I had very few specific goals when I launched this site last October. At first, I spent most of my time scouring the internet to find the latest info on the Pistons, attempting to serve as a clearinghouse of information on the team for whatever readers came my way. I liked to inject a bit of personal commentary here and there, but I was awfully self-conscious in the early going. Even though I am a writer and used to the idea of putting my opinions "out there," it took awhile for me to get over the mental construct of having an actual "blog."
Why? Blogs just seemed a bit... pretentious, as if I thought my opinions about sports were so important that they couldn't fit into a regular message board. I eventually got over that, though, because truth be told, one of the biggest kicks I get out of this site is reading the comments people leave behind. I like starting conversations, not giving lectures. At the end of the day, I know I'm just a fan. I may watch a lot of games and read a lot of articles, but in the end my opinion holds as much water as those of my readers, many of whom follow the team just as closely as I do.
But while I can't lay claim to any special insight or intuition, I am lucky enough today to present the thoughts of someone who can: Dave Wieme. For a lot of fans, Dave needs no introduction -- he's the author of a funny and insightful blog over at Pistons.com. As the Palace Sports & Entertainment Director of Strategic Communications, and someone who's been with the team for all three of their NBA titles, he can offer a unique perspective on what it's like to work for one of the best professional sports organizations in the world.
Dave was nice enough to answer a few questions for us -- as he describes below, his days can be extremely busy, so we definitely appreciate the considerable time and candor he put into his responses. I believe everyone out there will enjoy his insight, including his descriptions of the various jobs and roles he's filled for the team over the years, his observations about how the NBA has evolved in that time, his opinion on who would win a showdown between the original Bad Boys and the current squad, which Pistons (past and present) he feels should have their jerseys retired, and some refreshingly candid remarks about the Larry Brown era.
Again, we thank Dave for taking the time to do this. The following is the results of our email conversation.
Matt Watson: According to your description over at Pistons.com, it sounds like you've been affiliated with the Pistons for the better part of 25 years, starting back in 1982 when the team was still at the Silverdome. What exactly were you doing for the team back then?
Dave Wieme: You know, when you put it that way, I start feeling pretty old. Hell, I start feeling REALLY old! But I guess I have been around the Pistons for a very long time. I don't think 25 years is a true indication because I left the organization for a while from '93 to '01, but it certainly has been more than 17 years and that's a long time.
You and your readers will note that I WAS NOT around for the teal years AND the years the team wasn't very good…coincidence, I think not…now if I could only get my salary to reflect my "good luck charm" status, I'd be golden.
I've certainly seen a lot and I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in today. When I started, I was 15 years old and we were playing at the Silverdome. I wasn't a big fan of the Pistons or basketball at the time; I played in middle school and played a year of freshman ball, but I was too short and didn't have much skill, so I doubt I would have made the JV team. The job, however, opened my eyes to a great number of things, not only with business, but with basketball as well.
Being only 15, I had to rely on my parents to drive me to the Silverdome after school and I would go in around 3:00 p.m. every game day. I worked directly for the public relations department as a pseudo intern and then would work on the scoring crew as a runner during the games.
Before games, I would work with college interns and the PR director to put the official Game Notes together - copy them, staple them into packets and pass them out before the game. I would also do newspaper clippings. No, we didn't have Google to search, but instead we would get newspapers from around the country delivered to the offices and we had to go through them twice a week to pull articles that concerned the Pistons. I would help set up the press room and the courtside seating for the media, including setting up phones, typewriter, foul paddles and assignment cards.
Now here is where I'm going to sound really old…in those days (I can't believe I am using that phrase), we didn't have computers, so all the statistics were kept by hand. There was one official book that was kept by our official scorer (since 1957, Morrie Moorawnick, who, by the way, still comes around games at The Palace). Stats were transcribed onto official sheets after every quarter, at halftime and for the final box scores. We also had a running sheet that was done on an electric typewriter. These running stats recorded every event that happened during every quarter…from points, to rebounds, to shots, to fouls, to timeouts…and the time of each occurrence was recorded on these sheets as well.
The running and box scores were done on pre-printed, carbon paper, with the columns and boxes. Moorie, along with others on the scoring crew, had to fill in the boxes for the end of the quarter stats…by hand!
