Tom Gores faces a daunting challenge, trying to rebuild the fan base at The Palace. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Over the weekend I helped judge the second annual chili cook off at 3rd Street Bar near Wayne State University.
During the tasting I noticed something that is common in sports bars and restaurants around Detroit. They showed the final round of the Masters and the Tigers game against the San Diego Padres. They did not show the Pistons final home game against the Toronto Raptors.
And the only protest came when they were changing channels and the Pistons game was briefly on the big screen.
“Nobody wants to see that,” one man said.
And that accurately describes the state of the Pistons. No one wants to see that garbage. They are out of sight and out of mind -- the worst spot you can be in as a professional sports franchise. Imagine a sports bar refusing to show the Tigers, Red Wings or Lions. There would be outrage – but that is not the case with the Pistons.
I’ve been to at least a half-dozen sports bars when the Pistons were playing but they were not on.
That’s just one reason Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is considered a candidate to be the Pistons’ next coach. It’s also why owner Tom Gores consulted with legendary coach Phil Jackson about his team. Gores is trying to put the Pistons back on the map in their own backyard with star power.
The apathy was even evident on the night the Pistons celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Bad Boys winning the franchise’s first championship in 1989. Thomas addressed the crowd and tried to end his talk by leading the crowd into a “Beat the Heat” chant.
Thomas sort of looked foolish because he was the only one screaming “Beat the Heat.”
Most of the people came to see the Bad Boys. Many of the rest came to see LeBron James and the Miami Heat, not the Pistons.
The Pistons are one of those teams where you love them when they are hot and ignore them when they are not. The Palace is a destination when the team is good. But it’s not worth the trip when the Pistons are bad.
The Pistons are 179-296 over the past six seasons, with five consecutive lottery appearances. But there are other factors that turned fans off.
This is a town that loves discipline and hard work. The Pistons sometimes worked hard, but frequently lacked discipline. Players were given the benefit of the doubt way too often. While they staged mutinies and blamed coaches for their shortcomings, the Pistons ran through 14 coaches in 10 years.
Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey said the team needs consistency. And he’s right; he’s played for six coaches in seven years. Second-year man Andre Drummond will play for three different coaches in his first three seasons. No wonder this team looks confused.
This might be the most important thing for a Pistons rebirth, other than getting talent that fits: Gores and his new GM must find a coach who won’t put up with the players’ mess, and they must stand by the coach when the players act up.
And they will act up, just as they did under John Kuester, Michael Curry, Flip Saunders and Maurice Cheeks.
“I know the fans. I know the people,” Gores said during the Bad Boys celebration. “They can be tough on you but they are real. They will be with you through thick and thin.”
Actually, Gores is wrong. People are not passionate about the Pistons. Most ignore them. He must understand that Pistons fans are fragile. They ride the bandwagon harder than anybody. But when they jump off, they are hard to find.