Detroit — It’s been almost 40 years since the Pistons last played in downtown Detroit, in their times at Cobo Arena and at old Olympia Stadium.
Since 1988, the Pistons have been a fixture at The Palace of Auburn Hills, after moving to the Pontiac Silverdome from Cobo a decade earlier.
There have been intimations that the Pistons could be considering a move back to downtown Detroit — and those wheels are in motion again.
At least in the preliminary stages.
Tom Gores, who has owned the Pistons for the last four years, and his staff are investigating their options for a return to Detroit, though nothing is imminent.
Gores hired Arn Tellem, a former sports agent, as vice chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment in August. One of Tellem’s biggest tasks looks to be exploring the possibility of getting the Pistons back downtown.
“Arn (Tellem) is doing some heavy lifting on really trying to understand what’s the best thing for everybody. I’d say we’re in the diligence process and we’re keeping a close eye on it but we just made a philosophical decision that we want to do more in Detroit,” Gores said Monday morning at a ceremony to announce a community partnership between the Pistons and S.A.Y. Detroit.
“Whether it’s a stadium or not, let’s just get our feet on the ground. There’s going to be a lot more of this that we’re going to do. From my side, I want to hit two sides of the equation: one is the kids and the youth and help the businessmen. If I can do those two things, I’m kind of covering both ends of the spectrum.”
Gores, asked if that commitment entailed building a new stadium, didn’t dismiss the possibility.
“We’ll see. We’re investigating, talking to leaders,” he said. “We’ll see.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who was in town Monday for the Pistons game against the Chicago Bulls and the partnership announcement said he would talk with Gores about the possibilities.
Silver was asked about his thoughts on the idea that the Pistons could move downtown and where the NBA stands.
“The league doesn’t have a position on that. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’m here today, to talk more to Tom Gores about the discussions he’s been having.
“I’m very close to Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, who has been a vital part of the revitalization of downtown Detroit. Ultimately, that’s a decision for ownership of this team, but to me, I need to learn more about the opportunity.”
Gores recently has invested upward of $40 million in upgrades at The Palace, but the notion that he could be eyeing a move downtown isn’t out of the question. There could be other options, including creating a partnership with the Red Wings and playing at their new downtown arena, which is scheduled to open in 2017.
At a Pistons Business Leaders luncheon on Monday afternoon, Gores said The Palace was their home but that didn’t preclude the team from exploring other options.
“Arn is looking at all kinds of options — at the same time, we have to always respect our home, just like you respect your home. You want to make sure that home is good, it’s livable and we adorn that home because that’s where we live.
“We all probably have thought about moving one day from our current houses — but you still take care of that home and you respect it and it needs to be touched with all your emotions.
Gores admitted that it’s a tough spot to be in, as The Palace remains one of the top basketball venues in the league, but the allure of downtown and the possibilities there could make it an interesting proposition.
“It’s always a tricky thing for us because this is our home and we need to adorn it. At the same time, we understand what’s going on in downtown cities and we’re looking at it very, very seriously.
“We’ll make any of those decision on a whole basis, for the community and for us.”
Gores, though, stopped short of saying that a move — at any point — was coming. He insisted that the Pistons might be house-hunting, but they still want to maintain a relationship with the city, whether they make a move or remain in Auburn Hills.
“We’ve made a philosophical decision that in order to impact Detroit, we don’t have to play in Detroit,” Gores said “Are we open to it? Yes.”
Silver said that there’s no league influence on whether teams are in downtown areas or in suburban areas, but the individual teams and ownership groups can make their own decisions on what’s best for them.
“We want our teams to operate where they can be most successful and I know that’s something that Tom Gores has been focused on. He recently added Arn Tellem to his senior management group and that’s something Arn has literally a lifetime of experience in the NBA, so I know he’s spending a lot of time studying the issue, as well.”
With the Lions, Tigers and Red Wings all downtown and the distance from Detroit to The Palace, Gores could choose to get closer to getting downtown with the others.