Syracuse University Magazine

Dave Bing


From Basketball Court to Boardroom to City Hall

Dave Bing '66, who has been thrilling SU students, faculty, and alumni for decades with achievements on the basketball court and off, has found yet another way to stir up excitement among the Orange faithful. In Syracuse to deliver the keynote address at the seventh annual Martin J. Whitman Day celebration in April, Bing made his first public appearance on campus since winning election as mayor of Detroit in 2009. Explaining his reasons for taking on the daunting tasks of governing a city that many people have written off, Bing reminded the audience that he chose to come to Syracuse at a time when the Orange had lost 27 consecutive games over two seasons. "My friends asked why in the world I would want to go to a program that's a perennial loser," he said. "Well, it was obvious to me that there was no place else to go but up, and coming to Syracuse was the best decision I made." The crowd loved it.

Bing, an economics major, rewrote the stats book for Orange men's basketball as a student-athlete almost half a century ago. His SU career scoring average of 24.7 points per game—achieved before the three-pointer was instituted in college basketball—still stands. A first-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons, Bing won rookie-of-the-year honors and never looked back. His brilliant play during 12 seasons in the NBA secured his induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and gained him a spot on the league's own list of its 50 greatest all-time players. Of all the honors bestowed upon Bing by pro basketball, perhaps it was the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award "for outstanding service and dedication to the community" that pointed the way to life after basketball. 

Trading sneakers for a business suit, Bing pivoted into the executive suite in 1980 to launch a manufacturing venture with a $250,000 loan, four employees, and leased space in a Detroit warehouse. Within five years, the Bing Group had 63 employees and was busy producing auto parts at two Detroit factories to the tune of $40 million in annual revenue. The company eventually grew to employ more than 900 people, grossing $400 million annually. If some of Bing's new fans didn't know the difference between a field goal and a free throw, they liked what he was doing at the bottom line. The seven-time NBA All-Star-turned-CEO made room on his trophy shelf for new honors, including a National Minority Business Person of the Year award, presented to him by President Ronald Reagan. After stepping down as head of the company to run for public office, Bing turned over management duties to his three daughters.

As Bing—Mayor Bing—strode to the podium in Lender Auditorium at the Whitman School, an overflow crowd—its members as diverse in their interests as the athlete/entrepreneur/politician they had come to see—stood and cheered. In a poignant aside, Bing prefaced his address, "Detroit's Next Chapter: A Team of Change," by revealing a bit of himself. "I hope I don't get too emotional, because coming back here brings back a lot of good memories," he said. "I just want to take you on my journey from my heart." Ever the dutiful alumnus, he took another moment to introduce a member of his administration and her daughter, who had traveled to Syracuse to have a look at SU for college. "Orange still runs in my blood," Bing said, explaining the impromptu recruitment effort. 

Bing spoke on how his life as a student, professional basketball player, and entrepreneur had led him on the path to Detroit City Hall. The theme pervading all these experiences is the necessity of teamwork to get things done.  "At every level, from high school on up, I knew how important my teammates were to my success," he said. Turning to the problems he faces as mayor, Bing spoke frankly about the corruption and economic decay that have brought Detroit to the verge of bankruptcy with a $325 million deficit. He outlined plans for streamlining a bloated city bureaucracy and making regional alliances with neighboring counties to reduce the cost of basic services, including police, fire, and homeland security. Among the greatest tasks confronting Bing is a physical restructuring of the city to reflect the loss of one million people, more than half of its former population.  "I've got to shrink the city," he said. "We have an area of about 140 square miles, but we're only using about half that land mass. We have 70,000 vacant homes in the City of Detroit. Our plan is to tear down 10,000 of those houses and rehab others. There are blocks and blocks where there is perhaps one family. We can't provide them services." He spoke of gaining greater international trade benefits from Detroit's position at the Canadian border, deriving more revenue from the city's downtown casinos, and even the possibility of redeveloping urban land for industrial-scale farming. Bing emphasized that teamwork will be the key to accomplishing any of this. "You've got to have people you trust around you," he said. During a question-and-answer session, Bing advocated a city takeover of Detroit's ailing public school system. He also identified health care as the fastest growing source of jobs in the city where automobile manufacturing was once so dominant. 

"The economic development of a major U.S. city, such as Detroit, is highly beneficial for the business community—a driving force behind revitalization," said Whitman School Dean Melvin T. Stith G'73, G'78. "Mayor Bing is a perfect person to lead this effort. His entrepreneurial background and experience in the private sector will be a great advantage to the city and region as it transitions into a new economy." 

Detroit's losing streak could be coming to an end. —David Marc

Photos by Steve Sartori

Alumni mayors Stephanie Miner '92 of Syracuse and Dave Bing '66 of Detroit exchange greetings at the Whitman Day celebration in April.