My job was to take the sheets back into our copy room, run them off on a mimeograph machine and then run the copies back out to the media sitting at the table courtside. It's funny, because of computers today, the media gets their stats immediately. If there is any delay, they start to get ornery and if they don't get them before the next quarter starts, they usually go ballistic. Back in the day, if I got the stats back out the media by the nine minute mark of the next quarter, I was flying…and they were appreciative.
During the game I had to run what were called "running stats" - updates on individual and team performances; points, steal, FG%, FT% and rebounds - to the media. These running stats were done on carbon paper that was five sheets thick and Morrie rattled the numbers off as someone else wrote it down. I then had to take the sheets to, and I will always remember this order, home radio, home reporters, visiting radio, visiting reporters and then home television, which was always on the opposite side of the court from the scorer's table where I picked up the sheets.
I got to be pretty well known, not only with the media, both home and away, but also with a number of the season ticket holders who had seats down low enough to see me do my thing.
After games, I helped get quotes from players and coaches on each team, passed out stats, typed up the quotes and then picked up the phones, foul paddles and anything else that was used at the scorer's table that night. I usually got home about midnight on game nights.
The greatest job ever, from high school on.
MW: What other roles have you held in the organization over the years?
Besides my current position and as a runner for the scoring crew, I have held the position of public relations assistant, basically an assistant PR director in the Pistons PR offices. I worked for Matt Dobek, the current vice president of public relations for the Pistons, from 1989 to 1993. Great years to be employed full time. Matt, by the way, has been here, consistently, since 1983.
During that tenure in the PR offices, I also got close with the assistant coaches - the Brendans, Suhr and Malone - and they asked me to break down tape for the team. Basically, I charted tendencies of opponents and also put together tapes of plays for our opponents. It was a great chance to learn the game from the best. I loved knowing tendencies of players in the league and helping players like Isiah, Joe, Dennis and the rest of the Bad Boys prepare.
The experience with the coaches, along with the PR job was extremely valuable and really helped me in my current role. I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the game and decent understanding (as much as they can be) of the media.
MW: You left the organization in 1993 but returned in 2001, ironically the exact same time that the five-year Teal Uniform Era mercifully ended. Coincidence, or not? And what differences do you see in the NBA as a whole from your first stint with the team to your second?
There is a definite coincidence between my leaving and the Pistons going in the tank and my coming back and the Pistons being successful. Also, it's no coincidence that we dumped the teal right around the time I came back. It's amazing how bad the team is when I'm not around and how really good they are when I'm around. I think Joe Dumars really needs me.
Of course, I also believe that I can change the weather just by thinking about it and if I wear the right underwear, we will eventually have world peace.
I honestly believe there is NO connection…if I DID believe it, I would have also figured out, like I mentioned above, how to make my salary commiserate with my "luck charm" status.
As far as part two of the question, I think the biggest difference I see in today's NBA versus back in the day is the fact that there aren't any real rivalries. Back in the day, the Pistons hated the Celtics. We came to hate the Bulls as well. They were in the East and we played them often. Boston was the team we had to beat to get to the promised land. Chicago was the team that was like us and we were their Celtics. They had to get past us to get to Nirvana.
When we played these teams we hated them. We hated the players, we hated the coaches, we hated the city, we hated their fans. And the players showed it.
Today, the NBA doesn't have great rivalries…and the players all seem to like each other. I don't know if it's from the collective bargaining agreement or if the players stand united against ownership or what, but there isn't any real animosity in today's NBA. I know that's probably not the PC thing to say, but I believe it's true. I'd like to see some guys knocked on their butts once in a while. Would like to see a couple hard plays, just to get their attention and show who is boss.
Back in the day, there were friendships amongst players, but when they got on the court, all bets were off. Think about Magic and Isiah, Mahorn and Jeff Ruland, Laimbeer and…well, bad example because he hated everyone and everyone hated him. I liked those old days when you felt it was us against everybody.
MW: Your official title is Director of Strategic Communications, and you've described it as "a hybrid of public relations, communications, promotions, marketing, advertising and brand management." It sounds like you wear a lot of different hats each week, and as such, I'm guessing you don't have very many "typical" days. (One of my favorite posts of yours was the one from January 12 when you talked about how you woke up expecting a quiet day at the office only to learn about the whole Automotion "controversy".) But, when everything is going smoothly, what does a routine day at the office entail for you?
