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Behind the Detroit Pistons: The Detroit Spirits


Detroit Spirits' Marvin Barnes

Credit: NASL Jerseys


From 1982-1986, the Detroit Spirits would be one of the better teams in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). Unfortunately, the Spirits were overshadowed by the better, more popular Detroit-based team, the Detroit Pistons. Even now, there's barely any information about the Detroit Spirits. To be fair, the team ended operations in 1996 and was in a minor basketball league.


Regardless, the team still seems to be of interest as the search term, 'Detroit Spirits,' still gets searched up 2,400 times per month! With that being said, let's look at the Spirit's front office.

 

Table of Contents:

 

The Front Office

The owner of the Detroit Spirits was Reginald Henderson. The only fact about Henderson, besides the fact that he owned the Spirits, was that he was also the owner of 'Quality Clinical Laboratories,' a blood testing laboratory. Later down the line, according to the Savannah Spirit's head coach, Charley Rosen, Henderson was ARRESTED for defrauding the federal government!


To be honest, that isn't that surprising. In the 1984 CBA season, Henderson said that he had lost $700,000 due to the Spirits. Henderson needed 3,000 fans per game to break even, but the team could barely get 1,000 fans per game.


Next to Henderson was Vice President and General Manager Robb Larson. Larson was one of the youngest GMs in the CBA and was even named one of the 'Outstanding Young Men in America.'


After his time with the Detroit Spirits, Larson would work with the Detroit Pistons as the Director of Sales and Assistant Director of Marketing. Nowadays, he works at the Osceola Heritage Park as the Director of Marketing. Larson was nowhere near as controversial as Henderson.



The Detroit Spirits' Coaches

Finally, there were the head coaches. Within the Spirits' four seasons in the CBA, they had three different coaches:

  1. Gary Mazza (1982-84)

  2. Sam Washington (1984-85)

  3. Bob Wienhauer (1985-86)

There is literally no information about Gary Mazza, but there is a lot for Sam Washington and Bob Wienhauer.


Sam Washington

Sam Washington seemed to be the most wholesome person in Detroit. In 1967 and onwards, Washington created numerous basketball leagues at St. Celia's Gym. This was meant to be a safe haven for Detroit's youth, as in 1967, the 'Detroit Rebellion took place. The 'Detroit Rebellion' was a five-day protest due to race relations between African-Americans and Detroit's Police Department. Within these five days:

  • 43 People Died

  • 342 Injured

  • 7,000 People were Arrested

  • 1,000+ Buildings were Burned

Washington also helped to develop and teach thousands of Detroit youth at St. Celia's Gym. Regardless of age, everybody went to St. Celia's to test their skills. Here are just some of the most well-known players to play at St. Celia's:

  • Magic Johnson

  • Isiah Thomas

  • George Gervin

  • Jalen Rose

  • Dave Bing

  • Chris Webber

Before St. Celia's Gym, Washington was a professional football player and played for the New York Titans and Canadian Football League. Also, Washington was the GM of the Detroit Spirits. He was the GM in the 1982-83 CBA season, but I don't know if he continued to be the GM after this season.


Also, just a reminder, Washington was the head coach of the Spirits (1984-85) while doing all these good deeds.


As a result of Washington's goodwill, he was inducted to the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1995 and, in 2007, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.


Bob Weinhauer

The following season, the Detroit Spirits would be coached by Bob Weinhauer. Out of the three coaches the Spirits had, Weinhauer was probably the most experienced. Before coaching the Spirits, Weinhauer coached:

  • University of Pennsylvania: 1977-82

  • Arizona State University: 1982-85

Weinhauer found the most success with the University of Pennsylvania. During Weinhauer's five seasons with UPenn, his record was 99--45 (68.8 W/L%). In every season, UPenn was the Ivy League Regular Season Champions.

Weinhauer's most successful season with UPenn was in the 1978-79 season. The team went 25-7 (78.1 W/L%) and ended up making the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, UPenn would be swept by Michigan State University in the Final Four (67-101), and in the game for third place, UPenn would lose 93-96 to DePaul University.


Weinhauer's four seasons with Arizona State University were pretty disappointing. Within those four seasons, they ended up going 44-45 (44.4 W/L%). They never made the NCAA Tournament, and the highest they ever ranked was fourth.

After eight seasons as a college head coach, Weinhauer would coach the Detroit Spirits in the 1985-86 CBA season. I don't want to spoil their record yet. You'll just have to continue reading (or skip to the section) to find out their record that season!


After one season with the Spirits, Weinhauer would be an assistant coach for four NBA teams:

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 1988-1990

  • Atlanta Hawks: 1991-1993

  • Minnesota Timberwolves: 1993-94

  • Milwaukee Bucks: 1996-97

From 1994-96, Weinhauer was the General Manager for the Houston Rockets. It was with the Rockets that Weinhauer would earn 2x Championships!


With the front office members and coaches covered, let's look at the Detroit Spirits' four seasons in the CBA!


