Here’s a little more Andrew Unterberger, our correspondent who’s taking two months to see a game in every NBA arena. He’s a busy man and these are his thoughts…
After a short stop in Cleveland (don’t worry, I’ll be back soon enough), I headed up to Detroit to see the Pistons play the Warriors at the Palace of Auburn Hills. I nearly got screwed up by forgetting about Daylight Savings Time, but I also mistakenly assumed that Detroit was in the Central time zone, so luckily the two pretty much canceled out. Meanwhile, I hit up my first Roadfood stand with Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor — arguably somewhat counter-productive of me to travel 600+ miles from the New York area to wait an hour in line for something called a Brooklyn Reuben, but the thing was damn good, and I probably could have spent my entire trip budget on the various consumables in their accompanying shop.
The game was a 6:00 Sunday start, and thanks to the good people at the Palace, who hooked me up with a pass (and free parking!), I was able to split time between the press area courtside and the $4 seat that I had already bought in the upper deck. I came decked in the #32 Hamilton jersey that I bought a few years ago when I was planning on going as Rip for Halloween (before I realized that those orthotic masks aren’t just sold at Modell’s and are actually pretty damn expensive), because I’d never have a better cause to wear it again. But such adornments are frowned upon in the press area, so I had to wear the uni under my sweatshirt and change each time I switched seats. I felt like an extremely lame superhero.
The Stadium: The Palace felt a little stuck between stations to me. Clearly, the Pistons want to be rooted in their past greatness, given the proud legacy of their Bad Boys late-80s teams and the still-fresh glow of their mid-00s conference-championship streakers, but the stadium tries to have it both ways, maintaining the general visual scheme of the classic teams with a kind of modern edge (sharper colors and graphics, weird mascot, surprisingly loud and potent bursts of flame during player intros), which doesn’t always mesh. The dischord between past and present is present throughout the stadium, down to the banner out in front, which features Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey seemingly warring with Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, with Ben Wallace (a foot in both worlds?) making peace in the middle. The message, “Back to work,” is probably more telling than the team intended.
Making the team’s confusion over how to market their current team abundantly clear is the rack of jerseys on sale in the Pistons gift shop. Rows and rows of jerseys, all of either Rodney Stuckey or Jonas Jerebko (see below). For the life of me, I can’t fathom the logic behind limiting the fanbase’s selection to just two players, especially when one of them is a second-year second-round pick who’s already out for the season. (I saw Double J wheeling himself around on an elevated leg cast in the backstage-ish area. One of the team employees asked if he could ride on it with him. I’m not sure that Jerebko really understood.) Maybe it’s an attempt to not dwell in the past, but when the present selection is this uninspiring, perhaps the past isn’t the worst place to chill.
Oh, and by the way, that mascot — I mean, what the fuck? Like my father’s comment about Hip Hop in Philly, I’m not sure why the Pistons (rightfully) decided to do away with any and all memories of the traumatic Teal Era in Detroit Basketball, but still held on to this upsetting mohawked horse thingy. And I’m really not sure why they decided to blow up an enormous version of the thing and have it hovering over the crowd during pre-games–it makes the entire arena look like a Pink Floyd album cover.
The Game: Started slow, but ended up a winner. The first half, Golden State looked like it might end up with its second grind-it-out-type contest in a row, on its way to giving this ’10-’11 Warriors team the all-time GIO win streak in franchise history, with two. But Detroit rallied in the third quarter and into the fourth, sneaking ahead of Golden State in the final frame. Keying the comeback was none other than our man Hamilton — connecting on a number of threes and a couple floaters, proving that even in his increasingly-advanced age the old boy can still put points on the board with the best of them. (Deadline deal for Rip to the Bulls or another contender? Here’s hoping.)
Fans got tense in the final minute, as memories of a couple recent blown late leads rose in their throats when Warriors guard Stephen Curry raced down the court to take a potentially game-tying three (“Oh no, no, no, no, no…” the girl behind me moaned, as if she was watching the killer sneak up behind the Pistons in an all-too-formulaic horror movie.) But Curry didn’t quite follow the script, as his three just barely rimmed out, and the Pistons hung on to win, 102-97. It was only the Pistons’ second win of the season, and the first win for the home team that I’ve attended so far this trip.
