After his Cleveland Cavaliers were awarded the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in four years at Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery, you’d think owner Dan Gilbert would be wary of upsetting the basketball gods.
But there Gilbert was on Detroit’s Mojo In The Morning radio show (95.5 FM, via 6abc.com), questioning whether the Detroit Pistons—who play their home games at the Palace of Auburn Hills—ought to have their city moniker removed.
Enter Stan Van Gundy, Detroit’s newly anointed coach and president of basketball operations, who fired back at Gilbert.
"Dan Gilbert has some selfish interests for saying what he said," Van Gundy told the folks at 105.1 FM in Detroit (via ESPN.com). "I think we know what those are. Finally I think he has enough to worry about with his own team than worrying about us."
As the ESPN story aptly notes, Van Gundy was likely referring to Gilbert’s extensive business interests in and around Detroit, where there’s been something of a growing movement in recent years to move the Pistons back to their namesake city, where the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions all reside.
Here's what Gilbert had to say about the Pistons in Auburn Hills, per the ESPN story:
"If you're gonna convince someone like that, and I've said it to him, long term for business reasons, that's not a viable place that you're gonna have a long-term successful, profitable venture. People want entertainment, a whole night of it, a whole experience."
It's not the first time Gilbert has made his opinions on the matter loud and clear. Take this quote from the annual "Pancakes and Politics" breakfast held in Detroit (via D.L. Hughley of 93.1 FM WZAK out of Cleveland):
“Let’s face it these are arenas, they don’t belong in a farmland in the suburbs," Gilbert said. "Think about it, that doesn’t make any sense.”
The Pistons haven’t played a full season in Detroit since 1978, the year then-owner Bill Davidson moved the team to the Pontiac Silverdome, just a stone’s throw from where the Palace—built in 1988 and situated roughly 30 miles north of the city proper—currently sits.
Despite its age, the Palace remains a state-of-the-art facility. Whether and how long that will be enough to convince owner Tom Gores to eschew a move back to Detroit’s revitalized downtown sector remains to be seen.
In a 2013 interview with the Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis, former NBA Commissioner David Stern expressed his support for the Pistons remaining in Auburn Hills, citing millions in renovations spearheaded by the Gores ownership team over the past few years:
It's been a great home for us, and indeed it is, I'd say, given the recent reinvestments that have been made by Tom Gores and Dennis Mannion and that whole team. It's the best preserved of its age that we have, and it's just about as modern as can be. So I have had not part of any discussion for a replacement arena for that.
Indeed, Detroit has garnered something of a reputation for being a front-runner basketball town, which would make any major move a precarious prospect indeed.
For proof, just check out this graph detailing Detroit's attendance numbers since 2001. Notice how the boom years directly coincide with Detroit's six consecutive conference finals appearances between 2003 and 2008.
At the same time, it's unclear what Gores' ultimate goals are for the Palace and the team itself, as this 2012 piece by the Free Press' Drew Sharp illustrates:
Gores didn't become a billionaire corporate shark through gushy sentiment. His private equity company, Platinum Equity, bought the entire Palace Sports and Entertainment operation because it saw valuable assets to build upon and make more profitable.
Nobody's still too sure if the Pistons are a long-term part of that equation.
The 1970s were a far, far different time in Detroit, of course—and the NBA was a far, far different league. While it’s instructive to note the Pistons’ spotty past playing in Motown, the city's rich basketball history, combined with the NBA’s ever-growing popularity, is more than enough for Gores to at least consider the possibility of a prodigal return.
If not, Gores can rest easy knowing the Van Gundy hire assures that Detroit—with an intriguing, young roster and a bit of cap space to spare—will be a team to watch next season.