Just three dates left. That’s all the Palace of Auburn Hills has remaining in its Pistons’ life. The Nets come to town Thursday night, then the Raptors a week later and the Wizards close the show April 10. Twenty-nine years of basketball games and it’ll all be over in an instant.
But it doesn’t mean the memories can’t last a lifetime. I reached out to Deadline Detroit readers who have emailed me at one time or another and asked them to weigh in on their memories about favorite players, classic games, and quirks of the Palace we won’t forget.
'Amazing times, amazing memories:' Adam L., Royal Oak
• If you attended a Detroit Pistons game in the early 2000s, chances are, we crossed paths once or twice. After all, my sophomore year locker was covered with about 30 tickets from games I had attended in 2003 alone. My school nights and weekends were filled with purchasing the $10 nosebleed seats with a few friends, getting a ride down to Auburn Hills with someone's father or older brother. (Think how many more games we could have gone to had Uber been around!), spending the first 5-10 minutes of the game scouting which areas looked empty in the lower bowl, and eventually darting past the ticket lady and enjoying the second half in $100+ seats. Amazing times, amazing memories.
• The time we grabbed a media pass off the ground after a game and one of us made our way into the locker room and left the Palace with Darvin Ham's kicks.
• The time I made a "Where's Sheed?" sign days before we acquired him from the Hawks and got a few seconds of fame on Fox Sports Net.
• Nothing compares to the electricity of the playoff games I was fortunate enough to attend. Seeing Stackhouse and Co. win game 5 vs. Father (Dell) Curry's Toronto Raptors in 2002 (back when the first round was a five-game series). It was possibly the loudest I've ever heard the Palace.
• Witnessing the Pistons become just the seventh team in NBA history to come back after falling behind 3-1, vs T-Mac and the Magic in 2003. It was incredible, despite the fact that we watched from the upper bowl. In fact, I can't remember a playoff game that I attended that resulted in a loss. Maybe because we did, in fact, win every game I attended (if so, I think I deserve a banner or at least a Jon Barry bobblehead). Or maybe it’s just that the atmosphere was so electric, even when we lost, it was still an incredible and unforgettable experience.
• Honorable mentions: LeBron’s first pre-season game (2002), Chauncey’s retirement night (2016)
'Rodman...before he got weird:' Mike H., Lake Orion
• Buddha Edwards. “0.07” in 1990. Rodman, before he got weird.
• Hearing “The Final Countdown” blaring during introductions. Isiah kissing Magic before games (then Isiah getting blackballed by MJ for the Olympic team).
• Watching NBA Finals road games on the Palace Jumbotron.
'The coolest thing:' Aubrey T., West Bloomfield
• I always enjoyed the WWF events. I remember getting the Bret Hart poster and glasses, and thinking that was the coolest thing ever.
• The “American Gladiators” events. Gemini was the greatest!
• The ’04 run from the ‘Stones was pretty special. Went to a handful of games that year (thanks to a friend that went to Australia and her dad then thinking I was his actual son). Saw the clincher against the Lakers.
'Staring in awe:' Mayer C., New York City, by way of Oak Park
• I went to a game against the Atlanta Hawks with my dad when I was seven or eight. We got great seats about 10 rows off the court behind the Hawks bench. I had never been that close up at a basketball game before and never realized how big the players were in person. When Dikembe Mutombo got off the bench for introductions, I remember just staring in awe of how huge he was. He was on the court and I still think he was on the same eye level as me. That's when I realized that NBA players were not average humans.
• I remember going to the Palace when my sisters were playing a high school game there. The game was around 3:00 and then the Pistons were playing that night. The gap between the high school game and the NBA game was really long, so I remember just walking around the Palace and waiting. I was a big Junk Yard Dog (Jerome Williams) fan back then and I really wanted his jersey. So I made sure to stop by the Palace Locker Room store before the game and I got a sweet teal #13 Williams jersey. That game ended up being his last with the team as he was traded the next day. I wish I got the Stackhouse jersey instead.