First of all, thanks for reading my entries on www.pistons.com. I have really enjoyed writing them and hope to do it on a more regular basis during the playoffs.
To your question, my days are anything but typical, but I'll give some idea of what I do. First off, I have regularly scheduled meetings every day of the week.
Mondays are with Operations/Communications and we review every event and the week past. Tuesdays it's a Pistons executive meeting, a Web meeting and Corporate Sponsorship meeting. Wednesdays it's a Promotions meeting. Every other Thursday, I meet with Tom Wilson and Alan Ostfield to discuss strategy and any corporate communications issues. Fridays, it's a Detroit Shock meeting. Being at these meetings allows me to have a greater understanding of all that is going on in the organization and thus, pick and choose those issues that might be of interest to the media and help us perpetuate the message of Palace Sports & Entertainment.
Every day, I read all three local papers to start my day. I also scan CNN online every morning to get an understanding of what is making national news. Every week, I review Crain's Detroit Business, Sports Business Journal and the Oakland Business Review. Once per month, I am involved in a NBA Communications conference call with every team in the league.
I receive about 75-100 emails per day and anywhere between 25-40 phone calls. Thank goodness for my Blackberry…it has been a real time-saver as I can be totally portable with it and stay in touch with the office.
I have an assistant and typically three college interns working for me. We do a great deal of writing, including press releases (usually two per week), stories for the Web site, media advisories and internal communications. We also do a great deal of pitching story ideas to the media. This can include phone calls or emails to every media source - local newspapers, radio and television - and then national sources, if applicable. Finally, we also do a great deal of research, staying on top of things and gathering information.
Nothing typical on a day-to-day basis, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
MW: How, if at all, does your job change as we get closer to the playoffs?
In a nutshell, things get busier. There is heightened interest in the team and the organization and the media is searching for stories. What I try to do to prepare for this time of the year is sit down in mid-April and review what we might have done last year and come up with ideas for this year. I make a list of story ideas that the media might be interested in and then I make some calls to members of the media to get a feel for when and what they might need. Really, it's about preparation and then about availability. The further we go, the bigger it gets and the busier it gets. I love playoff time.
MW: Since you've witnessed all three of the team's NBA titles up close, I have to ask: who do you think would win a seven-game series between the old school Bad Boys and today's current crew? What similarities do you see between the two teams, and what differences do you see?
At the beginning of the season, when Isiah had his number placed on the floor of The Palace, the media was asking this question. At that time, I wrote a blog on the question and picked the Bad Boys to win. My answer was based on the fact that the Bad Boys were a physical team with a very deep bench. I thought the Bad Boys would beat up, intimidate and pound this current team into submission. I thought the Bad Boys could throw too many weapons at the current team and would take a seven game series in five or six games.
Today, as I write this, I have changed my opinion. I believe today's version of the Detroit Pistons would have a very good chance to win a seven-game series against the Bad Boys. The match-ups are fairly even, but I see today's Pistons with a bit of an advantage, talent-wise. The bench was a weakness, however, in these past few months, the bench has proved to be very good. McDyess, Lindsey, Tony Delk and Delfino are playing well and now extend leads that the starters get instead of trying to hold on while the starting five rests.
The main advantage I still see the Bad Boys having is the five inches or so between everyone's ears. I have never seen anyone with a will to win like Isiah. And I have not seen a team with a collective will, particularly in big games, like the Bad Boys.
Today, I think this series would go seven games, but I still think the Bad Boys would prevail in game seven by a score of 92-90. So close, so close, so close and a very exciting time to be a Pistons fan these days.
MW: A lot of the guys I used to cheer for in the late 80's and early 90's now have their numbers hanging from the Palace rafters. Personally, I think it's already set in stone that 20 years from now we'll also see No. 3 up there, and if things go right, maybe even a No. 1 and No. 32. In your opinion, what do you think?
Retired numbers are kind of a touchy subject with me…I think the only time you retire a number is if the person has been with the organization for a very long time and has made significant contributions to the organization and is recognized by his peers as one of the best in the industry.
