As NBA grows globally, Pistons fans from around the world make time to follow team

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
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For most Pistons fans, staying updated on the team and watching a game on TV are pretty easy endeavors. A couple of times each season, it becomes more difficult because of later start times with games on the west coast.

Three games on the Pistons’ current western trip have 10 p.m. Eastern start times, which means they finish after midnight. It’s a long night for most fans from the Midwest to the east coast to keep up.

Spilling over into another day to watch a Pistons game isn’t all that uncommon, especially for Felipe Aguilera, an avid Pistons fan who lives in Madrid, Spain. Finding an NBA game is fairly difficult, because there’s only one game shown on Spanish TV — and with the Pistons’ 5-16 record, they’re rarely the choice to be a featured matchup.

Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin, left, is defended by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry.

For Aguilera, watching on NBA League Pass is the most reasonable option, but then there’s still the issue with trying to stay up to watch. Central European Standard Time is six hours ahead of Eastern time, which means that mostly only die-hard fans are staying up to catch any NBA games at all.

“I watch Pistons games on League Pass the next day because the East games start at 1:00-2:00 a.m. and the West Games 3:00-4:00 a.m.,” Aguilera said.

It’s a less-than-ideal scenario for following a favorite team. With years invested in following the team, Aguilera does what he can to stay abreast of the latest news, even if it means waiting until the next day.

“I’ve followed the Pistons since the Bad Boys era,” said Aguilera, 46. “My first NBA game was Celtics-Pistons playoffs in 1987 and I fell in love with (Isiah Thomas) and the ‘Chicos Malos’ (Bad Boys).”

The NBA has been a global brand for decades, so each team having fans in different parts of the world is nothing new. With the spread of basketball as an international export, especially during the early 1990s with the Dream Team in the Olympics in Barcelona, made followers out of even some of the most casual fans.

One of the challenges remains in the timing and making it easily accessible on TV.

Following along is a little easier closer to the United States. Francisco Barbel, 26, lives in Argentina, which is two hours ahead of Eastern time, so it’s a more reasonable schedule to watch Pistons games, usually with a 9 p.m. start time.

The same issue comes in finding his favorite team’s games televised locally, even on cable.

“On TV, it is impossible to see the Pistons. The only channel that transmits NBA is ESPN and they only transmit games of the contenders or of the teams that have an Argentine player,” said Barbel, who also watches streams on NBA League Pass. “Luckily, the NBA schedules are good for Argentina and almost all the games are at night, so I don't miss many of them since I study or work during the day.”

Barbel’s Pistons fandom goes back to his youth, playing video games such as NBA Live. That helped elevate basketball as high as soccer, which is more popular globally. The NBA is a hard sell in some other countries, but there are so many ways that fans can latch on to the NBA — and stay there.

In his childhood, there were few games broadcast live on TV in Argentina, so Barbel didn’t get to see much of the NBA, but he still recalls how he became a fan of the Pistons — and the city.

“I remember that I had a map of the United States that had reviews of the different cities. I remember I really liked Detroit,” he said. “I identified with the constant rebirth that the city has had, due to each economic crisis, as it happens in my country, so I took a liking to the city.

“When I learned about their history in Detroit and the Bad Boys, I definitely decided to be a fan of that team. That's why around the age of eight, the city of Detroit began to draw my attention and, of course, the Pistons. I follow each game at a distance with great passion.”

Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant (9) dunks against the Utah Jazz.

Fans elsewhere in the states

In the U.S., it’s a bit easier to try to align the schedules and the availability. Even on western trips, fans in the Central and Mountain time zones get a bit of a break and the games are in a sweet spot of prime time.

Then there are the fans who are a bit farther west.

The situation works a little differently in Hawaii, which is five hours behind Eastern time. A typical start time for Pistons games is in the middle of a traditional work day, at 2 p.m. That can be tricky for trying to watch an NBA game, depending on the schedule.

Michael Greene, 21, is serving in the Air Force in Hawaii. It’s sometimes a challenge to find games televised on anything besides the major networks such as ESPN or TNT. That makes finding the Pistons games more difficult.

“I’ve been able to catch one game (Lakers) through people I live in the dorms with but that’s really it,” Greene said. “A lot of us don’t really have the money for League Pass, so we either stream or try to catch it on TV if we can.”

Greene, originally from Austin, Texas, has been in Hawaii for about two years, but it’s been tough to find many Pistons games on TV, with the 2019 playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks being the height of the local coverage.  

When Greene was younger, his father — who lived in Detroit — helped him develop a love for the Pistons, through playing video games. Green enjoyed playing the game as the “Goin’ to Work” squad in 2005.

“I actually had no idea they just won the championship,” Greene joked. “I just liked playing as Rip, Big Ben and Tayshaun.”

Even short trips to Hawaii provide a shock to the system in trying to adjust to the time difference, to get things done and try to keep up with sporting events.

Scott Arnold is spending a few weeks in Hawaii, so the NBA isn’t at the top of his priority list. Arnold, 42, is from Minnesota and is a Timberwolves fan, but has seen the difficulty in trying to find a game on TV on a different schedule.

In Hawaii, he says most of the games include the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers, but he normally waits to watch the replays the next morning instead of trying to interrupt the day with a 5 p.m. game.

“It’s hard adjusting to the (start) time, as we’re busy when games start,” Arnold said. “I caught some of the (Timberwolves-Warriors) game.”

Regardless of the part of the world, NBA fans are finding ways to make the games fit into their schedule.

One way or another. One day or another.

PISTONS AT SUNS

Tip-off: 9 Friday, Phoenix Suns Arena, Phoenix

TV/radio: FSD-Plus/950

Outlook: The Pistons (5-16) have lost the first two games of the western road trip and finish with a back-to-back, with the Suns and then Lakers on Saturday. Derrick Rose (illness) practiced Thursday and should be available, after missing Tuesday’s game.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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