1982-83 Detroit Spirits

Detroit Spirits' Tico Brown

Credit: NASL Jerseys


In the 1982-83 CBA season, under head coach Gary Mazza, the Detroit Spirits went 26-18 (59.1 W/L%) and finished first in the Central Division.


The Spirits' most notable player was Marvin Barnes, but not for any good reasons. Before joining the Spirits, Barnes was a 2x All-Star in the ABA and the 1974-75 ABA Rookie of the Year. He would only play two seasons in the ABA before joining the NBA and playing for the Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, and San Diego Clippers.


Barnes was a fantastic player but had a horrible attitude. After playing in the NBA for four seasons, Barnes would join the Detroit Spirits. With the Spirits, Barnes would miss scheduled practices. As a result, the Spirits would suspend Barnes for the rest of the season. Barnes only played six games with the Spirits.

In addition, in a game against the Ohio Mixers, Barnes hard-elbowed DeWayne Scales. Barnes nickname was 'Bad News,' and I understand why.


Now, let's put the spotlight on someone that played the full season. The best player for the Detroit Spirits was Terry Duerod. In the 1982-83 CBA season, he averaged:


23.5 Points, 2.7 Rebounds, 2.2 Assists, 1.1 Steals, and 0.3 Blocks

49.2 FG%, 38.6 3P%, 80.5 FT%

31 Minutes


Before playing for the Spirits, Duerod was an NBA player and played for four teams:

  • Detroit Pistons: 1979-80

  • Dallas Mavericks: 1980

  • Boston Celtics: 1980-82

  • Golden State Warriors: 1982

In the 1980-81 NBA season, Duerod would win a championship with the Boston Celtics. Duerod played ten games in that playoff run, but only averaged 1.2 minutes, so he didn't really get to play in the playoffs.


After his professional basketball career, Duerod would be a firefighter for 27 years!

Besides Duerod, I also wanted to point out that Clarence Kea, a 6'7" Forward, averaged the most rebounds in the league (13.8).

There were also two pretty notable moments this season. On January 4th, in a game against the Ohio Mixers, the Spirits grabbed a CBA record, 80 REBOUNDS! Just 12 days later, Francois Wise, a forward for the Spirits, shattered the backboard due to a dunk!


As for the playoffs, the Detroit Spirits would win the Championship! They beat the Montana Golden Nuggets, 4-3, in the Finals! There isn't a game log for specific games, but I can still identify the player's stats in the playoffs.


The best player for the Spirits was, without a doubt, Tico Brown. In the playoffs, Brown averaged:

33.4 Points, 6.2 Rebounds, 2.8 Assists, 1.2 Steals, and 0.3 Blocks

51.7 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 80.5 FT%

43.2 Minutes


Brown was the only person on the Spirits to score more than 20 points, play more than 40 minutes, and shoot more than 80.0% from the free-throw line.


Unlike Duerod, Brown never played in the NBA. He was drafted by the Utah Jazz as the 23rd pick in the 1979 NBA draft but ended up playing eight seasons in the CBA. In the CBA, Brown played for the Anchorage Northern Knights from 1979 to 1982 and the Detroit/Savannah Spirits from 1982 to 1988. Brown would retire as the league's all-time leading scorer and was selected to the All-Time CBA Team!


1983-84 Detroit Spirits

In the 1983-84 CBA season, still, under head coach Gary Mazza, the Detroit Spirits once again went 26-18 (59.1 W/L%). However, this time, they finished second in the Western Division.


This season, the best player was the best player for the Spirits' in the playoffs last season, Tico Brown. This season, he averaged:


27.5 Points, 5.9 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists, 1.2 Steals, and 0.2 Blocks

49.8 FG%, 28.9 3P%, 80.2 FT%

41 Minutes


Brown was the leading scorer in the league this season.


Since we already talked about Brown, let's talk about the Spirits' second-best player, Walker Russell. This season, he averaged:


15.1 Points, 3.9 Rebounds, 9.0 Assists, 1.3 Steals, and 0.2 Blocks

50.3 FG%, 11.8 3P%, 86.5 FT%

31.7 Minutes


In addition to Brown, Russell also led the league in another statistical category, assists!


Russell would only play 30 games for the Detroit Spirits this season because he played for the Detroit Pistons. Russell's NBA career was six seasons long, but he only got to play 11.4 minutes per game. His best season was in 1984-85 with the Atlanta Hawks. He averaged 4/2/3 and shot 54.0% from the field.


Russell has three other relatives that have played in the NBA: Campy Russell, Frank Russell, and Walker Russell. Out of the four, Campy Russell had the most successful NBA career. He played in the league for nine seasons and was a 1x All-Star!


This season, the playoffs didn't go so well for the Detroit Spirits. The Spirits would lose 1-3 in the post-season. To whom, you may ask? I don't know either. For some reason, there's no info on the Spirits 1983-84 postseason besides player stats.


The best player in the playoffs wasn't Tico Brown or Walker Russell, but Corny Thompson. In the playoffs, Thompson averaged:


22.3 Points, 9.5 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists, 1.8 Steals, and 0.8 Blocks

55.9 FG%, 95.8 FT%

35.8 Minutes


Thompson also played in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks, but it was only for one season.