Fun as the Ripper’s late scoring outburst was, though, the real treat of the game was still the Warriors’ Monta Ellis. After seeing him in person for the first time, I now have Ellis ranked at #3 behind only LeBron and Derrick Rose as the most breathtaking players in the league around the rim. During a layup drive in the first quarter, he beat his man to the hoop off a break by just a millisecond, and you knew that that millisecond was all Monta would need in his pocket to figure out a way to put ball in basket. Sure enough, he went with an up-and-under wraparound to negate the defender, and the layup was good. It was … well, it was really something. I see the Warriors twice more this trip — including tomorrow night against the Raptors — and you can bet my eyes will be glued to the hardwood anytime #8 gets the ball with anything resembling a lane to the basket in front of him.
The Fans: My only Piston-fan interactions before this game was with my old crazy TV watching-job co-worker Max, whose perennial optimism regarding the team bordered on the delusional. I often tried to empathize with him about both our teams (mine being the Sixers) being despairing franchises, but he would have none of it:
“With all the injuries and everything? They get a mulligan for last year,” he’d insist.
“Yeah, but you guys called for a mulligan two years ago, too,” I’d counter. “How many mulligans in a row do you get before you acknowledge there’s a problem?”
“They didn’t need a mulligan two years ago. They made the playoffs!”
“They got swept in the first round!”
And so on. I wondered if maybe all Pistons fans were like that, but the fans I talked to at the Palace seemed more pragmatic at the least, with responses to questions about the state of the franchise ranging from “Sad” to “At least they’re trying.”
“The roster is just too unbalanced,” said Dan Feldman, a Pistons blogger at PistonPowered that I contacted beforehand. “If they identify a few players capable of playing regular minutes for a championship team, I’d call this year a success.” Complaints also extended to coach John Kuester (“I don’t see the energy. He doesn’t seem like a motivator,” said Mark, a Michigan State fan who spent the entire second quarter clamoring for Charlie Bell to get some PT) and GM Joe Dumars (“Gotta get rid of Dumars first” interjected Malik, when I asked his girl Tamara about how long it’d take the Pistons to get back to contention.)
And of course, the lack of attendance for the game — incrementally better than that of the Nets and Sixers, but still highly underwhelming — was a big part of the discussion. “I remember when the Palace used to be known for being the loudest, the roudiest…” reminisced Tamara. “The city is not loud [anymore].” One guy said it was the smallest crowd he’d ever seen for a Pistons game. I wonder what Max’s explanation for the crowd’s no-show would have been — he probably could have pulled out some stats about the arena’s per-fan efficiency, and claimed that it was just an off-night for the Power Plant.
I also asked four different fans which player they thought was the current face of the franchise, and got four entirely different answers (none of which was Tracy McGrady, amazingly). You think maybe it’s time to blow this team up and start over?
Most Popular Jerseys: Impressively close to a tie between the five starters of the ’04 championship team, with Rip probably getting the slight overall edge. I saw about one each for Villanueva, Jerebko, Gordon and Stuckey, but for the most part, it’s still nothing but 1-3-22-32-36 in the hearts and on the backs of the Piston faithful.
Local Pop Culture Tie-Ins: Not much, though we got nicely predicable uses of KISS’s “Detroit Rock City” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in key late-game situations.
Also Worth Noting: On the current all-NBA bench cheerleader team, there’s no question that Pistons benchwarmer Jason Maxiell is one of the power forwards, possibly starting. Maxy was a DNP-Coach’s Decision for the game, but for every Pistons bucket, he raised his arm and made the “Count It!” motion with his index finger. I can’t imagine how irritated those sitting on the bench next to him must have been — probably as irritated as a first baseman whose pitcher insists on always pointing straight up when an opposing hitter skies a pop-up — but I’m sure those on the court appreciated that someone was paying attention.
Swag Acquired: Hurting for neither a Jerebko nor a Stuckey jersey, I instead went with a nice pair of Pistons gym shorts. I needed a new pair anyway, and the Pistons’ red-and-blue lend themselves pretty well to mesh, I’d say.
Sirius/XM Jam of the Day:
Crucial Conflict – “Hay” (Backspin, XM 65). Unfortunately forgotten (especially by me) 90s hip-hop one-hit wonder from Chicago. Not sure exactly how prominent barns are in Chi-town proper, but then again this isn’t really about that kind of hay, is it? Classic singalong chorus, in any event.
Eh, I’m sick of this country. Let’s go to another one.