Dr. Ben Paolucci
Dr. Ben Paolucci

Dr. Ben Paolucci passed away on April 7, 2021, in Florida at the age of 84.

Dr. Ben Paolucci operated quietly behind the scenes while he was the team physician for the Detroit Pistons from the early 1970s until he retired in 2015.

The players who were Paolucci’s patients — including NBA champion Pistons teams in 1989, 1990 and 2004 — grabbed the headlines and the spotlight.

Long before he became a doctor, in the 1950s, Paolucci again did something few knew about, but was equally as important.

Paolucci, who died April 7, 2021, in Florida at age 84, joined an otherwise all-Jewish fraternity at Wayne State University, then known as Wayne University, where he played football.

At the time, there were Jewish and non-Jewish fraternities and sororities at Wayne. When Paolucci joined Gamma Kappa Chi, he broke that barrier.

He didn’t do it to makes waves, according to a close friend. He did it to help him pursue a dream.

“Benny — that’s what everybody called him — had aspirations of being more than a football player,” said Sheldon Miller, a Gamma Kappa Chi member.

“He wanted to be affiliated with Gamma Kappa Chi because our fraternity always had a lot a future doctors and even a few future lawyers as members. We were happy to have him,” said Miller, an attorney with an office in Farmington Hills.

Gamma Kappa Chi no longer exists. In 1958, the local fraternity merged with Tau Epsilon Pi, a mostly Jewish national fraternity.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Gamma Kappa Chi was the largest fraternity on the Wayne campus, with close to 100 members.

It was known as the “docs and jocks” fraternity because it had many medical students and athletes as members and dominated intramural sports competition.

Paolucci didn’t play sports for Gamma Kappa Chi, according to fraternity brother and close friend Harvey Miller, because he didn’t think it was fair for a varsity athlete to compete in intramural sports.

Gamma Kappa Chi fraternity brothers have stayed close through the years. That includes Paolucci.

“Benny was one of the guys. An outstanding guy,” said Miller, a West Bloomfield resident and retired manufacturers rep.

Miller said he was friends with Paolucci mainly because of their mutual love for tennis and involvement in the game.

Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellum issued a statement about Paolucci.

“Dr. Paolucci formed meaningful and long-term relationships with many players and staff members across multiple eras of Detroit Pistons basketball,” Tellum said.

“We’re grateful for his years of service to the organization as he devoted much of his time and energy ensuring each player was provided the best possible care. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”

A Cleveland native who grew up in Detroit, Paolucci graduated from Wayne State in 1958. He was inducted into the Wayne State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.

Selected by the Detroit Lions in the eighth round of the 1958 NFL draft, Paolucci played for the Lions for two seasons.