Apr. 17, 2017
The Pistons and the Palace: An Obstructed Farewell
In the past few weeks the Detroit area said bye-bye to two of their famed arenas where their host teams enjoyed much success over the time they were there. The Red Wings struggled early at the Joe in the Dead Wings era until the late 80's then rolled in the 90's and up through the mid part of this decade as a benchmark of consistency in the NHL while the Pistons entered the Palace with a bang before skidding and getting strong again in the mid 2000's, winning the way they did in 89 and 90, with stout defense only to really become nonexistent in the NBA in this decade really.
But anyway, today (after a week off almost of posting) I will look back at the Palace, including my All-Palace Pistons team. Enjoy.
ENTERING IN STYLE: The Palace opened in 1988 as the Pistons were pretty much about to take the throne of the NBA's best from the Lakers, who had beaten them in June of that year in a heartbreaking 7-game series. However, the Pistons didn't really change their style of play and made one key move during the 88-89 season, picking up Mark Aguirre from Dallas for Adrian Dantley. According to the 30 for 30, many questioned the move (I was a bit too young to remember how people reacted, but didn't seem too positive), but really Aguirre was a major fit for the Pistons. They steamrolled through the first two series before going up against Michael Jordan and the Bulls (and then using the Jordan Rules to frustrate him to no end) and taking them down in 6. Then the Pistons exacted revenge on the Lakers, sweeping them for the first NBA Championship.
BAD BOYS VS. AIR JORDAN: I admit I am a bit biased when it comes to discussing rivalries in sports. Yes, I get the Lakers and Celtics were intense games in the 80's. I get if you're in Boston you think the Red Sox/Yankees is still the rivalry. Or if you're down south, Alabama/Auburn is must-see, but before all of those the rivalries Detroit had (as I mentioned with Colorado in hockey) were very intense in sports at the time. And the Pistons vs. Bulls was no different. To sum up, Chicago and Detroit do not like each other in ANY sport. Until the Wings moved into the East in the NHL, all the Chicago & Detroit teams were in the same division, and most years you had one of the teams at the top while the other constantly vying to de-throne them. And if you're from Chicago, you look at Detroit as just a place where the teams played low-down and dirty in any sport. If you were from Detroit, you actually looked at Chicago as a smug group who did not differ too much from the SNL bit of Bill Swerski's Superfans, just being arrogant and thinking they ruled the sports world and all you wanted to do was knock their block off.
When the Pistons ruled, Chicago came after them big time. Detroit would frustrate Jordan to no end, knocking him down as much as they could and got the edge early on. When Scottie Pippen got involved and came into his own, the Pistons sent a message to him constantly, throwing him down and frustrating Pippen (and the other Bulls) where they made sure they were psyched out. The 1990 Eastern Conference Finals to me was one of the most physical, intense, and hated series I can remember just because of how both teams just played basketball. Chicago didn't like how Detroit played, but Detroit did it to have that mental edge, as they did with Boston before them. The Pistons won in 7, but it gave Chicago that momentum that would build their dynasty.
The next year, Detroit's stars continued to age and all the physical games finally took the toll on the team and the players. Chicago, who had been driven from the previous losses the last few years, thumped Detroit. The Pistons, who loved being the villains, the starters left Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals before the game ended and not shaking hands with their foes, just remained "bad" at any point.
But from 89-91, the Palace was always jumping.
FINAL COUNTDOWN: All through the first part of the Palace's run, whenever you saw the Pistons in the Finals or in deep playoff games, you would hear the introductions. And when the intros started, you heard Europe's Final Countdown blaring. For the longest time and even now I still consider that the Pistons fight song.
It still pumps me up as a Pistons fan. Anyway, of course two different eras and technology was a bit different from both, but you were amped up. And John Mason is just an awesome PA guy for the Pistons.
PISTONS DO WELL, PALACE ROCKED: One of the things I always heard was when the Palace was packed and the Pistons were rocking, it was a nightmare for opposing teams. In the final game at the Palace, Kobe Bryant, using quotes for a tribute video even made note of how amazing the place was with the fans and when the Lakers always came to town. The Pistons fans would get on him every chance, but in his final go-around the fans also applauded what he did in his entire career. He was the only "non-Piston" player to be quoted on that (though he evidently came close a few times to being a Piston...but anyway). And I think that is what many thought of the Palace was a wild and crazy atmosphere.
Unfortunately, since there wasn't a whole lot in walking distance to the Palace for foods and entertainment, the Pistons are returning back to Detroit to share an arena with the Red Wings, who were also isolated from that stuff at Joe Louis Arena. The Palace was a trend-setter with the modern amenities such as luxury suites and other things. I went there a few times but only once for a Pistons game (1992 Pistons vs. Portland) and loved the place. We were up pretty high but it was still an awesome experience and fans packed the place, though we all knew at that point Detroit's days with the Bad Boys were rapidly coming to an end. But it was something else.
