Let's go back to October 2014. The Pistons home opener was against the Brooklyn Nets. I had recently moved back to Michigan from Los Angeles and decided to trade in my League Pass money (and then some) for a 10 game ticket plan to see my favorite team live. I split 4 seats with my friends and being the die-hard fan of the group (I mean, I'm writing on DBB so obviously) I was the overly optimistic one. I remember walking in, trying to pump everyone up about Stan's first year, and how he could figure it out with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond all on the court. Then the lights of The Palace dimmed.
What followed was a scene that was like a bad energy drink nightmare. There was loud rock music, videos of rally cars in downtown Detroit, Pistons highlights, more rally cars, more extreme sports, a basketball, motorcycles. Rinse. Repeat. I remember slinking down in my seat and saying to myself, "oh god, what is going on?"
On the floor you had dancers headbanging, the drumline trying to do their best Tommy Lee impession, and those flying dunk dudes doing their flying dunk thing. I would only call it impressive in the fact that everyone was owning it and couldn't realize the absurdity of their own actions. At the merciful ending, fireworks blasted and cut to Kid Rock standing at halfcourt - who even himself seemed to be saying "wtf did I just get myself into?"
It was a showy parade of nothingness. No substance. No theme to build around. And it's funny to look back on because that's kind of what the Pistons looked like through the first 30 games as well. We know the story after that. Bye Josh. Hi Swag. Bye Swag achilles. Hello Reggie. Drafting Stanimal.
And that brings us to last night.
I raced out to Auburn Hills right after work. Anxious. Excited. Wondering if I'm doomed for another headbanging-with-an-energy-drink type of spectacle. I was overly optimistic about the Palace crowd. That was a great Hawks win. Drummond has looked like the superstar we've envisioned. Big Stan clearly has the team going in the right direction. People must have taken notice. $15 in parking, and a shockingly short security line later, I sat down and realized how wrong I was -- the place was half full.
As the lights dimmed at The Palace, Mason told us to bust out our cell phone lights to "light up the Palace." A quarter of the crowd did so, as if to say to Mason, "not yet bud, we're not there just yet with this team."
The videos were thematic, clearly sticking with the Detroit Grind buildup they have worked on leading up to this. The same videos we've seen online. It was subdued, but not in a negative way. The player intros we're equally as humble, subbing out any fireworks for just a smoke machine, lights, and the magic of Mason's voice.
By this point, I am in awe of how restrained the festivities are. I mean this is Tom Gores' team. Have you seen the t-shirt cannons we have? Have you seen our jumbotron? Who locked him in a closet and greenlighted this behind his back?
Then Drummond took the mic. A symbolic moment of him clearly becoming the face of the franchise. Last year. when our home opener included a team with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Brandon Jennings, and Andre, you know who took the mic? Caron Butler.
Now it's Andre's team. But he too was humble and quiet about thanking us for coming out. Even when he told the crowd the team was shooting for the playoffs, it was kind of in a hopeful, maybe-ish, don't quote me on it type of way. It took the mayor of Detroit Trick Trick to come out before tip and swear on the PA for us to even really get out of our seats and cheer.
The Palace that was half full at player intros never got to capacity last night. You can blame it on a weekday home opener. You can blame it on the bad weather. But the truth is, a lot of fans aren't there yet with this team. The fact that our victory against the Hawks was the Pistons first time over .500 since 2009 says it all - this team hasn't been a winning team in six years.
The crowd that was in attendance last night was treated to a very Eastern Conference-y game. The offense was never flowing like it does at Oracle arena, and there was no showy Staples Center breakaway dunks. Instead, it was two young, scrappy teams going back and forth all night. The crowd bought into it by the start of the 4th, when the game turned into a frenetic pace that felt hockey-esque.
What I enjoyed watching almost as much as the game were the personalities of the players on the court. The way Tolliver took Stanley Johnson aside after his first Joey Crawford touch foul. The way Baynes laughs after getting called for rough fouls. The way Stan laughed with the bench after Baynes missed an alley-oop and got fouled. The intensity of Marcus Morris the entire night. The fact that Stanley, Drummond, and Morris all rocked Jordan 11s. The way Reggie Jackson barked at KCP after sinking the first free throw to seal the game in the fourth.
Much like the introductions preceding the game, this team has substance. It has a theme. There are no fireworks or rally cars this year, and it's for the best. Because now the Pistons have something much better than that: an identity. And a 2-0 record to go along with it.