Most every sports fan around here has personal memories of Joe Louis Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills so I’d like to share some that mostly have nothing to do with attending events but range from almost upstaging a Hall of Fame Red Wing to dealing with a Detroit Piston who couldn’t keep his shirt on. Here goes.
I was transferred to Detroit in 1989 by CNN from Atlanta. The timing was awful. Living in Atlanta for 8 years I had become quite the Hawks fan and grew a healthy hatred for the Detroit Pistons who had regularly beaten the Hawks and were in their Bad Boys phase, meaning, to opposing fans, they were loutish jerks–especially Bill Laimbeer.
After they won their second consecutive NBA championship in 1990 I was assigned to a rather slim story as to whether the Pistons were outgrowing their Bad Boys image and were ready to move on. I attended an afternoon shootaround at the Palace then sought some player interviews in the locker room. I had been warned about the Pistons and that they could be rough on reporters. After all, a female producer at our bureau told me how Dennis Rodman dropped his pants in front of her which, I suppose, would be classified a technical foul. I found Bill Laimbeer and he consented to the interview, which surprised me because he was about the baddest of the Bad Boys. He answered all my questions and I thanked him. Holding to his reputation he informs me “you can’t use anything you shot because I didn’t have a shirt on.” Huh? His team mate, former Atlanta Hawk Scott Hastings hears this and says to Laimbeer, “don’t be an asshole. They’re from CNN.” Laimbeer puts his shirt back on and says, OK roll. Now what did you want to know?” I gamely re-asked a couple of the questions just to get a soundbite for my story but I couldn’t escape him. A few months later I’m in line at the local car wash and there’s a guy in big Mercedes-Benz in front of me giving the attendant a hard time. At least he had his shirt on.
I had much better memories at The Joe. This time as an actual player. For our 25th anniversary my wife sent me to the Detroit Red Wings Fantasy Camp. It was September, 1998, a few months after they won their second straight Stanley Cup. The camp was run by assistant coach Dave Lewis. I hadn’t played hockey in over 20 years and my skates showed it. They were Bobby…not Brett..Hull CCM Tacks, which I bought while I was in college in 1972. After posing for the team photo Darren McCarty said, “hey, my father had those same skates!”
But what a thrill to come through the tunnel from the visitors locker room onto the Joe Louis Arena ice and skate over the Hockeytown logo. The big finish to the week was a game to benefit the Save the Children charity. In this video clip, during the introductions, I almost skated onto the blue line when they were talking about Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay. When it was finally my turn, it was awesome to have “Terrible Ted” give me a little pat.
Later in the game I would get an assist on a goal by Chris Osgood, who was skating on my line with Lindsey. Goosebumps.
My second best memory at The Joe was in 2013 while I was working for Fiat Chrysler. We played games against Red Wings alumni to benefit the United Way. The first part of this one being defended by Hall of Famer Larry Murphy. As I’m bringing the puck across the blue line, he whispers to me “take your shot!” I do, but the goalie saves it. But…even better, later in the game, as I was being defended by another Hall of Famer, Dino Ciccarelli, he playfully puts me down on the ice and I’m awarded a penalty shot. The goalie came out to cut my angle but I slipped the puck to my backhand and roofed it home. You can see it all in this video shot with a GoPro mounted on my helmet.
How can I forget what happened at the Palace in 1998? That’s when we scored tickets to see the Spice Girls. I was covering a long strike against General Motors in Flint but CNN was nice enough to get Gary Tuchman to fill in for me so I could run down I-75 to take my family to the show. My ears are still ringing from being among 20.000 screaming 10-year old girls and a thousand shell-shocked dads. When I got back to the picket lines Flint Congressman Dale Kildee tried his best in asking me “How were those Spice Babies?”
But my best memory of all was during the 1990 NBA finals at the Palace. I was given two tickets behind the Los Angeles Lakers bench. My father-in-law was in town from Rochester, N.Y. He’d never before attended an NBA game so who else would I take? Right before our eyes there was Magic and Kareem and James Worthy and down the line all the defending champ Pistons–Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars et.al. My father-in-law’s eyes lit up, seeing these famous athletes close up. It was a night we both cherished and I always will.