laimbeer.
Bill Laimbeer’s strongest case for the Hall of Fame as a player is winning. The voters love winning. I don’t blame them: I do too.
Laimbeer’s Bad Boy Pistons teams won at the highest level.
The Pistons then won two Finals in a row, first besting the Lakers in 1989 then Clyde Drexler and the TrailBlazers in 1990.
In ‘88, ‘89 and ‘90 they also stopped a transcendent Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference.
The 1991 season would season Jordan taking the title and beating Laimbeer and the Bad Boys along the way.
But there is no doubt the Bad Boy Pistons were a dominant force and Laimbeer was a key piece of their success.
But, at the same time, the Bad Boys were not like the Bulls. The Bulls had two big threes of Jordan/Pippen/Grant and Jordan/Pippen/Rodman. Even then I have argued that Horace Grant is not a Hall of Famer and he was clearly those team’s third best player.
The Pistons were a deep team with many contributors. In their two title years, Laimbeer was third in minutes played in the playoffs but fifth in scoring and second in rebounding.
Those teams starred:
- Isiah Thomas
- Joe Dumars
- Dennis Rodman
- Bill Laimbeer
- Mark Aguirre
- Vinnie Johnson
- John Salley
- James Edwards
- Rick Mahorn
Sure, Laimbeer is one of the better players on this list. But there is no way you’d call him the best or even second best in any reasonable world.
Bill Laimbeer’s Pistons teams won big, but they were extremely deep and balanced. Laimbeer was just one of the good players on those squads.
Hall of Fame voters love winning but they also love career accomplishments. Someone who makes first team All-NBA 10 times is going to the Hall of Fame even if they never did win very much.
Bill Laimbeer, unlike most Hall of Fame players, does not have much of a record of career accomplishments to rest his case on.
Laimbeer can point to four All-Star appearances. They were in the years leading up the Pistons peak in the late 1980’s.
In those years, Laimbeer was at his statistical peak averaging 17.5 points and 12.4 boards per game in 1987, his third All-Star season.
Beyond his four All-Star appearances, there really isn’t much to point at. Laimbeer led the NBA in rebounding one year with 13.1 boards per game in 1985-1986. But that is about it.
While he was a winner, Bill Laimbeer does not have much in the way of awards or accomplishments to back up his case for the Hall of Fame.
A third area voters for the Basketball Hall of Fame look to for help in making their decisions is career statistics.
We already looked at Bill Laimbeer’s mostly pedestrian career stats above. Here, let’s compare him to some other players to get a sense for how his career stacks up. J
I’ve picked three catch-all career stats. None is perfect but looking at all three for different players often gives a decent comparison.
|Player||PER||Win Shares||Box Plus/Minus|
Bill Cartwright was a nice NBA player but no one but his family would argue he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Bill Laimbeer’s career stats put him well ahead of a guy like Cartwright and I think that makes sense.
On the other hand, Laimbeer’s career stats, both the per game variety at the top of this post, and these advanced ones, both put him well short of a slam-dunk Hall of Famer like Patrick Ewing.
Sometimes players have special circumstances that put them clearly in or out of the Hall of Fame. Ralph Sampson made it mostly based on his college career.
Laimbeer gets no votes for his college mediocrity. Other players, like Alvin Robertson, destroyed their chances for the Hall of Fame with terrible off-court behavior.
It is possible outside factors could impact Laimbeer’s chances.
Laimbeer’s physical play was often seen as crossing the line into dirty play, and many opponents and fans alike viewed him as a villain. Some argue that his tactics were detrimental to the sport, and that he shouldn’t be rewarded with Hall of Fame induction for them.
People really hated Laimbeer to the point where it might actually be a factor in his close case for the Hall of Fame.
One possible other factor is his coaching career. Laimbeer compiled a 306-215 record coaching in the WNBA. He led the Detroit Shock to three WNBA titles.
As of the writing of this article, I don’t think his WNBA coaching will get him in. But time has a way of changing views and any NBA coach with a career winning record and three championships would most certainly be inducted to the Hall of Fame.
Conclusion: Bill Laimbeer Hall of Fame
Bill Laimbeer is not in the Hall of Fame. But will he get in? I am going to say no, but it’s close enough that I won’t be surprised if he does.
Laimbeer’s biggest argument for the Hall of Fame is winning. Some players contribute to their team’s winning in ways that are not easily measured. Laimbeer won at the highest level.
His teams were really deep and he was never one of the very best players on those title teams, however.
Laimbeer’s traditional stats and accomplishments also do not put him quite at the Hall of Fame level. He was a good, but not great player in the league.
Laimbeer’s advanced stats help his case that he was a winner. They put him closer to all-time greats than they do clear non-Hall of Famers. But even those numbers are not equal to all-time greats, just better than his traditional stats.
Bill Laimbeer’s coaching career could help his Hall of Fame chances but his nasty style of play probably hurts his chances.
When you add it all up, I think Laimbeer falls just short of Hall of Fame consideration. But it’s close enough in enough areas that I would hardly be outraged by the selection either.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.