The date was November 5, 1988, and Pistons Fever was an epidemic. Hopes were sky high.
“It doesn’t matter what we do [in the regular season],” third-year forward Dennis Rodman said after the first game at The Palace, “all everyone wants to talk about is title, title, title.”
It was understandable: just five months earlier the Pistons had come within one win (actually one defensive stop) of winning the NBA title in Los Angeles. Now, with one more year of experience, a loaded roster of players in their prime, and a brand-spanking-new arena, they were poised to become champions.
But first things first. They had to christen The Palace, a gleaming building built for greatness by team owner Bill Davidson.
“Welcome to your new home,” Davidson told the crowd in a pre-game ceremony at half court. “This is your home and your team.”
The team was beloved. Led by mercurial point guard Isiah Thomas, a lightning fast ball handler with an impish smile and an assassin’s heart, the Pistons had a deep stable of talent. There was Bill Laimbeer, the other team leader, a wide-bodied rebounder with a fine outside shot and an obsessive will to win at all costs. His penchant for using his elbows and hips to fell opposing players in the paint made him the most hated man in the NBA. Then there was Adrian Dantley, a low post scoring machine with spin moves and a fall-away jumper for the ages. And Joe Dumars, Dantley’s protege, a quiet #2 guard who blanketed Michael Jordan and other scoring threats with smothering defense and scored frequently with his rainbow jumpers. And Rodman, a freak of an athlete who had a motor that never stopped and could jump out of the gym. Plus John Salley, a shot blocker with long arms and a big mouth, and James Edwards, he of the unblockable fade away shot. Lastly, the Pistons boasted one of the most lethal scoring machines in the league: Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, who used his long arms and springy legs to propel his line drive jump shot to the hoop. More often than not he broke the hearts of enemy teams with his scoring bursts.
Those “Bad Boys” were led by the most dapper leading man of the bench: head coach Chuck Daly. With his well-coiffed hair and impeccable suits, Daly strolled the sidelines with a steady calm that served as the rudder for a team that relied heavily on emotion and brute confidence. While Isiah was the monster of the hardwood, Daly was the Dr. Frankenstein.
The first game at The Palace was a precursor to a remarkable season for a remarkable team. It culminated in their first NBA Finals win and a year later they added a second.
Source : Dan Holmes, “The first game at The Palace ushered in championship era for Pistons, Detroit Athletic Co., March 1, 2017.