November 16th, 2017
Pistons just keep winning. How long
can fans continue to ignore them?
By KEITH GAVE
The Lions are poised and eminently capable of making a serious playoff run. Tigers GM Al Avila is in Orlando, Florida this week with the other MLB general managers, trying to trade away the rest of his team. The Red Wings’ kids are growing up before our very eyes, providing at least a glimmer of hope for the future. Despite what happened in Columbus on Saturday, Michigan State is having a far better season than anyone expected. And Michigan’s football season is about to get very interesting.
But the best sports story in Michigan – the rise of the Detroit Pistons – has been treated like a closely guarded secret.
Shame on us.
With a dominating 7-1 start in their new home downtown, the Pistons are 10-3 overall, just a game-and-a-half behind first-place Boston in the Eastern Conference. So where’s LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers? Way down the standings at 7-7, ninth overall, which means if the NBA playoffs started today, King James would be a spectator and coach Stan Van Gundy and his team would be the second seed – with home court advantage, likely through at least the first two rounds.
Credit Andre Drummond’s newfound touch at the free-throw line, or simply his overall maturation; praise the surprising bench strength or overall unselfishness with the kind of ball movement that is becoming the envy of many opponents, and don’t discount the health – and accountability – of point guard Reggie Jackson. Or the addition of Avery Bradley. Or the emergence of Tobias Harris as a bona fide star.
Van Gundy, who as team president assembled this team, is using a rotation that goes eight or nine deep most nights. Every player seems committed to his role and, so far at least, no one is griping about his minutes.
Tune in (WGRY-FM; 101.1) when the Pistons are playing, and you won’t see what you see on TV because fans by the thousands are showing up as empty seats. In fact, the wide-angle shots can be downright ugly, with whole sections in the pricy lower portion of Little Caesars Arena nearly empty.
The reasons are plentiful, of course, starting with a spoiled-rich fan base that enjoyed their team at The Palace of Auburn Hills who are clearly reluctant to venture into the inner-city – no matter how damned cool it is these days. The longstanding joke about the typical Oakland County resident is that they don’t like to travel south of Eight Mile Road. But the truth is, too many of those people start having anxiety attacks when they get south of Twelve Mile.
Shame on them. Shame on us. And shame on the Pistons for being too greedy. They gouge customers to such a degree that a legion of potential fans in Detroit and surrounding blue-collar communities are priced out of the market. Coughing up $40 to park within a few blocks of the arena is a non-starter for most fans.
And while we’re at it, the Red Wings are equally as guilty – which accounts for hundreds of empty plush red seats at every game.
Build it and they will come? Not so fast, Detroit fans are saying rather emphatically.
Sure, it’s early. But when you win like the Pistons have been lately and fans still seem reluctant to show up and enjoy the show, well, that’s a hell of a statement.
Red Wings fans are grumbling, too, about skyrocketing ticket prices, and it’s hard to blame them. This isn’t exactly a Stanley Cup contending team, and if the Wings’ season heads south it’ll be interesting to see how fans react. It could get ugly.
Chris Ilitch may not have to resort to his father’s ploy of giving an American car away to a fan at every Wings game. But if fans keep turning away he’ll have to do something creative.
And if the Pistons keep winning like this, it’ll beg the question: How long can fans in the best sports town in America resist jumping aboard for the joyride?