AUBURN HILLS, MICH. Ive never been in here, Rip Hamilton said of the visitors locker room at the Palace at Auburn Hills, the arena where he plied his trade for so many years. When I first came in here, I was like, All right, wheres the showers? It felt real crazy.
Thats why I said, Hurry up and let the ball get thrown up, he continued. Once the ball was thrown up, I said, You know what? Do what youve always been doing and thats play basketball.
All the build-up, coming to the arena, going out there and shooting, it was crazy. Im looking on the other side, seeing Tayshaun Prince, seeing Ben Wallace, seeing Rodney Stuckey and I was like, Man, this feels awkward in a way, when youve been here for so long, but once the ball is thrown up, its time to go to battle.
Hamilton scored a modest 14 points and dished out five assists in his dual return to both Detroit and the Bulls lineup, from which he had been absent from for two consecutive games due to a groin injury but even though the crowd to welcome back the ex-Piston was sparse, he appreciated its support.
It was great, man. The fans appreciate what I did here and theyve always been supportive of me, he said. Even when stuff wasnt going so good, theyd always chant my name and stuff like that, so Ive got a lot of love for them. Theyve been by my side since I got here.
Still, he couldnt help but notice the dwindling number of filled seats at an arena thats used to supporting championship teams and contenders in the last few decades, dating back to the Bad Boy Pistons and most recently, Hamiltons 2004 title-winning squad.
Crazy. It looks unbelievable. When I was here and Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace and everybody, I think we had like seven years of straight sellouts, so it was always great. It was always awesome, the fans were always great and to come in here and sto ee it halfway empty, its tough, but a lot of things have changed, said Hamilton. The economys messed up with the car industry going down and things like that. The team that we had is no longer there anymore, so its different.
When he first arrived at the arena with his new team, Hamilton was overcome by feelings of emotion and had to work hard not to let them out until the games final buzzer.
It was fun, man. Couldnt wait for the ball to be thrown up. A lot of emotion early in the game, being on the visitors side. Im not accustomed to it in this building, so it was difficult. I was like, Please, man, dont start crying or anything crazy like that. Just hurry up and let the ball get thrown up, so I can go out there and play, he said. Happy. I was so hyped, I was so excited. I didnt want to cry. I was like, Man, lets hurry up and get this game going on. Stay focused, stay on the prize, do your same routine. Then, you see everybody. You see so many people, like longtime Pistons announcer George Blaha, thats been supportive of me. Arena PA announcer Mason, Al, the picture guy, Arnie Kander, the teams strength and conditioning coach. You see all the guys that have so much love for you and it kind of gets emotional, but you know youve got to go out and try to get the win.
I didnt want to do anything when the Bulls arrived in Detroit. I said, You know what, Rip? Youve got a game. Stay in your room. Dont go anywhere. Kept all the lights off, didnt turn the TV on. I was like, Man, dont get caught up in being back in Detroit and getting so emotional and tied in. I said, Man, youve got all summer to do that. Just stay focused on the prize and try to get a win.
As far as his actual play, the veteran shooting guard was active his trademark perpetual-motion style of moving without the ball was in effect, as was his deadly shooting stroke, but he also continually set up his teammates, particularly big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, with easy opportunities around the rim though he was in his first game back from a groin injury.
First quarter was good; I think just adrenaline. Second quarter, I felt a little pull, but there was no way that I was getting off the court. So Ive just got to ice it down, get treatment, stim electronic stimulation, said Hamilton, who described his groin as sore after the game.
Said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: I thought he handled the whole situation really well. Got himself ready to play, was focused and to start the game, he came out and he was playmaking. He wasnt trying to do too much and I think that speaks to his experience. He plays to win and I thought that he was terrific.
Boozer added: It was good to be here for Rip. We knew he had an emotional comeback, but at the same time, I thought he played very well, especially being out a couple games with his injury.
Hamilton said he had no regrets about his tenure in Detroit, but admitted he initially wished it ended differently.
When the lockout ended, I thought I was coming here. I was here for the first day of training camp, but the buyout came, he explained. It was a mutual thing. The direction that they were going and change is good for me. Get an opportunity now to try to get another ring. Its just another chapter in the book, so Im excited about being part of the Chicago Bulls."
Me and Chauncey, both, we always talked about that when we first got here. That was our main goal. OK, lets go out together. When the whole extension came up, that was the whole thing, continued Hamilton, who was portrayed as a key part of dismal Pistons season a year ago, particularly behind the scenes, leading to the ouster of former head coach John Kuester. When youre the highest-paid player on the team and youre the leader, and youre team captain, youve got to take the good and the bad. I always say, You can ask the guys in the locker room. Theyll tell you. Theyll tell you who I am. Ask the coaching staff. Theyll tell you who I am. So, all the sources and the allegations they put out, it hurt me. Because I thought, as long as I lay it all on the line for an organization, regardless, theyll always have your back and I see that wasnt the case.
I had a beautiful time here.