Dumars: Toledo good for PistonsWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the Detroit Pistons made the roughly hour-and-a-half trip down I-75 for the Oct. 19 98-92 preseason victory against the Washington Wizards in front of a crowd of 6,424 at the Huntington Center, it marked the first time in 21 years nearly to the day since the last time the team from the Motor City made a pit stop in Toledo.
The Pistons last came to T-Town on Oct. 23, 1989, for its preseason game against the New York Knicks at Savage Hall, where the players were victorious 105-92 in front of a crowd of 8,379 for a contest that benefited the local arthritis foundation. Detroit was fresh off its’ first championship in franchise history on that trip back in ’89, and then-guard Joe Dumars was fresh off his NBA Finals MVP performance and scored 17 points.
This time around, the Pistons came into Toledo after missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years, a team trying to return to the form it had last decade when it went to six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals and won the 2004 NBA Championship. And Dumars, who retired in 1999 after 14 seasons with Detroit and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, saw this week’s game a few rows back from the bench as the team’s President of Basketball Operations, a position he’s had since 2000.
“Playing preseason games in neutral arenas is always a good experience because you are playing in front of a new group of fans that don’t have the opportunity to see an NBA game on a regular basis,” Dumars said via e-mail. “I remember it [Savage Hall] being a good experience and we got a nice reception from the fans.
“The experience of playing in smaller markets is fun because you normally have good, energetic crowds in sold-out arenas. With the arena size smaller, the larger crowds make for a good atmosphere.”
Despite not having played a game in Toledo in more than two decades, the Pistons have made a few trips to Northwest Ohio the past couple of years for various team and charitable functions. In 2008, a customized tour bus filled with several Detroit team and media members visited Toledo as part of the team’s 2008 Tipoff Tour. Last month, the Pistons’ Year Round Hoops Squad, Vice President of Basketball Operations Scott Perry and first round draft pick Greg Monroe visited Birmingham Elementary for a “Homework Before Hoops” assembly to reward the school’s students for academic progress.
“We always try to stay connected to the Toledo market because we think it is a viable fan base for us,” Dumars said. “The drive is not long, and if we can create some new Pistons fans in that region, it’s good for our team and our organization.”
Fourth-year Detroit guard Rodney Stuckey, who had a game-high 34 points Oct. 19 and was part of that 2008 Tipoff Tour that came to Toledo, enjoyed the experience of playing in a smaller market.
“We have a big fan base, so it’s good to just get out and just show our fans our appreciation for them,” Stuckey said. “I know it’s hard for people to drive over to Auburn Hills and watch a lot of games, so it’s good for us to just come over here and play a preseason game.”
Fellow Pistons guard Rip Hamilton, who is in his ninth season with Detroit and one of three players remaining from the 2004 championship team, also had fun playing at the Huntington Center.
“It was fun,” Hamilton said. “It was exciting. The fans don’t always get an opportunity to come see us in Detroit, so it’s a great opportunity for them to come out, and we had a good time with it.”
Stuckey, Hamilton and their Detroit teammates did a good job of keeping 2010 No. 1 overall pick John Wall in check on Oct. 19, forcing the speedy Wizards guard into six turnovers while the rookie notched 13 points and seven assists.
“He got a couple, but as for the whole game, I think we defended him pretty well,” Stuckey said. “He’s going to be a good player.”
As for whether the Pistons are planning on playing future preseason games in the Huntington Center as they have done at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., nothing is set in stone. However, Dumars said it is something the organization will evaluate.
“It is something that we’ll continue to look at and take into consideration,” Dumars said.
After the turnout at the Huntington Center, it’s safe to say that Joe D. and company will be back in Toledo before another 21 years pass.
E-mail Mike Bauman at email@example.com.