In the late 1990s, there were a lot of Pistons-Bulls games at the Palace that were lopsided affairs featuring uninterested fans who couldn’t get behind a home team whose immediate future seemed bleak. There wasn’t a lot to root for in some of those seasons.
Still though, I don’t ever remember a ‘MVP’ chant breaking out for Michael Jordan when he, unlike Derrick Rose, was the unquestioned king of the league. But that’s exactly what happened in Friday’s loss to Chicago. The crowd, which let’s face it, was really only there to cheer Dennis Rodman and his former Bad Boys teammates, wasn’t that into the game. Rose stepped to the free throw line early, and all of a sudden, an overwhelming ‘MVP’ chant broke out all over the arena. It caught me (and from the sounds of it most of the other Pistons fans in attendance) off guard. I didn’t realize walking into the Palace that there were that many Bulls fans piling in, but I was basically surrounded by them in my section. I heard it and couldn’t believe it was happening. On Rodman’s night you clowns are gonna do this?
But it’s the sad part of doing business these days as Pistons fans. The Bulls are really good and a tough ticket, Detroit is not a huge distance from Chicago and the opposite of a tough ticket. Plus, the man the Pistons were honoring just so happens to be a pretty popular former Bull as well. We shouldn’t have been surprised a horde of Chicago fans were there, but that MVP chant made a Pistons crowd that already wasn’t very excited about the game itself less so, and despite the fact that the Pistons made some runs to keep the game competitive, one of the larger crowds this season just didn’t invest much into what was going on on the court.
The Pistons didn’t play terribly, they just never seemed like they could win this game, even the few times when the score got close. And that’s what made Dennis Rodman’s halftime speech so great.
For those who didn’t watch, Rodman was emotional, he was funny and he was grateful. At times, it was hard for him to get the words he was trying to say out. But the part of his speech that was clear as day, that was unmistakable, was when he turned his attention to the corner of the court where the current Pistons were standing after emerging from locker room. He told them, point blank, that Bill Davidson, Chuck Daly, Jack McClosky, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson, James Edwards, John Salley, Rick Mahorn, Rodman himself and the others who were a part of the team’s success in the 1980s and 1990s had built a foundation of something great not just for themselves, but for the city of Detroit and state of Michigan, for their families and, this is important, for future generations of Pistons players to be proud of.
Rodman didn’t say it, but the implication was clear: what has been happening on the court for the Pistons the last few seasons is simply unacceptable. It’s not just that the team hasn’t played well. It’s that the team has played with so little effort and so little toughness, it has done a great disservice to the connection the Bad Boys built with the fans by punishing their bodies, by diving into the stands recklessly after loose balls, by sacrificing everything they had to win. Rodman gave so much to the game while he was on the court. There have been plenty of excuses floated for why the Pistons have fallen so far. But they clearly lack any player who cares the way Rodman or his teammates cared. They clearly play a very passionless brand of basketball.
Throughout the night, numerous clips of Rodman and the Bad Boys played. I found myself hoping the Pistons young players were stealing glances of what was going on on the screen. If they were too entrenched in the game or whatever it is John Kuester says in huddles, so be it. I hope someone gives them a copy of the the footage. My biggest beef with the Pistons this season has not been that they are losing. Teams are entitled to lose and to rebuild, and we had a nice nearly 10-year run of successful basketball to watch, even if it was broken up a bit prematurely. The team has been unwatchable, the Palace has been devoid of energy, because no one on the roster plays the way players on those old Pistons teams did. No one plays like basketball is fun. No one dives all over the floor. No one even seems that upset by the lack of success the team has had. There are plenty of reasons for all of those things. I’m not in their locker room, dealing with behind the scenes business that they have to deal with. Even if the failings of the team start with the people who assembled it in the first place, the reason the fans are disinterested starts and ends with the lack of passion displayed on the court. I hope the players saw the reception Rodman received tonight. This was a man who was not always well-received in Detroit — the rocky ending of his Detroit career alienated a lot of fans, and seeing him on the Bulls certainly didn’t endear him either. But he’s still beloved here simply because he always played like he gave a damn.
Cheers for everyone at halftime. Almost.
There were two decidedly uncomfortable moments at halftime during the ceremony. As loudly as the crowd cheered for most every special guest who came to show love for their former teammate, it booed just as loudly when George Blaha introduced Karen Davidson and Joe Dumars.
It wasn’t unexpected. In fact, Davidson and Dumars both seemed like they were prepared for it to happen. I get why it happened. I still wish it didn’t though.
Davidson is not in a great position. She doesn’t have the love and passion for the team that her husband did and doesn’t want to be involved in the day to day business of being responsible for a major pro sports franchise. I think every reasonable person can appreciate that. Fans are frustrated because the sale of the team has moved so slowly, and this was perhaps the only chance to voice that displeasure to Davidson personally. But she loves this team because her husband loved it, I assume. It’s still important to her, I assume. Just not important enough to her where she wants the responsibility of running it. But it’s also valuable. I don’t think anyone who owned something so valuable, with the added sentimental value because of how much the team meant to her husband, wants to just give it away. It’s taking longer than anyone would like it to to complete this, but Davidson didn’t have to be here tonight. She likely knew what was going to happen when they introduced her. Yet she still did the right thing, showed up and supported on behalf of her family a man who meant a lot to her husband’s organization. Even if she deserves to be booed, she didn’t deserve to be booed tonight.
Dumars? I won’t bother launching any kind of defense of his GM record. There are enough flaws on it that have been fleshed out in every seedy corner (and there are a lot of them) of the internet. It hurt to see Dumars get booed. He was one of the best athletes in the history of this state. He was sitting with a team that won two championships in large part due to his efforts. He wasn’t Dumars the GM sitting up there. Dumars the player deserved every bit of the ovation his former teammates received tonight.