1984-85 Detroit Spirits

Detroit Spirits 82-84 Marvin Barnes

Credit: NASL Jerseys


In the 1984-85 CBA season, under head coach Sam Washington, the Detroit Spirits went 23-25 (47.9 W/L%) and finished third in the Western Division. This was the only season the Spirits' had a negative record.


Once again, the Spirits' best player was Tico Brown. I don't want to be repetitive, so instead, I will put the spotlight on Eric Turner, the Rookie of the Year. This season, Turner averaged:


17.5 Points, 3.7 Rebounds, 8.5 Assists, 1.7 Steals, and 0.2 Blocks

51.2 FG%, 18.8 3P%, 81.9 FT%

38 Minutes


The Detroit Pistons drafted Turner in the 1984 NBA Draft as the 32nd pick, but Turner would instead play for the Detroit Spirits.


Turner would only play for the Spirits for two seasons before jumping to the United States Basketball League to play for the Staten Island Stallions. Turner would, once again, jump to another league, the Philippine Basketball Association, to play for the Great Taste Coffee Makers (amazing name). In his final season of professional basketball, Turner would return to the CBA to play for the La Crosse Catbirds.


Although this was the Spirits' worst regular-season record, they made it to the Finals! They would eventually lose to the Tampa Bay Thrillers, 3-4, but to make it to the Finals as the third seed and force a Game 7 is pretty impressive.


To no one's surprise, the best player for the Spirits in the playoffs was Tico Brown. He averaged:

28.6 Points, 4.3 Rebounds, 1.8 Assists, 1.1 Steals, and 0.1 Blocks

55.0 FG%, 37.5 3P%, 88.9 FT%

42.2 Minutes


This season was probably the Spirits' best starting five in regards to the playoffs. Besides Brown, the other four starters played this post-season amazingly:

  • Campy Russell: 24/6/5 (56.7 FG%)

  • Michael Young: 21/7/3 (50.4 FG%)

  • Eric Turner: 20/4/10 (58.2 FG%)

  • Jerome Henderson: 17/11/1(56.5 FG%)


1985-86 Detroit Spirits

In the 1985-86 CBA season and the Detroit Spirits' last season, under head coach Bob Wienhauer, the Spirits went 24-24 (50.0 W/L%) and, like last season, finished third in the Western Division.

The best player on the team was no longer Tico Brown as he wasn't on the team. The mantle was handed towards Michael Young. This season, Young averaged:


26.8 Points, 8.6 Rebounds, 2.2 Assists, 1.6 Steals, and 0.7 Blocks

52.8 FG%, 20.0 3P%, 74.5 FT%

37 Minutes


CBA voters must have found Young's performance this season to be impressive as he was the CBA's Player of the Year! This is kind of surprising because Tico Brown has had similar stat-lines but has sadly never won any awards.


Before joining the Detroit Spirits, Young was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Draft as the 24th pick. However, Young ended up playing for the Phoenix Suns in the 1984-85 NBA season. I wouldn't say that Young played for the Suns since he only played two games before joining the Spirits.


After two seasons with the Spirits, Young was on 11 TEAMS:

  • NBA: Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers

  • CBA: Sioux Falls Skyforce

  • Philippines: Manila Beer Brewmasters and Great Taste Coffee Makers

  • Spain: Valladolid

  • Italy: Fantoni Udine, Panasonic Reggio Calabria, and Faber Fabriano

  • France: CRO Lyon and Limoges

Like Turner, I find it funny how Young somehow ended up in the Philippines and played for the same obscured-named team, the Great Taste Coffee Makers.


Although Young saw no playing time with the Phoenix Suns or Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Clippers gave Young a chance. In 45 games with the Clippers, Young averaged:


4.9 Points, 1.9 Rebounds, 0.5 Assists, 0.6 Steals, and 0.1 Blocks

47.4 FG%, 30.8 3P%, 71.1 FT%

10.2 Minutes


Young's best game with the Clippers was on April 19th, 1990, against the Golden State Warriors. He put up:


27 Points, 9 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 3 Steals

12/22 FG, 1/4 3P, 2/3 FT

38 Minutes


As for the playoffs, the Detroit Spirits would, unfortunately, fall short and go 3-4. The top two players for the Spirits in the playoffs were Michael Young and Walker Russell, whom we've already talked about, so to finish this off, we'll shine the spotlight on the third-best player, Danny Salisbury. In the playoffs, Salisbury averaged:

18.9 Points, 5.7 Rebounds, 2.9 Assists, 1.3 Steals, and 0.7 Blocks

51.5 FG%, 38.5 3P%, 75.0 FT%

33.1 Minutes

Salisbury never got the opportunity to play in the NBA. He was on the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs' pre-season rosters but got cut by the start of the regular season.

Once again, for some weird reason, Salisbury also ended up on the Great Taste Coffee Makers.

 

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