Monday, November 3, 2014

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Detroit

This Wednesday, the New York Knicks will head out west (well, out Midwest) to play the Detroit Pistons. The Brooklyn Nets have already been there this season, this past Saturday. (Sorry, I should have had this done by then.) But they will visit again on Saturday, January 10, 2015. The Knicks will make a 2nd visit on Friday, February 27, 2015.

Disclaimer: While I have been to Detroit, I haven't been to the Palace. I have no firsthand knowledge of what the arena is like. Much of this information comes from the Pistons' website.

Before You Go. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press (or "Freep") websites should be consulted before you decide whether to go. While the game will be indoors, you will be spending some time outdoors. Wednesday afternoon is forecast to be in the mid-50s, and Wednesday night in the low 40s. Most likely, you'll be staying overnight if you go, so let me add that Thursday's weather is set to be about the same. At least they're not predicting rain -- or worse: Keep in mind that Detroit is in the Midwest snowbelt, and it's worse in the suburbs than it is downtown where the other 3 teams now play.

Since the July 1967 race riot, Detroit has become known as a city of poverty, crime, decay, and poor city services, the kind of place where even Batman would fear to tread. The legendary comedian Red Skelton once said, "In Detroit, you can go 10 miles and never leave the scene of the crime." It's no wonder the RoboCop film series was set there.

There was a Nike commercial a few years back, in which young basketball players were seated, yoga-style, in front of a TV screen, on which their "master," a fat black man with a turban and sunglasses who looked nothing like an athlete, was dispensing wisdom. At the end, after the Swoosh logo was shown, the camera went back to one of the students, who asked, "But, Master, what if we behave badly?" And the Master lowered his shades, looked over them, and said, "You go to Detroit." This was in the early 1990s, when the Pistons had begun to fall from their 1989-90 "Bad Boys" championship teams, and going to Detroit was not a good option in any sport -- indeed, the only Detroit team doing well at the time was, strangely, the Lions, who were then a perennial Playoff team thanks largely to Barry Sanders.

I once saw a T-shirt that read, "I'm so bad, I vacation in Detroit." As I mentioned, I have. (I'm not saying I'm "bad," or a "hard man," just that I went.) Newark had a race riot 2 weeks before Detroit's. In May 1999, I saw Detroit, and I realized just how far back Newark had come, by seeing how far Detroit had not.

In the 1950 Census, Detroit was the 4th-largest city in America, after New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, with over 2 million people just within the city limits. "White flight" after the '67 riot has led to the Detroit metropolitan area having roughly the same number of people it had then, about 5.3 million, but within the city limits the number has dropped from over 2 million to just 680,000. The suburbs are beautiful, but the city itself is a hole, and good men (and a few bad ones) have busted their humps trying to get it back on its feet.

One of the good men who's tried is Mike Ilitch, probably the most famous American of Macedonian descent, who runs Little Caesar's Pizza, and owns the Tigers and Red Wings. He rebuilt the city's historic Fox Theater, put Little Caesar's headquarters in the building above it, and had Comerica Park built across the street. He, and many others, including Pistons Hall-of-Famer turned major area businessman Dave Bing, who served a term as Mayor, are trying, they really are. But Governor Rick Snyder, a Tea Party Republican, has ordered a State takeover of Detroit's finances. Apparently, he didn't learn the lesson of Hugh Carey, New York's Governor in 1975, who found another way to get New York City's finances back on their feet. In Detroit's case, as in every other place in which it's tried, austerity hasn't worked.

I should also note that Detroit is a border city. The Detroit River, connecting Lakes Huron and Erie, is one of the few places where you can cross from north to south and go from America to Canada. Windsor, Ontario -- the closest thing to a "South Detroit," making that line in the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" problematic -- is considerably safer, and, like Detroit itself, has a gambling casino. If you want to visit, you'll need to bring your passport. You can use either the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or the Ambassador Bridge.

Tickets. Alone among the Detroit-area teams since the Lions moved back downtown into Ford Field, the Pistons are far from the city. Therefore, if you can get around the city and get a hotel near the arena, you won't have to deal with Detroit's reputation for crime and poverty.

The Pistons averaged only 15,005 last season, well below the Palace's capacity of 21,231 -- just 68 percent, or a shade over 2/3rds full. This was probably due to the Pistons crashing to a 29-53 season. It hasn't been all that long since they were a championship contender. But tickets shouldn't be too hard to get, especially since the Red Wings are underway and doing well. So among the crimes you won't have to deal with, most likely, is ticket scalping.

In the Lower Level, seats between the baskets go from $97 to $209, and behind them from $37 to $97. In the Upper Level, they're a bargain: $47 between the baskets, $20 behind them.

Getting There. It is 647 miles from Madison Square Garden to the Palace -- about 30 miles longer than from Midtown Manhattan to downtown Detroit. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

Except... Wayne County Metropolitan Airport is 22 miles southwest of downtown, on the opposite side of the city. A taxi to downtown will set you back a bundle. There is a bus, SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) bus Number 125, that goes directly from the airport to downtown, but it will take an hour and 20 minutes. You're better off renting a car at the airport, which is southwest of the city, and then driving to the arena, which is northwest of the city -- a whopping 50 miles. They didn't really think when putting the Palace and the Silverdome where they did, far from both downtown and the airport. Sure, it was safe, and it was where a huge part of the fanbase was. But it wasn't convenient for anybody living in any other part of the Detroit area, or fans coming to watch their teams there.

Also, do you remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza had a girlfriend, played by a pre-Will & Grace Megan Mullaly (using her real voice, you'd never recognize her as W&G's Karen), and he had to accompany her to a funeral in her hometown of Detroit? "It's kind of an expensive flight," George said. This was not just George being his usual cheap self: At the time, over 20 years ago (wow, it's been that long), it was expensive, more expensive from New York to Detroit than it was to the further-away Chicago.

It's actually cheaper now, but not by much: A check of airline websites shows that, while flights can by had for under $700 round-trip, most will be more like $1,300 -- and you'll have to change planes in Chicago. That's right, you'll have to overshoot Detroit to go to Detroit.

Too rich for your blood? The news gets worse: There is no good way to get to Detroit, and that's got nothing to do with the city's reputation. Forget the train. The only Amtrak route in and out of Detroit is to and from Chicago, which in the opposite direction.

The most direct route is the Lake Shore Limited, formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station. It leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Terminal in Toledo at 5:55 every morning. From there, you have to wait until 6:30 to get on a bus to Detroit's Amtrak station, arriving at 7:35. The station is at 11 W. Baltimore Avenue, at Woodward Avenue, 2 1/2 miles north of Comerica, so walking there is not a good option; the number 16 or 53 bus would take you down Woodward. In reverse, the bus leaves Detroit at 9:45 PM, arrives in Toledo at 10:50, and then you have to hang around there until the Lake Shore Limited comes back at 3:20 AM, arriving back in New York at 6:23 PM. Total cost: $199. A lot cheaper than flying, but a tremendous inflammation in the posterior.

How about Greyhound? Yeah, ride a bus for 14 hours to Detroit, there's a great idea. (Rolleyes.) Actually, having done it, I can tell you that it's not that bad. Two Greyhound buses leave Port Authority every day with connections to Detroit. One is at 5:15 PM, and arrives at 7:20 AM, with a 1 hour and 35 minute stopover in Cleveland in the middle of the night (but you won't have to change buses, in case you want to stay on the bus and sleep). The other leaves Port Authority at 10:15 PM, and you will have to change buses in Cleveland, arriving 6:50 AM and leaving 7:50, arriving at 11:25 AM. Despite having to change buses, this one is actually faster, taking 13 hours and 10 minutes, as opposed to the single through bus ride, taking 14 hours and 5 minutes.

Compared to most of Detroit, the bus terminal, at 1001 Howard Street, is relatively new and quite clean. It was just about within walking distance of Tiger Stadium, which really helped me in 1999. It's also not a long walk to Ford Field, but I wouldn't recommend this. Better to take a cab, especially if you're getting a hotel. Round-trip fare: $150 if you make an advanced purchase, $209 if you're buying at Port Authority. So Greyhound is also far cheaper than flying, possibly cheaper (and definitely not much more expensive) than Amtrak, and less of a pain than Amtrak.

If you decide to drive, the directions are simple, down to, literally, the last mile. you'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. I point this out merely to help you avoid confusion, not because I-90 will become important -- though it is for "How to Be a Yankee Fan in Chicago" and some other cities. In Ohio, you'll take I-80's Exit 64, and get onto Interstate 75 North. This will take you into Michigan. Go past the exits for Detroit, to Exit 81. This will lead you onto Lapeer Road, a.k.a. Michigan State Route 24. The Palace will be on your left, very shortly.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 3 hours in Ohio and an hour and 15 minutes in Michigan. That’s 11 hours. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and in the Cleveland suburbs, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Detroit, it should be about 12 and a half hours. There are a few hotel chains within a 10-minute drive.

Once In the City. Detroit was founded in 1701 as Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit du Lac Erie (Day-TWAH, strait of Lake Erie), by Antonie de La Mothe Cadillac, for whom the downtown Cadillac Square and the brand of car was named.

Detroit's centerpoint, in culture and in terms of address numbers, is the Woodward Fountain, where Woodward, Michigan and Gratiot Avenues come together, with Cadillac Square just off to the east. Woodward is the East-West divider.

The suburbs are nearly all-white; the city itself, nearly all-black. If there is another city on the planet that is so segregated, I'm not aware of it. The sales tax in the State of Michigan is 6 percent, and does not go up in either the City of Detroit, the County of Wayne in which Detroit sits, or the County of Oakland in which Auburn Hills sits.

Detroit is a weird city in some ways. It often seems like a cross between a past that was once glorious but now impossible to reach, and a future that never quite happened. (That observation was once made about the remaining structures from New York’s 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Astrodome in Houston.) Art Deco structures of the 1920s and ‘30s, such as the Penobscot Building (the tallest building outside New York and Chicago when it opened in 1928, the tallest in Michigan until 1977) stand alongside abandoned, boarded-up or chained-up stores.

But alongside or across from them, there are glassy, modern structures such as the Renaissance Center, shown in the photo above: A 5-tower complex that includes, at its center, the 750-foot tallest building in Michigan (the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere), and, in one of its 4 outer towers, the headquarters of General Motors (although the RenCen was originally financed by Ford).

Downtown also has the Detroit People Mover, a monorail system that is part of the suggestion of Detroit trying to get from 1928 to 2028 while jumping over the difficult years in between. Like the Washington and Montreal Metro (subway) systems, the company running it prides itself on the artwork in its stations. It has a stop called Times Square, but it won’t look anything like the one in New York. It has a stop called Bricktown, but it won’t look anything like Brick Township, the sprawling Jersey Shore suburb off Exits 88 to 91 on the Garden State Parkway. It’s cheap, only 75 cents, and it still uses tokens, although it also accepts cash. Be advised, though, that it stops running at midnight, except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it runs until 2:00 AM. Bus fare is $1.50.

Auburn Hills is 37 miles northwest of downtown Detroit. This is farther than the Meadowlands and the Nassau Coliseum combined are from Midtown Manhattan, farther than Foxboro is from Boston, farther than the Bills' stadium is from downtown Buffalo, farther than Landover (home of the Redskins' stadium and the site of the former Bullets & Capitals arena) is from downtown D.C. or downtown Baltimore, even farther than Anaheim is from downtown Los Angeles.

Separated from Pontiac, where the Silverdome is located, and formed as a separate town in 1983, its population is listed as 21,412 -- roughly the same as the capacity of the Palace, which opened in 1988. Aside from the Pistons, the place is best known as the site of the world headquarters of Chrysler Corporation. The Walter P. Chrysler Museum was there, but it closed in 2012, because it wasn't getting enough visitors.

Going In. Unlike the boxed-in parking at Tiger Stadium, one of the big reasons it was replaced, the Palace is surrounded by parking on 3 sides: A North Lot, a West Lot and a South Lot. Compared to most stadiums and arenas, parking is cheap, only $10.

The Pistons won the 1989, 1990 and 2004 NBA Championships here, and almost won another in 2005. The Detroit Shock won 3 WNBA Championships here, and, as a result, every time a title is won, the address changes: Currently, it’s “Six Championship Drive, Auburn Hills, MI 48326.” However, the Shock moved to Tulsa in 2010, so unless the NBA tries again with a new WNBA team, only the Pistons (theoretically) will be able to change the address to "Seven Championship Drive."

Unfortunately, the building’s best-known event isn’t a Pistons title or a rock concert, but the November 19, 2004 fight between the Pistons and the Indiana Pacers that spilled into the stands, becoming known as "the Malice at the Palace." Even the WNBA had a rare brawl there, between the Shock and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008. Lapeer Road and Harmon Road, Auburn Hills, off I-75.

Don’t even think about trying to reach it by public transportation: You’d need 2 buses and then a half-hour walk. There may be express bus available from downtown Detroit, but I haven't been able to find a reference to it.

Most fans will enter at either the North Tower or the South Tower. These are just names, and don't look any more like skyscrapers than do the 4 "corner" escalator towers at Madison Square Garden. These "towers" also have concession stands, as you'll see in a moment. You can also enter at the West Atrium. The arena and court are laid out north-to-south.

Food. When I visited Tiger Stadium in its final season, 1999, it had great food, including the very best ballpark hot dog I've ever had. This is, after all, Big Ten Country, where college football tailgate parties are practically a sacrament. Granted, the Pistons are not a football team. But do they ever provide, and not just the usual stadium or arena fare.

There's Sub Station at Section 118, featuring a Meatball Sub, an Italian Sub, a Turkey Sub, Root Beer Floats, Waffle Cones, Hot Fudge Sundaes, Brownie Sundaes and Fresh Baked Cookies. If Cookie Monster finds out about this, he may want Sesame Street to trade him from New York to Detroit.

The Meijer Fresh Stand, named for a salad company, is at Section 120, selling salads, fruit cups and veggie cups. At the other end of the health-food spectrum, in the arena's North Tower, there is the North Tower Burger Bar, featuring a "Classic Cheese Burger" (why they don't write "cheeseburger" as one word, I don't know), a Bacon Boursin Burger and a Santa Fe Burger. Also in the North Tower is a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant and a Crown Royal Bar, featuring not just the eponymous Canadian whisky, but barbecue sandwiches (pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket) and loaded tater tots. The North Tower also has Frozen Daiquiri and Margarita stands.

Hungry Howie's Pizza is at Section 123. Mac Mania is at Section 106, serving macaroni & cheese dishes, including Creamy Cheddar, Buffalo Chicken, Smoked Bacon. There's a Grilled Andouille Sausage stand at 107, a Taco stand at 119, a Nacho Grande stand at 123, Dippin Dots carts at 108 and 120, and a Gluten Free stand at 125. And, since Detroit (if not Auburn Hills) does border Canada and calls itself "Hockeytown" (at which Montreal and Toronto must laugh), the Palace, as does Joe Louis Arena, has a Tim Horton's stand.

As you might guess, in Detroit, probably the American city best known for having Polish people, there is plenty of kielbasa to be had. But nothing mentioned of the other major ethnic groups that Detroit is known for, Greek or Arab -- though, in the case of the latter, this may be understandable in a post-9/11 world, especially since Detroit is a border city (even if the Palace is 33 miles from the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel).

Team History Displays. The arena's very address, 6 Championship Drive, is a testament to its history, although half of those titles, 3, are WNBA titles won by the now-gone Detroit Shock (all coached by Pistons legend Bill Laimbeer). Championship Drive extends west from the north-south Lapeer Road/M-24, leading into the arena parking lots. So does another street referring to the arena's history, Isiah Thomas Drive -- although those of you who are Knicks fans may want to ignore that name.

The Shock's 2003, 2006 and 2008 WNBA Championship banners still hang in the Palace rafters, as do the Pistons' NBA Championship banners for 1989, 1990 and 2004; their Eastern Conference Championship banners for 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004 and 2005; and their Central Division Championship banners for 1988, 1989, 1990, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. (They won the 2004 NBA title without having won their Division in the regular season.)

The Pistons have 10 banners honoring team legends. Longtime team owner William Davidson (who built the Palace) and general manager Jack McCloskey have banners without numbers on them. Chuck Daly, who coached the Pistons to their 1st 2 titles, has the Number 2 retired for him.

From the 1989 and 1990 World Championship teams, a.k.a. the Motor City Bad Boys, these numbers are retired: 4, guard Joe Dumars; 10, forward Dennis Rodman; 11, guard Isiah Thomas; 15, guard Vinnie Johnson; and 40, center Bill Laimbeer. (Greg Monroe was wearing 10 when the number was retired for Rodman, who gave him permission to keep wearing it as long as he remains with the Pistons. So far, the Number 44 of Rick Mahorn remains available.)

So far, no players from the 2004 NBA Champions have been honored, although Dumars was their general manager. From before their 1st title, the Pistons have honored Number 15, center Bob Lanier; and Number 21, Dave Bing, who served a term as Mayor of Detroit.

Stuff. The Pistons Locker Room is a team store in the South Tower of the arena. There are smaller souvenir stands elsewhere.

Most of the books about the Pistons focus on the 1988-89 and 1989-90 Bad Boys. A good retrospective, if a bit out of date, is the 1997 book The Detroit Pistons: Four Decades of Motor City Memories, by Steve Addy. After the 2004 title, the staff of the Detroit Free Press published Men at Work: Blue-Collar Pistons Show Who's the Boss. DVD collections for the 1989, 1990 and 2004 World Championship teams are also available.

Charles C. Avison wrote Detroit: City of Champions, telling of how the city produced champion after champion in the Great Depression and World War II: The Tigers winning Pennants in 1934, '35, '40 and '45; the Lions debuting in 1934 and winning the NFL Championship in 1935; the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup in 1936, '37 and '43; and Alabama-born, Detroit-trained Joe Louis winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1937 and keeping it until his first retirement in 1948. Back then, Detroit was a city where anything was possible. But then, the Pistons didn't arrive in the Motor City until 1958, from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Oddly, they were already called the Pistons, as car parts were also made in that city.

During the Game. "The Malice at the Palace" was 10 years ago. It was 1 event in the 56-year history of Pistons basketball. You do not have to fear for Pistons players running into the seats to come after you. Nor do you have to worry about wearing your Knicks or Nets gear in the Palace, or anywhere in the Detroit area. Maybe if you were wearing Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, or possibly Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers stuff. Not Knicks or Nets.

In those 56 years, the Pistons have had just 2 public-address announcers. (Those of you who are Yankee fans may scoff, knowing that the Bronx Bombers had only Bob Sheppard for 57 years. But it's still remarkable.) Ken Calvert served from 1958 to 2001, at the Olympia, Cobo Hall, the Silverdome and the Palace, including the rise and fall of the Motor City Bad Boys of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Since 2001, the announcer has been John Mason, who made famous the phrase, "Dee-troit bas-ket-ball!" He became so admired around the NBA that he was invited to announce the 2007 All-Star Game in Las Vegas, which, of course, does not have a team of its own. He hosts 2 different daily radio shows in Detroit.

The Pistons' mascot is Hooper the Horse -- a "hooper" is a basketball player, and a car's pistons provide "horsepower," get it? Some of Hooper's stunts include rappelling off the roof of the Palace, and breaking bricks with his hoof. He can also juggle and perform magic tricks. Hooper's "birthday" is March 15, and he celebrates his birthday at a Pistons home game. Guests often include other NBA mascots, plus fellow Detroit mascots Paws the Tiger and Roary the Lion.

The Pistons have a Cheer Team (currently 9 men and 11 women), a Dance Team (18, all women), another dance team called the D-Town dancers (14 men and 7 women), and a Drumline (13 men -- as far as I know, the closest any NBA team comes to having a pep band). I can see having a cheer/dance team, but 3 separate teams that, essentially, do the same thing?

After the Game. Detroit has a rough reputation, but the Palace is in the middle of a parking lot in the middle of the northwestern suburbs. You will almost certainly be safe. But, as usual, be aware that some people may have had too much to drink.

