SHOW ASIDE, PISTONS PROVE THEY’RE BACK, READY TO PLAY

Chuck Daly stood at center court, the applause wild, the spotlight caressing him. He held the microphone. He grinned. For a minute I thought he would break into a snappy rendition of “Mack The Knife.”

Ah-one, ah-two, ah-three . . .

Show biz.

The Pistons are back, The Palace is open, they played the first game there Saturday night, after a pre-game festival that included, in no special order 1) the raising of the Eastern Conference Championship banner 2) brief speeches by Daly, Isiah Thomas and Bill Davidson 3) a “Welcome to the Palace” video on the big screen scoreboard, in which John Salley takes you through the Detroit locker room. (“See how high our showers are? A normal shower, I have to bend over. But here I can stand up straight. Ahhhhh.”)

There was also a basketball game.

Against the Charlotte Hornets.

Our perennial rivals.

But we will talk about the Hornets in a minute. (Actually, with Kelly Tripuka, Earl Cureton and coach Dick Harter, the Hornets look a lot like the Pistons. At least the way the Pistons used to look. Before they got rid of Tripucka, Cureton and Harter.)

But back to the history. Long after people forget the Pistons won 94-85, they will remember that chilling moment, when it was dark, and everyone waited in anxious anticipation.

I am talking about the traffic jam on Lapeer Road.

Half the fans missed the opening ceremonies.

And now, the good news. The good news is Isiah is healthy and Dantley is healthy and Laimbeer is healthy and Daly is happy and under contract. Dennis Rodman still shakes a fist after baskets and Joe Dumars is still his quiet effective self and John Salley is improving all the time, at least when he’s not busy working on a new endorsement deal. The good news, in short, is that the Pistons are back.

The bad news is that so is that guy who sings “God Bless America,” a man who should, and I say this with all due respect, have his throat removed. I don’t know his name. I don’t want to know his name. For years he has been the most embarrassing part of the Pistons pre-game package. He sings over a pre-recorded tape. No. He doesn’t sing; he warbles. It is remarkable that, with all the great music in this city, the Pistons have found a guy who makes Wayne Newton look soulful. I thought for sure they’d have left him at the Silverdome, preferably locked in a closet.

The locker room.

Can we talk about the locker room?

It is said the character of a team can be told by its lockers. Actually, I just made that up. But the Pistons’ locker room at the Palace is different from the old one at the Silverdome. And yet the same. For example, I noticed the players have all taken their old spots.

“Did someone assign them this way?” I asked Dumars.

“No, we came in after the first practice and sort of grabbed them. It just came out this way.”

So we have Thomas near the front, once again, and Salley conducting business in the back. We have Laimbeer, with one empty locker between him and the shower. I asked why he didn’t just take the closer one.

“Bad luck” he said. “Whoever’s had that seat has wound up gone. Chuck Nevitt had it. Kent Bentson. Bad luck.”

Well.

That explains it.

By the way, I am told there are many quick exits here for the Pistons, should they want to avoid the media. I know this to be true, because, not long before the game, I was talking with Salley when I looked up and realized that Chuck Daly was calling a team meeting and I was the only reporter left.

“You want me to go?” I asked.

“Yeah, please,” said Daly.

“OK,” I said. And I walked to the door. And I opened the door.

And I entered the equipment room.

“Oops,” I said, sheepishly, ” how stupid. I mean, I should have known, you know, I mean–“

“Try the door on the left,” said Daly.

“Right,” I said. But about those Hornets. First of all, you must feel sorry for an expansion team. Especially an expansion team that plays in North Carolina and has to wear special uniforms created by world-famous fashion designer Alexander Julian. I am not sure how to describe these uniforms, except to say they are the color of swimming pools, and the shorts are pleated. I am not making this up. Pleated. I guess you just throw a sports coat over them and go out for dinner.

Now. I am sure these outfits will be well received in artsy circles, such as Andy Warhol’s )Interview magazine. Which is nice. But on the court they look like sissies. You remember the TV show, “The Green Hornet”? These guys are “The Tourquise Green Hornets.”

But enough about Charlotte.

Here are some historic firsts:

First NBA basket scored in the Palace: Joe Dumars.

First NBA official to be cursed by an entire Palace section: Earl Strom.

First fan to leave Palace early: the woman in the mink coat, who departed 10 minutes into the second quarter.

And when the game was over, someone asked Laimbeer the million-dollar question: “How does the Palace compare to the Silverdome?”

Laimbeer: “The parking is better.”

So all in all, it was a historic evening, if not a memorable game, and I’m sure this is the start of wonderful things in the Palace. The lights are good. The sound is great. The only drawbacks I can see about this place are that the seats are expensive and that silly man is still doing “God Bless America.”

But we can solve this very simply: You know what I suggest? I suggest we start each game with Chuck Daly, center court, singing “Embraceable You.” That’s what I suggest.

Ah-one, ah-two, ah-three . . .

Mitch Albom will host a new sports-talk show, “The Sunday Sports Albom” every Sunday from 9 to 11 p.m. on WLLZ-FM (98.7). Tonight’s guest is Kirk Gibson.

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