Laimbeer was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1979. He played professionally in Italy at Brescia for a year before returning to play for the Cavaliers in 1980. On February 16, 1982, he was traded to the Detroit Pistons, where he would remain for the rest of his career. During his playing career, Laimbeer was one of the most notorious players in the NBA. While highly popular among Piston fans, Laimbeer was despised by opposing players and fans for committing hard fouls himself, while seeming to bait officials into calling fouls on opponents by flopping to the ground after slight contact. In the public eye, Laimbeer's reputation for physical play tended to overshadow his skills. Even his former teammate Dennis Rodman noted this in his book Bad As I Wanna Be, saying, "He(Laimbeer) was more than a thug, but that's what he'll be remembered for." Laimbeer was also the subject of criticism in the Beastie Boys' track "Tough Guy" from their 1994 album Ill Communication. Laimbeer was one of the top outside-shooting centers of his era, draining over 200 three pointers for his career, and excelled at running the pick and roll with guards Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Then-head coach Chuck Daly utilized Laimbeer's skills by having him fade to the perimeter rather than roll to the basket. Laimbeer was selected to the NBA All-Star Game on four occasions (1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987) and finished among the league leaders in rebounding and free throw percentage several times, winning the rebound title in the 1985-86 season. Laimbeer started on the Pistons' 1989 and 1990 NBA championship teams.
Bill Laimbeer is the only player, other than his Detroit teammates, to have a winning record in the playoffs against NBA legends, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.