Pistons grounding Roundball One for good

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The past three decades have seen two golden ages of Pistons basketball — The Bad Boys of the late 1980s and early ’90s, and the “Goin’ to Work” team of the mid-2000s.

During those eras, the Pistons soared above the competition — on the court and in the air.

In 1987, the Pistons were the first pro sports franchise with a team-owned airplane — Roundball One.

But on Thursday, a source familiar with plans told The Detroit News the Pistons are retiring Roundball One and moving to a charter service.

Beginning next season, the Pistons will join the NBA’s charter agreement with Delta Airlines, which services 27 of the league’s 30 teams. The Mavericks, who fly on a 757 provided by owner Mark Cuban, will be the only team that utilizes its own plane. The Heat and Rockets have agreements with other providers.

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The change for the Pistons is not a cost-savings move — the charters will cost about the same — but will provide significantly more space and comfort on trips, with fully-reclining seats for players, increased legroom and a flying range of about 3,400 miles (1,500 miles more than Roundball One).

There have been three Roundball One planes: the original BAC-11, a DC-9, and the most recent version, a modified McDonnell Douglas MD-83.

The Delta charters will be from the luxury 757-200 fleet.

At 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, Pistons wing Stanley Johnson appreciates the additional space provided by the new charter planes, but said he didn’t yearn for much more in terms of amenities, than what they had.

“Roundball One was everything we needed in a plane,” Johnson said. “(For me), we just have to get there safely.”

During the late 1980s, when all the other NBA teams were on commercial flights, the Pistons traveled in their customized plane bearing the team logo. It was at the behest of late Pistons owner Bill Davidson.

Rick Mahorn, current Pistons radio analyst and member of the “Bad Boys” teams, was on hundreds of trips on Roundball One. He recalls one incident during his playing career that likely led to Davidson’s decision.

“We were stuck in Seattle and we couldn’t get out (because of weather),” Mahorn said. “We had a televised game in New York the next day and the NBA sent two Learjets to get us.

“From there, I think (Davidson) said, ‘Let’s think about our own team plane.’”

Having a team plane also allowed the Pistons to be flexible with scheduling and routines.

“Sometimes after games, instead of going to bed, you had energy and you were up,” Mahorn said. “And then you had a 5 a.m. flight and had to rush to get to the airport.

“On the charters you got home and got that rest. Teams caught on and said, ‘Why not us?’”

The Pistons haven’t had many issues with their planes, but with the new agreement, getting a new plane in the event of a mechanical issue will be easier because of Delta’s vast fleet (11 planes of the 757 fleet are part of the deal).

The memories of Roundball One, however, will live on.

“We all liked the plane,” Johnson said. “It was our plane — and when you saw the logo on the side, you knew what was up.”