The fans let down the Detroit Pistons last night, and I am disgusted and disheartened that it happened.
First, a short story.
Last weekend, I was out getting adult things done like grocery shopping and errands when I decide to stop into a local Target. This particular Target had what they generously called a fan shop area right as you walked into the store, a small section where you could grab quick and cheap-ish fan gear for game day, from T-shirts and hoodies to koozies and license plate covers.
As a new parent, I’ve become a sucker for baby Detroit sports gear so I rolled my cart past the sections for the Red Wings, Tigers, Lions, Michigan, and Michigan State and went on my way. Did you notice what team was missing from my story? Because I sure as hell did.
Last night, the Pistons played a historic game of basketball. It was historic because it was their first home game in the city of Detroit since 1977. This was a move people had spoken about for years. How Auburn Hills made no sense for a team that proudly wore the word “Detroit” across its chest.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that exact conversation. How we’ve all talked about how nice it would be to have the basketball franchise back in the city. And when it finally happens, how does the city respond? With a semi-filled arena and pockets of empty seats in the lower bowl. The optics are not great.
Officially the game was a sellout, but anyone with two eyeballs could see that this was far from the truth. And to be honest, it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing even before Deadspin decided to call us out. It was embarrassing to all of the Pistons fans that forked over their hard-earned money and traveled (some from distant states) to be in attendance for the “historic” home opener. It was embarrassing to fans at home who cleared their nights to watch the game. And I’ll go a step farther and say it is flatout unacceptable from a place that likes to boast about being a great “sports city.”
It’s unfortunate because the fans who did show up were crazy into the game. They were loud. They were passionate. They made an arena that was two-thirds full sound like it was bursting at the seams. Just imagine what it would have sounded like with an extra 5,000 people in LCA.
Season is underway #pistons pic.twitter.com/6n1lWzO8xW— Tim Grzecki (@tjetski971) October 18, 2017
Great sports cities show up for the big moments. They show up when they know it’s a night that marks a new chapter. Even if a team struggled the previous season, they show up after they trade for better players (Avery Bradley). They show up and give new guys like Langston Galloway a shot to prove themselves, which he did in spades. Detroit didn’t do that.
So I’ll just say it. Commence rant:
You should be ashamed, Detroit sports fans.
You collective bunch of self-entitled elitist complainers.
Pistons fans have gotten fat and happy. After routinely being atop the attendance list during the Going to Work era and having a record-setting (if dubious) sellout streak, the fans abandoned the team.
Yeah, some of it was deserved after the tail end of the Dumars era. I can understand staying away for the Josh Smith experience. Or the Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva free agent extravaganza. But even when this team won 44 games and made the playoffs the team was bottom five in attendance.
It is time to support the Pistons again.
Unfortunately, for many it’s never good enough and they are the smartest people in the room. You’d rather spend five days a week calling up Valenti to bitch about an organization that has posted one playoff win in the past 30 years.
You’d rather pull your hair out on Twitter about Ken Holland’s draft choices and Al Avila’s trades than giving a basketball team that has delivered three championships to this city a fair shot at your support. You all want to play victim to the Illitches and Fords and huff and puff about how depressing organizations around here can be, while you let the Pistons opening night win take place in a half-empty arena. It’s sad and pitiful.
Uhhhh there is no one at Pistons opening night pic.twitter.com/35UJ4DGklW— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) October 18, 2017
Maybe I’m naive in thinking this, but I believe the fan and team relationship is a two-way street. We invest financially and emotionally in these teams, whether it be on psychologically stable levels is another question, but at the core, it is to say to them “we have your back. We are here for you.”
I’ve always like the term supporters because to me it rings truer. We’re there to support our team, otherwise why the hell would a home court advantage even exist? In return, teams play hard, they respond to our energy and reward our investment. There’s a relationship that is built and it affects both parties when the time comes to move on. Why else would players take out full-page ads in local newspapers to write ‘Thank You’ letters when they leave?
If fans don’t hold up their end of the bargain, players notice. Don't you think every Piston on the team at one point looked around last night and noticed the empty seats? That maybe the image of empty seats on opening night is going to stick in their mind? And if they happen to move on and someone asks about their time in Detroit it might affect their answer?
This fan base loves to point out the fact that the Pistons have no track record of luring a high profile free agent. Looking at the empty seats last night, I was reminded of this fact and thought “Gee, I wonder why.” In an NBA marketplace where teams are financially capped, markets mean everything. Sure, local tax laws and location can play a role, but so can the fan support. It’s why markets like OKC, with a population of a little under 640,000 compared to metro Detroit’s 4 million, have left a remarkable impression on players around the league in a short time. Even Reggie Jackson, who left somewhat unceremoniously, had glowing reviews for his friend Paul George when he was traded there this past offseason. Their fans greet new players at the fucking airport. They have welcome parties that look like a damn music festival. Meanwhile, we let guys catch an Uber and question their skills in the comments section.
This is all not to take away from last night’s win. It was an impressive win. A win filled with lots of bright spots and signs of hope, from Reggie’s offense down the stretch and Andre’s energy to Galloway’s spark off the bench and Stanley Johnson’s defense. But when it was over I couldn’t help but think that we as Pistons fans didn’t deserve it. Because we as a city didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.