By Glen Sparks
Dave DeBusschere threw a fastball just like he crashed the boards. Hard.
The 6-foot-6-inch Detroit native, born Oct. 16, 1940, is more familiar to basketball enthusiasts than he is to baseball fans. DeBusschere spent 12 seasons in the NBA, playing in 440 games for the Detroit Pistons and 435 games for the New York Knicks. He averaged 16.1 points per game and 11.0 rebounds.
DeBusschere made eight NBA All-Star teams and six all-defensive teams. He played on the 1969-70 and 1972-73 championship teams, alongside great players like Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley. In 1996, DeBusschere was named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.
So, the big guy probably made the right decision when he opted for a hoops career over a career in baseball. He starred in both sports at Austin Catholic Preparatory School in Detroit and the University of Detroit.
DeBusschere earned All-American honors in basketball as a sophomore, junior and senior, leading his squad to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in his first two seasons (in the days before freshman eligibility) and to the NCAA tournament in his senior campaign. He also made All-American in baseball for the Titans.
The Chicago White Sox signed DeBusschere in 1962 as an amateur free agent. The Detroit Pistons selected him that same year as a territorial pick in the NBA draft.
The right-handed hurler enjoyed a fast start to his baseball career. He went 10-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 14 games with the Savannah/Lynchburg White Sox of the South Atlantic League. The hot prospect struck out 93 batters in 94 innings. Impressed, Chicago called up DeBusschere late in the season. Against, big-league hitters, he mostly struggled with his control. Over 18 innings, he only gave up for earned runs, but he walked 23.
From there, DeBusschere left to play basketball. He averaged 12.7 points per game and 8.7 rebounds in his first NBA season, earning himself the league’s 1963 All-Rookie squad.
DeBusschere spent his entire 1963 season with Chicago. He compiled a 3-4 won-loss record and 3.09 ERA. More importantly, he cut his number of bases on balls to a more manageable 34 in 84.1 innings. He tossed a shutout against the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 16, giving up six hits, striking out three and walking one. A scouting report said DeBusschere had a “fireball and better than an average curve.”
And, it was off again to the hardcourt. Injuries limited DeBusschere to just 15 games in his sophomore campaign. The 1964 baseball season didn’t start off as expected, either. DeBusschere spent the entire season in the minors. He did the same thing in 1965.
Meanwhile, healthy again, DeBusschere averaged 16.7 points per game and 11.1 rebounds for the Pistons in 1964-65. In the fall of ’65, he decided to leave baseball behind and concentrate on basketball.
The Knicks traded for DeBusschere on Dec. 18, 1968, for guard Butch Komives and center Walt Bellamy. DeBusschere retired after an All-Star season in 1973-74 and later served as a Knicks executive. He died May 14, 2003, of a heart attack at the age of 62.