clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dan Gilbert: 'Detroit doesn't have an NBA team'

Cavaliers owners and Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert took some more jabs at Tom Gores and the Pistons for not playing in the city of Detroit. And you know what? He's probably right.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Gilbert may own the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he's also a Detroit native and businessman who's both emotionally and financially invested in the city's revitalization. 

"There's no question, it's happening downtown," he said Friday during a radio interview on Channel 955's Mojo in the Morning. "If you're young and you're not downtown, you are missing out. And if you're old, like some of us, you're missing out, too. I tell people this in the suburbs all the time, you're missing out if you don't know what's going on." 

Gilbert spoke for 18 minutes about a variety of topics, mostly centered on the city of Detroit's turnaround, including JP Morgan's $100 million investment in the city, new public transportation, the importance of blight reduction and a bold prediction that the city would reverse its population decline within two years.

When speaking of new developments in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood, Gilbert made an important point. "That is booming, there's developers there from Philadelphia, from San Francisco, from New York, from Boston," he said. "I say, 'where are the developers from Oakland County?' They say, 'well they don't know about this yet.' But everybody around the country knows about it and they're here, so sometimes you miss out in your own backyard."

Eventually, the conversation shifted to the NBA -- and Gilbert couldn't resist lumping the Detroit Pistons in with those missing out.  

"Detroit doesn't have an NBA team, because they're somewhere 30, 40 miles north of here."-Dan Gilbert

"First of all, Detroit doesn't have an NBA team, because they're somewhere 30, 40 miles north of here," he said. "So they're not in the city, they're in Auburn Hills, right?"

"Now that Sacramento is building a new arena downtown, of the 29 arenas in the NBA, [the Palace is] the only one not in an urban core. The only one. And it's really not good business -- and this is nothing against Auburn Hills and Oakland County and L. Brooks Patterson, but the bottom line is that an arena in the middle of a field is not an ideal thing."

The Pistons famously had a five-year sellout streak at the Palace, but as Gilbert pointed out, their attendance has plummeted along with the team's place in the standings.

"Look, if you're a championship competing team," Gilbert continued, "they'll go anywhere to see you. We're in the same stage -- the Cavaliers are in the same stage as the Pistons as far as their rebuilding and record, we're within a few games of each other the last three, four years. We averaged something like 17,000 a night, and they averaged, I don't know what it was, but it's significantly less than that. Not because we're better marketers or our team was better, but because when you go downtown, you can go to the casino, you can make it a night."

The Pistons averaged 15,005 fans this past season to Cleveland's 17,329. Detroit has finished in the league's bottom four teams in attendance the last three seasons.

"If the team isn't necessarily a championship team, I don't think you're going to Auburn Hills, walking 300 yards across the asphalt in the middle of February on Monday night, and going back in your car -- you're not going to make a night of it."


The in-arena experience of attending a Pistons game remains top notch, even as the Palace has suddenly become one of the oldest arenas left in the NBA. But the in-arena experience is only half the night. For those who live in the city of Detroit or the western suburbs, braving traffic and driving for 60-90 minutes each way, often in winter conditions and without many options for pre- and post game activities, is the other half. And it's just awful.

A few hours after Gilbert's radio appearance, Stan Van Gundy was Matt Dery's guest on Detroit Sports 105.1, and he was asked to address Gilbert's comments. "First of all, Tom Gores, our owner, his ownership team, they've been very involved in the city of Detroit, not just the surrounding area but the city of Detroit," Van Gundy said. "The Pistons organization tries to stay involved down there.

"We are the Detroit Pistons, and where we play I don't think is of that much relevance." - Stan Van Gundy

"There are teams all over the place that carry the name of the city but represent an entire area. We represent the Detroit metropolitan area. We are the Detroit Pistons, and where we play I don't think is of that much relevance.

"That's the first thing I'd say, and the second thing is obviously Dan Gilbert has some selfish interests for saying what he said. I think we all know what those are. And then finally I think he's got enough to be concerned with with his own team without worrying about us."

I truly love Van Gundy's honesty and willingness to offer a colorful retort, but he couldn't be more wrong. I doubt he understood the overall context of Gilbert's jabs -- specifically, how they were sandwiched between much larger discussions of the city's renaissance -- but it's disingenuous to suggest Gores' involvement with the city of Detroit is even remotely comparable to Gilbert's, or that Gilbert shouldn't be worrying about how to get more people to come downtown. Gilbert clearly didn't appreciate Van Gundy's response, either.

Yes, Gilbert is quite clearly financially invested in the city's development, but it's the type of "selfish interest" that benefits an entire region. The man is biased, lacks tact, unironically appreciates Comic Sans and will likely end up rehiring Mike Brown and winning the No. 1 pick yet again within three years, but it doesn't make him wrong.

The Pistons belong in Detroit.