I'm going to say something that is probably going to surprise some of your readers, but before this season started, I felt there should only be three numbers up in the rafters -- #11, #16 and #21. I think Isiah, Bob Lanier and Dave Bing were the only three guys that truly deserved to have their numbers retired for all that they did for the criteria I mentioned above. Today, one number should be added to that list -- #4 Joe Dumars. His recent induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame solidified it for me.
As far as #1 and #32…I think there still needs to be some time with the organization, and some success with the organization and maybe a Hall of Fame consideration, before we consider retiring their numbers. As it stands today, I would have to agree with your assessment that #3 will most likely be up there.
MW: I'm still feeling the sting from [the March 17th] loss to the Knicks, not just because it was a game everyone thought the Pistons were going to win, but also because it was a loss at the hands of Larry Brown, one of the biggest turncoats in Detroit sports history. But as frustrating as it was for me as a fan to hear all of those "Larry to Cleveland" rumors during last year's playoffs, I'm guessing it was even worse for you to deal with from a public relations standpoint. Was there any animosity toward Brown (and if so, is there any left over) amongst those responsible for dealing with what had to be a public relations nightmare?
Personally, the thing with Coach Brown was a feeling of disappointment more than animosity.
I respected Coach Brown. I respected his credentials and his pedigree and I respected the position he was taking on.
He comes to the organization as a Hall of Fame guy and immediately makes an impact on your team. He has been entrusted with our very precious commodity and is expected to do everything in his power to take care of it. He preaches doing things "the right way" and pounds the philosophy into everything he talks about. I felt safe with him at the helm and he furthered this feeling when we won the championship in 2004.
I liked Coach Brown from the moment I met him at his address to our staff. He had been here about two days and he was to address our staff of about 300 people in the arena. He walked in, in his long sleeve workout shirt, sweat pants and basketball shoes. He is about my height, but for a man of his age, he is in great shape; lean and muscular. I remember I walked up before his address and introduced myself. I said, "Coach Brown, it's a pleasure to have you here and I'm looking forward to working with you. Anything I can do to brief before you address the staff?"
He said to me, "Yes, Dave, you can call me Larry." And then he laughed and briefly told me what HE was going to discuss with our staff. I liked him immediately.
I didn't deal with him very much, that is more the job of our public relations guys Matt Dobek and Kevin Grigg, but from afar, I got to know Coach Brown as a professional who understood the business and understood basketball. He was accommodating, most times, and he really knew what being a head coach was all about. I saw him as good for our team and our organization.
But then I began to read things in the newspaper and see things on television. I didn't know he was sick and when he went for surgery, I think we are all stunned. But I thought we hung by him and did everything we could to support him.
And then he comes back, and maybe it was too soon, but he comes back and gives us a lift. We go on a tear and go into the playoffs feeling pretty good and playing even better. And then, out of the blue the news comes that he has talked with Cleveland and then the talks with New York.
What? Are you kidding? Why now? Why this? What possibly can be gained?
He has betrayed the team. He has betrayed the organization and he has betrayed the people who have supported him throughout. In this organization, disloyalty is not looked upon very highly. And when it's disloyalty in public, it falls even further down the hole.
For those of you who think Coach Brown wasn't disloyal, let me put it to you this way. What would you do with an employee who came to you and said they were going to speak to your direct competitor about the potential for a very high-ranking job in their organization? AND they were going to do it when your annual earnings reports were coming out AND they were going to tell everyone and anyone that they were having these discussions?
What would you do? Exactly…you would fire the person. I think Mr. Davidson put it best when he spoke to Bernie Smilovitz right after Coach Brown was let go. Mr. Davidson basically said it just got to be too much Larry and not enough Pistons. It was all about Larry and we can't have that. This is a team and as a team, it can't be all about one person. And so he did the deal.
I know there is some animosity towards Coach Brown, from people in the organization and from the media. Me personally, I still respect the man and what he did for this organization, but I'm also very disappointed in his actions and the way he handled the situation. I think he could have done a much better job and avoided the drama.
MW: Last, but definitely not least, please tell us that there are no plans in the works to replace Europe's "The Final Countdown" as the unofficial team theme song.
I can unequivocally say that there are no plans to replace The Final Countdown. It has worked for us for nearly 20 years…if it ain't broke, don't fix it!