WHEN WILL THE PISTONS HEAR FROM THEIR FANS?

I am about to say something that has needed to be said, and I hope you forgive me if it sounds a little blunt:

We stink.

I am talking about fans at the Palace. I am talking about their attitude and their volume. I am saying it now, because if this city really wants the Pistons to get serious tonight against the Bulls, well, we ought to heed our own advice.

Let’s be honest: The atmosphere at the Palace is no better than mediocre compared to other NBA arenas. Compared to a place such as Chicago Stadium, where your bones rattle on every basket, the Palace is comatose. It needs a transfusion. For this, I blame the Pistons’ front office, which has turned the building into one endless commercial; and I blame the fans, many of whom seem to think making noise doesn’t go with comparing Calvin Klein sweaters. Hey. You in the ninth row. The game is out here. On the big wooden floor, remember?

People from out of town laugh at what goes on inside this arena. Here we are, with the best basketball team in the country, and we act as though we’re watching MTV — that is, when we’re not playing trivia quizzes or leaving early to beat the traffic. Personally, I would like to line up a few thousand real fans outside the Palace, and every time someone leaves early, one of those people gets to take the empty seat and keep it for the rest of the playoffs.

And that’s just one idea . . . That screen makes me scream

1. Shut Off The Big Screen. If you ask me, the biggest problem with the Palace is that damn monstrosity hanging from the rafters. It’s like being hypnotized. Every time there’s a break in the action, the giant screen takes over: “And now, for tonight’s Comedy Clips!” Boom. Two minutes worth of John Belushi or Steve Martin. “And now for tonight’s Nestles Crunch Time Moment!’ Boom. Two minutes of highlights. There are quizzes, games, electronic ball races. I swear, the biggest cheers at the Palace are for those two stupid balls.

It’s ridiculous. Since when does an NBA game need more commercials? It has gotten so that as soon as there’s a time- out, everybody looks up, including, sometimes, the players. It’s surreal. You become so passive watching that scoreboard you barely notice the game has resumed.

If they shut that thing off, people would naturally be more anxious to get back to the action. They’d count the seconds. They’d stir and rumble. And when play finally resumed, they’d be ready to roar. Hey. You want to watch Belushi? Rent a videocassette. Give your ticket to a real fan.

2. Leave The Court To The Players. Once upon a time, the court was a holy place. But at the Palace, during time-outs, we have children and teenagers and bankers and advertising execs running all over it, shooting baskets for prizes. There’s the “Michigan State Lottery Three Point Shootout,” where some bozo gets escorted out by two scantily clad tuxedo girls and inevitably throws up a whiff. There’s the “Dunham’s Fast Break Contest,” a shameless exploitation of two children who race up the floor trying to sink a basket first. For heaven’s sake, they’re just kids. The loser always looks like he’s going to cry.

I lose count of all the different shooting promotions. One time, a guy almost bumped into Joe Dumars trying to throw up an extra shot as he walked off the court. What, Michael Jordan is not enough? We have to see “Ralph, from Novi” make an ass of himself?

3. Thank you, Mr. Announcer. While Ken Calvert is a nice guy and does a credible job in calling players’ names, someone has apparently told him this is The Comedy Castle, particularly at halftime. He kibitzes and wisecracks about shooters in these goofy promotions, which only makes the Palace seem like Amateur Night. Enough. Give it a rest. NOISE! Not dogs and ponies

Now, please. I am not trying to be a party poop. What I want is to enhance the party. This is a basketball game, not a sideshow. You want fancy clothes and elegant behavior, try the Whitney. I hear the food is good.

But to inspire pro ballplayers, to make them go for that rebound when their chests are heaving, to make them dive for the ball when their legs are heavy, you need noise, not electronic dots. I promise you, the Bulls could not have done what they did Monday without that thunderous crowd. The Pistons deserve an equal weapon. And they shouldn’t have to provide a dog and pony show.

As evidence, I point to Madison Square Garden, where there is absolutely nothing going on during time-outs. No jokes. No contests. And the place is LOUD, the fans go BERSERK. Remember, these are hardened New Yorkers, who must worry each time they stand up that someone will steal their wallet. If they can do it, we can.

And don’t tell me about rich people not cheering. Palace tickets are less expensive than those at the LA Forum, and about the same as Chicago, Boston, Portland and New York — and you can’t hear yourself think in those arenas. Besides, since when does your income affect your vocal chords?

No. It’s about attitude, same as it is for the Pistons right now. If the front office really wanted to help tonight, they’d forsake a few advertising dollars and turn off the Big Screen. And fans, simply stated, it’s stand up or shut up. Unfortunately, we already know you can do the latter.

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