AUBURN HILLS, Michigan – Wednesday night, Dan and I attended the Pistons first-ever Social Media Night. It was a chance for fans who bought the special Social Media Night ticket package to meet Jonas Jerebko before the game and for local bloggers to cover a game at The Palace.
Now, Dan has been covering and writing about sporting events for a while, so this definitely wasn’t new to him. But even though I’ve been a fan for a long time, I’ve never had that chance as the tech guy. I decided to tag along, laptop in tow, to see what it was all about. What follows is a rookie’s perspective on the experience.
Jonas Jerebko Meet and Greet
After a brief delay getting credentials for both Dan and I, we finally got through the gate and were led down a long hallway toward the Chairman’s Club for the meet and greet. I grabbed a Diet Coke, we found a pair of seats and waited for Jonas to appear.
One of the first things I noticed was the gender distribution in the room. There were a lot of young, female fans. Some of them wore Jerebko jerseys, others sported homemade t-shirts made specially for the occasion. More than a handful brought plastic Viking helmets. Heather Zara from Pistons.com interviewed a group of girls who took the time to learn a Swedish phrase to impress Jonas – “I love you.” The one thing they all had in common: they all were eagerly looking forward to his arrival.
Of course, none of this surprised me. After all, Jonas Jerebko is not just a professional athlete; he’s also tall, young, European, and handsome, which obviously gives him a lot of appeal for casual and even non-fans. In fact, had it not been for the weather, I imagine the turn out would have been even better.
Jerebko walked into the room, and all the chatter suddenly stopped. Everyone had been anticipating this moment and now that it had arrived, no one knew exactly what to do. Jonas sat down behind the table at the front of the room, and the Swedish-speaking girls were the first to approach him. Following suit, the rest of the fans hurriedly lined up behind them to wait for their turn to get a photo, an autograph or just a handshake.
Before the event began, the staff emphasized their desire for it to be less formal than an autograph session, but that’s quickly what it became. No one seemed to mind.
As we waited for each fan to get a chance to meet Jerebko, the original Jay Sean version of “Down” played over the room’s speaker system. I joked with Dan that it was an unfortunate missed opportunity to play the more appropriate, and frankly better, version of the song you hear in the above video. (Do everyone a favor and add this version to your next playlist, Palace staff.)
Finally, after the fans headed to their seats, the rest of the bloggers and I had a few minutes to speak with Jonas and pose a few questions. I have to admit, at first it was a bit surreal standing around so casually with a professional athlete I’d seen play on TV so many times. But he was more than willing to answer anything we asked* in a manner that quickly put me at ease. I could definitely see how he’s been able to win over so many fans in his short time in Detroit.
*Earlier, Dan posted video of Jonas discussing what it takes to be a good owner, the status of his ankle injury, his prediction on the identity of the next Swede to make the NBA, and his level of dedication. Be sure to check them out if you haven’t already.
After we left the Q&A with Jerebko, we emerged into the main lobby, each wearing a media pass, and headed up the stairs toward our seats. Walking past the rest of the fans and upward, it felt very much like we were being given the VIP treatment.
Once we got to the top, however, that feeling changed a bit. We paused briefly to make sure no one had been left behind. I looked around and almost all the writers were wearing backpacks. There was a chaperone keeping tabs on us. We were on a high-school field trip!
As soon as we got to our suite, though, all that disappeared.
Midway through the first half, a Palace staffer brought up the 1989 Larry O’Brien trophy. The prospect of a photo op with the trophy seemed more exciting than the action on the court at the moment, and everyone piled into the suite for their turn.
It had been some years since I’d been to a Pistons game, and I definitely noticed some changes. I’m sure the weather was a factor, but the atmosphere was far more subdued than I remembered. Gone was the “Going to Work” mantra the team espoused during their incredible conference-championship run. It had been replaced with “DETermination,” which seemed like a good idea given the way the team has, over the past couple of years, struggled to show up every night.
But that’s not to say that the experience was a bad one. The flamethrower-accompanied team introduction never gets old for me. (And for the young fans seated just in front of us for what looked like their first game, it was a welcome surprise.) The Spare Tires were out in all their full-figured, shirtless glory (for better or for worse). And during the third quarter, one of the best promos I’ve seen in quite some time played on the video screen:
Despite the loss, it felt good to be back at The Palace.
After the game, we headed down one of The Palace’s inner corridors. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed into John Kuester’s postgame press conference like I’d hoped. Instead, we waited in the hall for the coach to finish before entering the interview room for our turn with Charlie Villanueva. An elevated table with a microphone, with no more than a dozen chairs facing it, stood at the front of the room. I don’t know how many writers Pistons press conferences generally accommodate, but this had to be one of the smaller groups.
After a few minutes Villanueva entered and sat down, hunched over in his chair. His voice was hoarse and he seemed unenthused (which he apparently realized). I suppose blowing a eight-point third-quarter lead against a sub-.500 team can do that to you. He humored us for five minutes or so, answering a few questions and hurriedly left the room.
The Piston representatives thanked us for coming, and we thanked them for having us and headed up and out into the frosty night air. Like Villanueva, we were eager to escape the rather uncomfortable chill for a hopefully warmer, more pleasant place. With the help of my car’s heated seats, we quickly thawed out. I hope Detroit can find a solution for their cold streak soon too.