• I got the chance to go to Game 4 of the 2004 NBA Finals, so that takes the cake. I don’t remember too much from the game besides for the excitement everywhere. The intros were awesome and the feeling of the fire almost melting my face off was crazy. The parking lot after the game was awesome and everybody was so happy. It took about an hour to get out of there, but nobody seemed to care. All the cars were honking in excitement.
'From Isiah Thomas:' Jeremy B., Bloomfield Hills
• My dad shared season tickets with some co-workers during the late 80's. My dad worked a ton during that time and the Piston games were my special time with him. We would always point out certain things each time we went:
-Parking attendants yelling “VIP!" to each other as my dad drove through the parking lot with his VIP pass.
-How Ken Kalvert seemed to end every call of a made basket with ". . . from Isiah Thomas."
• The car ride home where we would analyze the game and listen to the post-game show. I'm fairly certain that's why I'm a much bigger NBA fan that I am of other sports.
• I saw players like Magic, Bird, Jordan, and all the other greats who played during that time. I was also at Game 5 of the 2004 Finals and got to see the trophy presentation.
'Springsteen concerts:' Benjie K. , Birmingham
• Memorable games: 2002 playoffs when the Pistons were "back" and had to finish off a Game 5 against Toronto, the Nets games in 2003, saw Game 4 of the 2004 Finals from the very top of the Palace.
• Saw a couple great Springsteen concerts there. “The River” reunion from last year where Bob Seger joined him at the end.
• In the 90’s I went to one of the live Nickelodeon 'Double Dare' tour events, which I always remembered because of the green slime everybody loved.
• Michigan State vs. Texas hoops in 2007. Basically Kalin Lucas’s breakout game going against DJ Augustin in a Top 10 battle.
• The DRQ Kringle Jingle in 2001. When Jay-Z came on stage as the final act, the entire place suddenly smelled like weed. Was one of my first real experiences smelling that stuff so blatantly in public.
• Food: I always remember the pizza giveaways when they used to hand out full pies. A little bit of a sore subject, as I’m still bitter from the one time I had a pizza in my lap and someone snatched it. The burgers there were some of the worst I've ever eaten; will never forget that.
'Sweet, sweet ballad:' Stephen M., West Bloomfield
• I was so fortunate to be at the Palace those first couple years in the building. I remember the boos for Michael and the Bulls.
• The Baadaaddd Booooyyyysss chants during the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
• “The Final Countdown.” What a sweet, sweet ballad.
• Begging my dad for a red Grant Hill jersey and he got it for me. It's still my favorite jersey. (Since my white Yzerman jersey has an irreversible wine stain.)
• I saw a rodeo there once. Hated every stinking moment.
• MJ coming back, but with the Wizards. It was weird to see.
• Once we got [John] Mason, and blew fire during introductions, I lost interest in home games. Sorry!
• I was at the Robert Horry game. The build-up was incredible. So much fun until the 4th quarter. I was one of the unlucky ones that could see Horry open for what felt like minutes. Swish. What a horrible end. I spent a fortune on that single ticket.
'Hulk Hogan v. Earthquake': Gabe Y., Farmington Hills
• Attended a game against Portland where Laimbeer won it on a shot with 0.3 seconds left.
• Interactive videos in the atrium where you could see Vipers highlights, specifically Peter Bondra scoring on a breakaway.
• Going twice to see WWF events. PA guy messing up and announcing, “The Big Boss Man! I mean . . . Tugboat.” Being disappointed at seeing Hulk Hogan get counted out against Earthquake.
• Being there at the Finals against the Lakers in ’89. “Beat L.A.” signs all over the crowd. Sitting next to a guy that just called himself ’T.’
'Big Nasty:' Marc S., Shelby Township
• The time we were down 21 to the Kings, 2002-03 season, on Wrestlemania 19 Sunday night. Came back and won with Corliss Williamson pounding the ball every possession in the fourth quarter. And this is when the Kings were still a top team in the West. When Corliss had the ball, you knew he was gonna muscle it in and score. A lost art.
