Dave Bing Shares Unlikely Journey in New Autobiography

Attending Syracuse University changed his life. That’s one of the things shared by Dave Bing ’66 in his new autobiography Attacking the Rim: My Unlikely Journey from NBA Legend to Business Leader to Big-City Mayor to Mentoring Guru, released on Nov. 10. Bing credits the education he received in the classroom and his experience on the basketball court with laying the foundation that has carried him through four careers: NBA all-star, steel company founder, mayor of Detroit, and currently, youth mentorship leader.

His college experience also changed his world view. “Growing up in inner-city Washington, D.C., I never really interacted with white people before,” says Bing, who was recruited to Syracuse to play basketball. On campus, Bing had white roommates that became lifelong friends, first Frank Nicoletti ’66, then Jim Boeheim ’66, G’73. He and classmate Sam Penceal ’66 were the only Black players on the team. (During his recruiting visit, he’d been hosted by football players John Mackey ’63 and Ernie Davis ’63.) Despite the fact there were only 100 Black students on campus at the time, Bing says he experienced very little racism.

But there were bumps in the road. Bing’s success is all the more remarkable because of the many obstacles he overcame along the way. One of the biggest revelations is that he’s legally blind in his left eye, the result of an accident at age five. He says he kept that a secret principally to prevent opponents from taking advantage of his vision limitation. “I also didn’t want people to feel sorry for me,” Bing says.

In his freshman year of college, Bing quietly married his high school sweetheart over spring break after she became pregnant. His Syracuse coach and teammates wouldn’t learn he was a husband and father for another year. It wasn’t until the birth of his second daughter in his senior year that his wife and children joined him in Syracuse.

In 1966, Bing was drafted second overall by the Detroit Pistons, where he played point guard, and later for the Washington Bullets and Boston Celtics. Despite being half blind, he became one of the most celebrated players of his era, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time.

After retiring from basketball, Bing joined a Detroit steel company in a two-year training program. As he learned the business, he increasingly felt confident he could start his own business processing steel for Michigan’s auto manufacturers. Bing Steel earned him the National Minority Small Business Person of the Year award in 1984. He grew the business from four employees to more than 1,400, with $300 million in annual sales.

By 2007, the recession had set in and the auto industry was in a downturn. Now 64, Bing decided to sell his company. But retirement was not in the offing. City leaders had long been urging him to run for office. “I got drafted in Detroit to the Pistons, and then I got drafted to run for mayor,” he says.

Bing became mayor of Detroit in May 2009, facing seemingly insurmountable challenges: intractable debt and corruption, a shrinking population and revenues, woeful city services and infrastructure, massive unemployment, and a self-serving city council. Ultimately, Bing was forced to take the city through the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. Today, Detroit is enjoying a celebrated urban turnaround.

While in business and as mayor, Bing came into contact with many young people and was always interested in helping young men better themselves. He recognized that he had benefited from the guidance of not only a strong father, but many other men in his life who played mentorship roles.

Rather than run for re-election, Bing founded the Bing Youth Institute, a nonprofit focused on mentoring fatherless Black boys in Detroit. He reached deep into his coterie of contacts to match successful professionals from similar backgrounds with teen boys at risk. The program has served four graduating classes and has a 100-percent high school graduation rate; 80 percent of the students are in college.

Bing’s goal for the program is similar to that for his book, to show that despite the odds and obstacles, you can succeed. “My story is very unlikely,” says Bing, who endowed the first scholarship in Syracuse University’s Our Time Has Come Scholarship program to support underrepresented students and serves on the Office of Multicultural Advancement Advisory Council.

He attributes his own success to perseverance, hard work, and resilience, habits instilled by his upbringing that he wants to share with others. “Regardless of the circumstances you may come from, I don’t want anybody to use any of that as an excuse,” Bing says. “I want to show they can succeed, become leaders in their communities, and give back themselves.”

Attacking the Rim is available at amazon.com or from a bookseller near you.