The exterior of the Palace at Aubern Hills, Mich. (Photo credit: Detroit Pistons file photos)
When a National Basketball Association team leaves its home arena for another, it’s as sentimental as a couple leaving a house where they raised their kids.
Such was the feeling on April 10 when the Detroit Pistons played their last home game at The Palace at Auburn Hills (Mich.). Although the Pistons lost 105-101 to the Washington Wizards, it was still a memorable moment for the team and those who’ve worked at the venue for the last three decades.
The Pistons soon will move into the newly built home they will share with the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League in downtown Detroit. The new 21,000-seat venue that cost $733 million to construct is called Little Caesars Arena and opens in September.
Long-time Pistons sportscaster George Blaha said he’s sad to see the team leave the Palace, but the joint venture with the Red Wings makes geographical and financial sense. HOK is the architect.
“If you’re a family, and the husband and wife are both involved in the financial decision-making, you’re probably going to make better decisions with two people involved,” Blaha said, noting that the same goes for the Pistons and Red Wings coming together under one roof. “They’ll be making some overall marketing decisions and promotion decisions and fan decisions that will benefit both teams.”
Blaha has experienced many unforgettable moments at the 24,000-seat Palace that opened in 1988.
“When the Pistons blasted the Lakers in game five of five, the place went absolutely bananas,” he said. “When they started to pile up the points, the noise started and it never stopped.”
Many others have fond memories of the Palace, including Chief Operating Officer of Rossetti, Dave Richards. Rossetti was the architect for the Palace, and Richards was on the decision-making team when the arena was built.
Interior of The Palace at Auburn Hills. (Photo credit: Detroit Pistons file photos)
“We began designing it very late in 1985, and in 1986 we were in construction. The building had some really unique features at the time,” Richards said.
For instance, they put padding on the seats, unlike other stadiums and arenas in the '80s that had plastic seats or benches. Also, the arena had 50 percent more women’s facilities than required by code, he said.
“We did a lot of things to really improve the fan experience,” he said, highlighting that they put suites in row 16 of the arena, which was unheard of at that time.
Perhaps the most notable experience for Richards during his time with the Palace was when he had to convince Sting — who played the opening concert at the venue in 1988 — to get on the grid that’s 10-feet under the floor and raise to the stage.
“I ended up having to talk Sting into going on stage and offered to sit there with him,” Richards said. “That was a pretty cool thing.”
Although the transition to a new venue is bittersweet for many, moving the team downtown makes sense on many levels.
“The downtown location will be centrally located,” Blaha said, adding that it will be easier for people across the region to travel to games or concerts. “If they don’t want to go to a basketball game, it’ll be because they don’t want to go to a basketball game, not because of where the arena is located.”
Right now, fans who live down river and in other parts of Detroit, have a difficult time getting to the Palace due to where it’s located in the city, he said.
“I’m excited about moving downtown and doing something for Detroit but sad we’re walking out of what’s been the very best building in America,” Blaha said. “It’s been one of the best parts of what’s been a dream job for me, broadcasting for the NBA and broadcasting for the Pistons and having a front row seat for it.”