Now my ALL-TIME PALACE PISTONS TEAM:
C-Ben Wallace: You heard the "dong" for Big Ben when he got a rebound or when they called his name. The fact was, he was a defensive beast. He wasn't big by any means, but his athletic ability was nothing short of impressive. He could leap high and get rebounds over the bigger centers and he was one of the rare players who really gave Shaquille O'Neal fits in his prime.
PF-Dennis Rodman: What Wallace was for Detroit from 2001-2006 Rodman was for the Bad Boys. He was just a gifted athlete who could get inside your head with his style of play rebound like nobody else could in his heyday. Teams had numerous fits with this guy because he would play a physical but mostly a clean game (which I think it got overlooked in his Bad Boys days) but he did stuff just to infuriate you and there wasn't a whole lot you could do.
SF-Grant Hill: Possibly the best all-around player the Pistons ever had in the Palace Era was the guy who DIDN'T win a world championship with Detroit. Hill was sound in every aspect of the game, save for possibly the 3-pointer. Did he do anything overly great? No, but he did everything strong and there wasn't a massive weakness to this guy. The running gag that even he & former Piston Bill Laimbeer did in a commercial was he was too nice of a guy and didn't fit that Piston image somewhat. But if it weren't for his injuries (after he had left Detroit) he probably would be a sure-bet Hall of Famer.
SG-Joe Dumars: I flip-flopped with Dumars and Hamilton here. I give the nod to Dumars in part because he was there longer and the numbers lean slightly more towards him than Rip. That said, the guy was money in the finals. His play in 1989 and 1990 were things of beauty. And Michael Jordan has even said one of the toughest opponents he ever went against was Dumars, on both sides of the basketball. High praises.
PG-Isiah Thomas: Thomas was the little engine that could and knew no fear with anybody. He was tough as nails and would be in your face regardless of who you were. He could do it all and everybody knew it was HIS team back in the Bad Boys era. And nobody argued about it (save Adrian Dantley).
Bill Laimbeer: Seriously, how could you NOT have this guy? Laimbeer wasn't anything close to the athletes of the Pistons I mentioned so far, but he was a smart player that would get inside your heads. People hated him because he would try to get that edge and most of the times it worked.
Rasheed Wallace: Wallace is on here because he somewhat tilted Detroit's run in the mid 2000's their favor. The thing was, the Rasheed Wallace of the Pistons was not the Wallace of the Portland Trailblazers before he arrived. He was somewhat considered a malcontent before Detroit, but really was the best thing for those Pistons teams form 2004-2008. He wanted to win and sacrificed stats when he arrived to Detroit. For that I salute him.
Tayshaun Prince: Prince was a gifted athlete and a steal in the draft when Detroit got him. His ability to shoot and play defense was perfect for what the Pistons wanted to do. He was a very quiet player and many focused on the other 4 starters in the Pistons run, he really hurt you. And had one of the most amazing blocks I ever remembered on Reggie Miller in 2004.
Richard Hamilton: Hamilton was just as smooth as Dumars and others on here. In fact, he was a very consistent player throughout his time in Detroit. And how he played against Reggie Miller and Kobe Bryant in 2004 was nothing short of impressive. He outplayed Kobe in the finals and just gave him fits on the defensive end. Definitely one of the most underrated players in basketball at that time and even now.
Chauncey Billups: "Mr. Big Shot" had a knack of winning games at the buzzer or sending games into overtime. Similar to Hamilton, he stepped up in big games when the Pistons needed him to. He went to war with Jason Kidd in the New Jersey series in 2004 when Kidd was probably at the height of his career and held more than his own in that series. You knew Billups when he was on the court would always give the Pistons a chance to win any game.
Jerry Stackhouse: Like Hill, Stackhouse wasn't a part of any championship Pistons team and is somewhat forgotten in the whole shuffle for Detroit players. But I like to credit Stackhouse for buying into the team concept after 2001 when he led the league in scoring and the year after Stackhouse's scoring numbers dropped. The Pistons won the Central in 2002 thanks in large part to him. Of course he got traded for Hamilton after that year, but his contributions to the Pistons should not go unnoticed.
Vinnie Johnson: "The Microwave" when he was on, nobody could stop him. He was an underrated player all around. And he was the guy who really took over in that last bit of Game 5 against Portland in 1990 including the game winning shot. But he was that ideal role player to give the likes of Thomas and Dumars their rest and he did it perfectly.
Head Coach: Chuck Daly. The late Daly helped build the Bad Boy Pistons team in the 80's and early 90's. And he wasn't one who told his guys to "go out there and thug it up." He was a player's coach really and let his players do what they needed to do to win. The players loved playing for him and he was a great coach all throughout.
Honorable Mentions: James Edwards, Rick Mahorn, John Salley, Mark Aguirre, Lindsey Hunter, Andre Drummond
Thanks for some memorable moments over the years at the Palace.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat