Detroit just lost two historic stadiums. The Red Wings played their final game at Joe Louis. The Pistons played their final game at the Palace. But, neither ending felt momentous. Two irrelevant teams gave the venues, defined by championships, less than fitting denouements.
The Red Wings broke “the streak” of 25-straight playoff appearances, missing out for the first time since 1990. The Wings finished with the third-worst points tally in the Eastern Conference. Most fans felt the inevitable coming. Pavel Datsyuk left and the Red Wings were coming off three-straight first-round exits.
The Pistons held true to form. They missed the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. The team has not won a playoff game since Boston eliminated them in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. They remain caught in the NBA’s dreaded mediocrity zone. They can’t attract top draw free agents. They aren’t good enough to compete. They aren’t bad enough to tank and appear to be trying.
Little Caesars Arena will mark a new era for both teams. It will also mark at least the sports architectural end of a bleak era in Detroit history. Both Joe Louis Arena and the Palace embodied post-riots Detroit, and not in a good way.
The Red Wings stayed downtown in the 1970s after getting a cheap land deal. They built a brutal fortification on the waterfront. A drab, windowless, concrete bunker. The only way to continue enticing hockey fans downtown, it seemed, was to hermetically seal them off from the perceived crime-ridden hellscape outside. It also sealed in other assorted effluvia
The Pistons left. First to the Silverdome and then to the gleaming Palace in sub-suburban Auburn Hills. It was about as far away from the mess in Detroit proper as one could get. It was a 20 minute drive further north from the white flight suburbs. No amenities. No public transport. The Palace was the height of modernity in the 1980s. Like a house of that era, subsequent renovations still left it feeling very 1980s (even though the basketball sightlines were superb).
Joe Louis sort of fit in with burgeoning Detroit. One could get somewhat of an organic experience heading to a trendy-again dive bar on Michigan Ave. and climbing aboard a rickety old school bus, beer in hand, for a ride to the Arena. The Palace, while a much more convenient place to urinate, was probably irredeemable. Millennials aren’t piling in their SUVs to drive 20 minutes further from anything cool, unless the team is competing.
The new Little Caesars Arena will be sold as revitalizing Detroit. Though, the teams are moving to be down the street car line from already revitalized areas. The arena is being built on land that was left undeveloped by the purportedly revitalizing football and baseball stadiums. So would the venue for a potential Detroit MLS team. Then there’s the broader question of how much any of the “revitalization” is helping the people who live there.
Will the move revitalize the two teams? One suspects not. The Red Wings need a reboot no matter where they are playing. They aren’t smarter than everyone else. Nicklas Lidstrom has not successfully been cloned. Much of the Red Wings’ peak success in the early 1990s and early 2000s stemmed from Mike Illitch outspending everyone before the salary cap existed.
The Pistons should get more fans for the immediate future. They could get the NBA Lottery. But, the next Steph Curry or LeBron James won’t be on the board when they are drafting around the 12th pick. Being closer to restaurants and hipster bars won’t help the Pistons sign that player in free agency.