'Those purple seats:' Joey Yashinsky, Deadline Detroit
• The awful pinkish-purplish seats. The arena might have looked modern in certain places, but the color on those chairs put you in a complete time warp. The upper deck looked especially sad in recent years after they replaced much of the lower level with sleek black seats.
• The old Palace atrium with random memorabilia (Bob Lanier’s giant shoes) and a little half-court where you could go one-on-one with Virtual Reality Grant Hill. The game seemed awesome; until you actually got on the floor and started playing. The motion sensors were completely off and it felt like the technology necessary for such an experience was still a few decades away.
• The immensely frustrating feeling of parking 400 yards away, then making that long walk through a barren “VIP” section with approximately six cars occupying the 3,000 spaces. As the crowds shrunk over this last decade, couldn’t the Palace people have just swallowed their pride and done away with this practice? If anything, it drew more attention to the fact that nobody was coming to the games.
• The brilliance of (real) Grant Hill. Had he not gotten injured so badly - stemming from his playing on a broken foot against Miami during 2000 Playoffs - he could have been a top-ten player of all-time. I truly believe that. His dribble-between-the-legs, then immediate crossover back to the other side was one of the most devastating individual moves you’ll ever see. Once he started to consistently knock down the mid-range jump shot, he became virtually unstoppable. Even an ancient Otis Thorpe was able to become a pick-and-roll nightmare for opposing teams when paired with the exceptional G-Hill.
• The Doug Collins teams from the late 90’s, squeezing every ounce of talent from that roster to win 100 games in two years (’96 and ’97). His collarless shirts were a major fashion trend of that time. Collins’ emotion was unlike just about any other coach in the NBA. After a regular season victory against Michael’s Bulls, he broke down in tears during the press conference. Granted, the Bulls had owned the Pistons for many years; but to be that overcome with emotion after a win in April, it was apparent that the best place for Collins’ mental health and stability would always be in the broadcast booth.
• The way those Collins and Alvin Gentry teams would own home games in the playoffs, then get trounced on the road. Damn Atlanta Hawks. Dikembe Mutombo would own Bison Dele in the games down south, then the quirky southpaw would dominate when back in Detroit. Those Hawks’ defeats, five-game heartbreakers in both ’97 and ’99, still keep the most hard-core of Piston fans up at night.
• Terry Mills. People want to fawn all over these super-special “Stretch-4s” in today’s NBA. Please. Sugar Mills owned that corner 20 years ago. My brother was such a T-Mills devotee back in the day that when Collins took over the team and summarily cut Terry’s minutes, he stopped watching the team entirely. (And will only return when #6 gets his starting spot back.)
• The importance of that first-round series against Toronto in 2002. The Pistons hadn’t won a playoff series since 1991, thus it was imperative that they take care of business as the No. 2 seed in the East. The opener was beyond electric. Big Ben got his Defensive Player of the Year award before the game and proceeded to dominate the entire evening. The Raptors mustered just 63 points in the game.
• Jon Barry’s now-forgotten brilliance in the critical Game 5 victory. (Stackhouse was absent that night (1 for 10) and JB rescued the team in the first half.)
• The celebration that ensued inside the Palace after clinching that series was akin to the euphoria a franchise would show after winning five straight championships. After a dozen years of futility, it felt like a giant monkey was lifted off the Pistons’ back. Sure, they’d go down harmlessly to Boston (and Tony Battie’s terrifying mouthpiece) in the next round, but that triumph over Toronto served as a major springboard for the six consecutive conference championship appearances to follow from 2003-08.
• “Ball racing:” I’m not sure if that’s the technical term for it; but it was a Jumbotron feature in the early 90’s where three different-colored dots would race around a track. It was the old-school version of the donut, coffee, and bagel sprint. Despite the underwhelming graphics, this race blew my mind every time. There would be epic comebacks, lead changes, photo finishes. “Ball racing” usually took place late-3rd, early-4th quarter, which was perfect for dads trying to get elementary school kids home at a semi-reasonable hour. As long as I was able to see those little dots bop around the screen (and lose my mind screaming in the process), I was ready to go anytime thereafter.