How NBA Legend Joe Dumars Held It Down For Years On And Off The Court

The former member of Detroit’s ‘Bad Boys’ squad talks about his playing and executive career and shares his advice for the incoming 2023 Draft Class.

The name Joe Dumars is synonymous with basketball excellence. After a stellar four-year college career at McNeese State University, the Louisiana native took his talents to the Motor City after being drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 18th pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. He would form one of the best backcourt tandems ever with another legend, Isaiah Thomas.

Playing his entire 14-year career with the “Bad Boys,” Dumars gained a reputation as one of the best two-way players in the league.  He went on to win two NBA championships, was named NBA Finals MVP in 1990, was selected to the six All-Star teams, and was named to the All-Defensive first team four times. Following his retirement in 1999, he was inducted into the Naismith  Basketball of Fame in 2006. The Pistons retired his jersey in 2000.

As an executive, Dumars served as the president of basketball operations for the Pistons from 2000 to 2014, winning another championship in 2004. In 2019, Dumars was named special advisor to the general manager of the Sacramento Kings before serving as the interim executive vice president of basketball operations and chief strategy officer in 2020.

Currently, Dumars is the executive vice president and head of basketball operations for the NBA. In this position, he oversees all basketball-related matters for the league, including the development of playing rules and interpretations, conduct and discipline, and policies and procedures relating to the operation of games to sustain the highest level of play and competition. caught up with Dumars and we spoke about his playing days, his transition into the league office, and what advice he has for the 2023 NBA Draft Class, which will be introduced Thursday night (June 22). After your playing career, did you have aspirations to work as a team executive and with the league office?

Joe Dumars: I had no thoughts of transitioning to the front office. Bill Davidson, the owner of the Detroit Pistons, at the time, asked me to stop by his office and the end of my final season. He said he wanted me to take over once I finished and that's the first he and I ever talked about. I had zero plans to do that but it was a great opportunity. I took it and it turned out great.

The same thing happened here at the league office. I was just visiting with Mark Tatum here about a year and a half ago. It was a good hookup, we gave each other a pound, and I left. The next day, he called me and asked me what I consider this position. So both of those, the front office in Detroit and the league office, were as organic and authentic as you could possibly get. There was no long-term vision for me to have either position. After working with the Pistons and the Sacramento Kings, you could have sailed off into the sunset. What compelled you to take the position with the league office?

Dumars: I am always looking for the next accomplishment and the next goal. So I tell this story all the time when I played my last game. We're playing the Atlanta Hawks and I'm sitting next to Grant Hill in the locker room. I said to him, “This is it for me, man.” He said, “Yeah, Joe, this is it.” And [I said]  “I'm talking about basketball. I'll never play again.” He was like, “Come on man.” I told him, “I won't pick a ball and play again.”

He said, “Why?” I told him, “Because for me to be great at the next stage of my life, I can't be holding on to this” So, I never played the game of basketball again. I rebounded for my son when he was a little kid and all that, but other than that, I’ve never played a game of pickup or anything. I'm always looking for the next challenge and I'm not looking back. That's a big part of it for me. When you have to make tough decisions like suspending Draymond Green during the playoffs and Ja Morant’s off-the-court issues, does your experience as a former player give you a different lens to give oversight in these situations?

Dumars: I think so. You know, things happen and we look at the issue and we have to make judgments and come down with decisions. Generally, I usually have a pretty good sense of why something happened. But even if I don't know exactly the reason, I think what helps me in this position is that I’ve been able to pick up the phone and call any coach, any player, or any GM and get to the bottom of whatever the issue may be. That has been really a tremendous asset for me sitting in this seat.

NBA Basketball Season Is Over, Time To Get Ready For NBA Basketball Season In comparison to other professional sports leagues, the NBA has led the way when it comes to giving opportunities to Black executives. Why do you think the NBA has been so successful with Black execs on teams and at the league office?

Dumars: You'd have to give credit to the leadership here that started with David Stern and now Adam Silver.  You know, these opportunities have to start at the top, They can't start in the middle. If the leaders at the top are not going to back it and support it, then it's really never going to happen. So I give credit to Stern and Silver for not just giving lip service but they've lived it and they've put action behind it. Are you bombarded with emails and calls about the coach’s challenges, flopping, and other suggestions during the season?

Dumars: [Laughs] We do most of our work when the season is over but I do constantly get emails or phone calls from teams and whether it be a coach, a player, GM, or an owner about what they think. 

So in terms of challenges and flopping, that stuff builds up over the course of the season and then we begin looking at everything towards the end of the season. We've already started discussing some of the things that you're talking about right now. Coach's challenges and flopping are already on our docket. This summer, we have our competition committee and board of governors meetings in July and that will be front and center. That's how it works. With all the hype surrounding (projected No. 1 draft pick) Victor Wembanyama, what will it take for him and the other draftees to live up to all the lofty expectations?, and other suggestions during the season?

Dumars: I think for any young player to succeed, the most important thing is being a sponge by learning as much as possible, and working your butt off. What from your era of the NBA would you like to see in the league today?

Dumars: I’m not one of those guys who thinks my era is so much better than the NBA today. I would love to see more rivalries, like real rivalries. I think we've gotten away from that a little bit. I don't think we see that as much anymore. When I played, it was the Pistons, Bulls, Celtics, and Lakers going at it every year. Those were real rivalries. I'd love to see a little bit more of that in the league now. We can't create it for the league. It has to be organic. It has to be natural. What is your favorite memory from your draft night?

Dumars: My favorite memory from the draft was hearing my name called by the Detroit Pistons and being totally shocked and surprised.

Dumars:  I think for any young player to succeed, the most important thing is being a sponge by learning as much as possible, and working your butt off. Lastly, what advice do you have for players who are being drafted and first-time team executives that are making picks?

Dumars: For the players being drafted, I would say enjoy the process and embrace the fact that you’ve accomplished your dream of being drafted into the NBA. For first-time team executives, I would simply say you’ve put the work in, you’ve done your homework, and trust yourself that you’re doing what you think is best.

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