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Pistons keep fans engaged with virtual activities

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the NBA’s suspension of the season in March, keeping players and team personnel from courts and practice facilities for almost three months.

Having no games doesn’t mean that everything stops with the franchise.

There has been significant community outreach to help those affected by the pandemic, including donations of personal protective equipment and medical supplies by team owner Tom Gores and a donation Thursday by coach Dwane Casey to help buy 1,000 food baskets.

Dwane Casey

The Pistons have maintained a steady stream of virtual activities over the past few weeks, keeping their fans engaged through several outlets.

This week alone, they had three community events, including the latest installment in their “Girls Dream Big” speaker series, a panel discussion for Mental Health Awareness Month and a virtual yoga session.

“Some of it is just things we had planned for in-season that we’re pivoting to and doing virtually,” said Erika Swilley, senior director of community and social responsibility for the Pistons. “I’m proud of my team that we’ve been able to pivot. We’ve taken our plans and programming, we didn’t just come to a screeching halt (after the pandemic hit), and we’ve put some quality events into the market virtually.”

One of the cornerstones of the Pistons’ efforts is the “Girls Dream Big” series, which spanned fourth Thursdays, beginning May 14. The first session focused on women in sports and included Olympic gold-medalist figure skater Meryl Davis, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and former Detroit Shock star Deanna Nolan.

The theme for the second week was media and entertainment and was headlined by native Detroiter Jemele Hill, along with Fox-2 anchor Hilary Golston and MLive writer Lauren Williams. 

This week’s edition focused on leadership and included Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Olympic fencing medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and two-time soccer gold-medalist Lauren Holiday. Next week’s final segment will highlight women in entrepreneurship.

Each of the online events was hosted by Sabrina Galloway, chief strategist of co-founder of The Galloway Group, and wife of Pistons guard Langston Galloway.

Swilley noted that many of the events would have been live community events but because of the pandemic, they were forced to host them virtually instead. The flexibility of moving online contributed to a larger viewership — and the added benefit of having some guests who otherwise might not have been available to travel to Detroit.

“(I’m proudest of) the named women on the panel. Ordinarily, it’s in person, so it would have been harder to get that caliber of women to participate in person,” Swilley said. “We’ve been able to engage on a national level because they’re tuning in from home. That’s been a plus.”

The panel discussion on mental health featured Pistons team psychiatrist Dr. Corey Yeager, along with development coach J.D. DuBois and former Piston Earl Cureton. The topics included coping with staying at home, warning signs of depression and tips for mental health for athletes.

 As part of their Pistons Fit initiative, there was a virtual yoga session on Friday and there will be a virtual cooking session hosted by the team nutritionist, Carrie Aprik.

In a normal year, the Pistons would be in their offseason, but with basketball in limbo, the programming for Swilley and her team continues into the summer. They’re planning several events aimed at the LGBTQ community during Pride Month in June, in addition to a virtual 5K and a Detroit Bike Tour and scavenger hunt, which are scheduled for July and August.

“We’ve definitely gotten good engagement and when people register online, we can capture that,” Swilley said. “We have more eyeballs on us and people have appreciated programming because they’re not doing much at home and we’ve gotten really good feedback.”