The History of Pistons Basketball

If you are a basketball fan, then the name ‘Detroit Pistons’ rings a bell in your ears. They are an American basketball team located in Detroit. Founded in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1941 as the Fort Wayne (Zollner) Pistons, they are a member of National Basketball League (NBL).

It has played in the NBL and won two championships in 1944 and 1945. The team later joined Basketball Association America (BAA) in 1948. In 1949, the NBL and BAA merged and became one, NBA and the Pistons still became a member of the merged league. 


The franchise moved to Detroit in 1957 and won three championships, 1989, 1990 and 2004. Learn more below about Pistons basketball.

The History of Pistons Basketball
Image Source: Hoops Habit


Detroit Pistons was founded in 1941 as the Fort Wayne (Zollner) Pistons and maintained this name till 1957. They played in National Basketball League team in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The owner, Fred Zollner had a corporation foundry that originally manufactured pistons for truck, car and locomotive engines. 

This team won NBL championships in 1944 and 1945 and won World Professional basketball Tournament in 1944, 1945 and 1946. The team changed name to Fort Wayne Pistons in 1948 competing in the Basketball Association of America (BAA). 


Fred Zollner brokered the creation of the National Basketball Association from the BAA and the NBL at his kitchen table in 1949. However, this team has had its share of scandals; there are accusations that Pistons conspired with gamblers to cut points and throw multiple games in the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons. 

Particularly, it is alleged that the Pistons deliberately lost to Syracuse Nationals the 1955 NBA finals. They later led 41-24 early in the second quarter of the decisive Game 7 to win it. In the following season, Detroit Pistons made it back to the NBA finals but were defeated by the Philadelphia warriors in five games.

Decades of Struggle

When Fort Wayne realized that due to the team’s small size it wouldn’t be profitable, he announced his team would be playing elsewhere in the consecutive seasons. They ultimately settled in Detroit. They later played in Olympia Stadium for their first four seasons after which they moved to Cobo Arena. 


In 1960s and 70s, the Pistons had very strong individuals and weak teams. Some of the strong names include Dave Bing, Dave DeBusschere and Bob Lanier. DeBusschere was the youngest player-coach in the NBA history at one point. 

In 1974, Zollner sold the Pistons to glass magnate, Bill Davidson who stayed the principal owner of the team until 2009 when he died. Much as the Pistons qualified for the postseason from 1974 to 1977, they had never sustained any real success.

Davidson was unhappy with Cobo Arena in 1978 and decided to move to the suburb of Pontiac where they played in Silverdome with a capacity of 82,000 and built for professional football. It was home of the Detroit Lions at that time.

Best Players

Isaiah Thomas

He was considered the backbone of the ‘Bad Boys’ championship teams and is considered one of the best point guards of all time. 

He won the Hall of Fame, 1990 Finals MVP, Top 50 Players of All Time, two-time All-Star MVP and five-time All-NBA. He is the franchise’s leading points holder and third-highest points holder in league history.

The History of Pistons Basketball
Image Source: Piston Powered

Dave Bing

He played for the Pistons from 1966-1975. He won top 50 players of All time, Hall of Fame, two-time All-NBA, 1967 rookie of the year accolades. He is ranked number 2 and it is said every Detroit player wanted to be like him. He is still ranked fourth in the franchise’s history.

Bob Lanier

He played for the Pistons from 1970 to 1980. He is ranked No.3 and it is said he is unappreciated and underrated for how good he actually was. Given his outside shooting range, Lanier was a forerunner to today’s centers that shoot from the perimeter.


The Detroit Pistons is one of the greatest basketball teams in history. It was founded in 1941 as the Fort Wayne (Zollner) Pistons in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It had great players that made history and won a number of accolades that led to the franchise making their NBA mark.

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