April 5th is Unsung Player Day, the day we recognize the lesser lights of the NBA, the role players, the heroes of the bench. Doesn’t mean these players are any less important of course. These guys are often the crowd favorites, they can swing the momentum of the game with just one or two plays, they can be the X-Factor who steps up and wins you the game.  Don over at With-Malice is the founder of this great day and you can check out his running thread for all the Unsung Player tributes trickling in from around the world.

As a Detroit fan, there is one unquestionable unsung bench hero, a fan favorite, a player who makes us oooh and ahhh as much as any of our starters. That player is none other than Walter Herrmann. To understand why he is an unsung hero I have to paint a bit of a picture for you…

Walter is a 6’9” 225 lbs Argentinean small forward with a deadly outside shot, freakishly large hands that allow him to palm the ball like few have before, and beautiful hair. These attributes make Walter an extremely versatile and good-looking player, and during a six year career in the Argentine league he won two slam dunk contests (the clip at the bottom of this post will help you understand why) and a Finals MVP in 2002. He then moved to the Spanish League where he was named the league MVP in 2003, and would continue to play until 2006.

During this time Walter suffered a horrible loss that few of us could begin to contemplate. On one afternoon in July 2003, Herrmann lost the three most important women in his life – his fiancee, his mother and his younger sister – in a tragic car accident. Exactly one year later – on a day Herrmann scored 38 points and 11 rebounds to lead Argentina to the South American Championship – he learn his father died of a heart attack. A lot of players say they have had to overcome adversity to get where they are today in the NBA. In the case of Walter Herrmann, adversity is an understatement. “Now I am of the mind to look in front of me,  and not behind” Walter said. And look forward he did, to the bright lights of the NBA.

Walter’s decorated international career attracted NBA scouts at a time when big white international players with shooting range were the flavor of the month (when haven’t they been?). He signed a contract with the Charlotte Bobcats for the 2006-2007 season, a season that saw him win Rookie of the Month honors in March, and a mention to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Hermann averaged 12 and 4 that season shooting an astounding 58 percent from the field, all in 20 minutes per game for the Bobcats. In short, it was a fantastic debut season and the Bobcats quickly signed him for another year. This guy was a freak.

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Early in the 2007-2008 season however, Walter was part of a trade that sent Nazr Mohammed to Charlotte for Walter and Primo Brezec (at the time it was a bit of a “nothing” trade, in hindsight, Walter is clearly the best of those three). Charlotte fans had lost one of their favorites – for Walter, it meant becoming part of a team who was a legitimate Finals contender. Herein lied the problem. After playing 20 minutes a game in Charlotte where he regularly topped the 20-point mark, Walter was now buried at the end of a long bench that saw him average 7 minutes for the Pistons in the 07-08 season. Here was a guy with the talent to arguably be a starter in this league, or at least a 6th or 7th man, now relegated to minutes during garbage time. Not that the fans cared. Walter’s long flowing hair and unorthodox playing style made him an immediate fan favorite in Detroit – a long Walter three or baseline scoop shot would often be the ultimate way to cap off a Detroit blow out.

In 2008-2009, Detroit’s new coach and shaken starting line up has meant that Walter gets more opportunities. Not only is he getting more minutes – he’s getting more meaningful minutes, and it’s paying off. Walter’s 4-5 shooting was a big reason the Pistons got over the line against Boston earlier in the year, and a lot of the time you’ll see Walter running around late in the fourth quarter when the Pistons are trying to stretch the defense.

Walter Hermann is the epitome of an unsung player in this league. Not only because he plays light minutes, or because he gets the biggest cheers, or because he looks like a male model when he’s streaking down the court. It’s because he’s a guy with a heap of talent who could be getting a heap of minutes elsewhere, a guy who has been an unquestioned star during his years in international leagues, yet a guy still works hard and never complains. A guy who bears the scars of unimaginable loss, but who nonetheless always does his part for the team and always seems to be enjoying himself. That makes him a hero in the eyes of Detroit fans, and I truly hope that someday Walter gets the recognition he deserves by fans all across the world. Until then, I’ll be content to write about Walter Herrmann every year on Unsung Player Day.

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Walter Herrmann dunking naked – that is no lie

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