Gazing Into The Fish Bowl: Legendary Detroit Defense Atty. ‘Big Fish’ Used To Ball With The Best of The Best On The’ D’s’ Cage Scene

In addition to arguably being the most prominent, skilled and respected criminal defense attorney in the whole state of Michigan, Steve Fishman (right) was one deadly-efficient schoolboy hoop star in his day. The 67-year old Fishman first made a name for himself in Detroit as a standout point guard at Detroit Mumford High School before going on to craft a reputation in the Motor City as an elite legal tactician and orator in the courtroom, fighting just as hard for his clients in front of a jury box as he did for his teammates back on the hardwood in his Mumford Mustangs uniform 50 years ago.

A 1966 Mumford grad, Fishman is the last white basketball player to be selected All-City in the PSL. He averaged double-digits in assists as a junior and senior and co-captained his ‘66 Mustangs club to an appearance in the Class A quarterfinals and a spot in the PSL championship game. His basketball career continued in college in the Big Ten as a reserve in the backcourt at the University of Michigan, where he had a rich athletic lineage – Fishman’s father and his two uncles were the only three siblings to ever all letter for the Wolverines. After graduating from Michigan, he got his law degree at Wayne State and began practicing law in 1973.

Back when he was in high school tearing up the opposition on the basketball floor, Fishman and his best friend and Mustangs’ running mate Larry Moore, an all-state center, engaged in some classic on-court battles with a high-flying Pershing team featuring recent Hall of Fame-inductee Spencer Haywood. Fishman and Moore were on hand last weekend at historic Calihan Hall in Northwest Detroit on the campus of the University of Detroit-Mercy as the Titans’ honored Haywood and retired his No. 45 jersey (what took so long?).

Enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts last fall, Haywood only played one season at UDM prior to turning pro, but it was a truly epic one, averaging both an NCAA-best 32 points and 22 rebounds per game in the 1969 campaign. In more than a decade-long NBA-ABA-Euroleague career, Haywood put up 19 points and 9 rebounds per outing and was a five-time all-star pick (4 x’s in the NBA, one in the ABA). Moore played alongside Haywood at UDM.

Fishman rose to prominence in the world of high-profile legal defense in the 1980s repping some of Motown’s most notorious street kings and crime lords in large, complex drug conspiracy, murder and racketeering cases as well as taking on courtroom matters for a cavalcade of the city’s biggest pro athletes, judges and politicians that have ran afoul with the law in instances as minor as drug driving and as major as high-priority, intense federal felony probes. Some of the names of Fishman’s former clients include the likes of iconic Detroit drug bosses Demetrius Holloway, Richard (Maserati Rick) Carter, Francis (Big Frank Nitti) Usher, LeRoy (Gun) Buttrom, Johnny (Little Man) Curry, Quasand (Q-Dawg) Lewis and Terry (Southwest T) Flenory and NBA stars such as Chris Webber, Robert “The Tractor” Traylor and Ben Wallace.

Fishman was famously able to spring Big Frank Nitti Usher from a lifetime behind bars when he earned him an acquittal via a retrial for a 1979 triple beheading murder he was allegedly involved in or, as Fishman convinced the jury, was the target of. Usher was back in the news last spring with a heroin arrest on the city’s Northwest side.

‘Gun” Buttrom founded the Pony Down drug gang in the early 1980s, the same time Curry’s Eastside-based crew really got off the ground and rolling. “D” Holloway and his right-hand man Maserati Rick Carter were the city’s biggest drug kingpins of the late 1980s, each dying in the same flamboyant style they lived, with Holloway shot dead in broad daylight at a popular downtown men’s clothier in 1990 and Carter gunned down in the intensive care ward of an area hospital two years earlier. Flenory co-founded the bi-costal Black Mafia Family (BMF) in the early 1990s in Southwest Detroit’s Delray neighborhood. “Q” Lewis was NBA’er Tractor Traylor’s cousin and the city’s biggest supplier of marijuana in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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