Speaking of drinking, if you want a postgame drink or meal, the Palace Grill is just to the east of the arena, between it and Lapeer Road. Across Lapeer from the arena is Ciccarelli's Sports Bar, named for Dino Ciccarelli, a former NHL star with, among other teams, the Red Wings. A McDonald's is just to the north, at Lapeer and Dutton Road. And a bar called Hoops, which I'm guessing caters to basketball fans, is to the south, at Lapeer and Zelma Drive.

The only bar I was able to find catering to New Yorkers that is within 25 miles of downtown Detroit, and that one just barely, was a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in suburban Roseville. It's also been known to serve as the local headquarters for expatriate Giants and Jets fans. It is in the northern suburbs, but it's 35 miles away from the Palace. So unless you've rented a car, forget it.

In downtown Detroit, I have a source that says that locals who root for the Giants gather at the Town Pump Tavern, 100 W. Montcalm Street at Park Avenue, 2 blocks from Comerica Park. So that might be a good place for Knick fans who are staying in the city.

Sidelights. For all its problems, Detroit is a great city, not just a great basketball city or even a great sports city. Check out the following – but do it in daylight:

* Site of Tiger Stadium. The 1st ballpark on the site was called Bennett Park, after Charlie Bennett, a catcher for the NL’s Detroit Wolverines, who didn’t play there. Bennett Park opened in 1896, for the Detroit team in the Western League, which became the American League in 1901. However, the team we know as the Tigers (so named because the orange stripes on their socks evoked not just tigers but the teams at New Jersey’s Princeton University, also called the Tigers) are officially dated from 1901.

After the 1911 season, the wooden Bennett Park was demolished, and replaced with a concrete and steel structure, opening on April 20, 1912 (the same day as Fenway Park in Boston) and named Navin Field, after Tiger owner Frank Navin. He died in 1935, and his co-owner, Walter Briggs, expanded the place to its more familiar configuration in 1938, renaming it Briggs Stadium. In 1961, new owner John Fetzer renamed it Tiger Stadium.

The Tigers played there from 1912 to 1999, and the NFL’s Lions did so from 1938 to 1974. The Tigers won the World Series while playing there in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984; the Lions won the NFL Championship while playing there in 1952, 1953 and 1957. (The ’52 Championship Game was played in Cleveland against the Browns; the ’53 and ’57 editions, also against the Browns, at Tiger Stadum.)

A youth baseball field is now on the site. Northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Street, 1 mile west of Cadillac Square down Michigan Avenue (U.S. Route 12). The official address was 2121 Trumbull Street. Number 29 bus from downtown.

* Comerica Park and Ford Field. The center piece of Detroit's attempts to revive its downtown core, if not its entire city, are the new ballpark (2000) and football stadium (2002). The area is called Foxtown, after the Fox Theater, which Tigers/Wings/Little Caesars owner Mike Ilitch has had restored.

It took a few years to kick in, but Comerica has become a fortress for the Tigers, as they've made the Playoffs 7 times in the last 9 seasons, including the last 4. They've won 2 Pennants in that stretch, but, as yet, no World Series in the last 30 years. The official address is 2100 Woodward Avenue, but it's actually a block away from Woodward, at Witherell Street and Adams Avenue.

Ford Field is not yet a fortress for the Lions. They've mostly been terrible since coming in, including the only 0-16 season in NFL history thus far. They have made the Playoffs since then, and have a shot at them again this season.

Ford Field hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006, won by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final game of Detroit native Jerome Bettis; and the 2009 NCAA Final Four, the only one ever held in the State of Michigan, won by North Carolina, overcoming a "home-court advantage" for Michigan State in the Final. 2000 Brush Street at Adams Avenue, separated from Comerica by Brush Street. Both stadiums are accessible by the Broadway and Grand Circus stops on the People Mover.

* Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Center. Opening in 1979, while Louis was still alive, this 20,000-seat building was considered very modern at the time. There has been talk of a replacement for “The Joe,” but it doesn’t look likely that an agreement for one will be reached anytime soon.

The Red Wings have come a long way from the building’s early days, when they were nicknamed the Dead Things, winning 4 Stanley Cups in 6 trips to the Finals between 1995 and 2009. It’s considered one of the loudest arenas in the NHL: In 1992, a writer for Hockey Digest compared it to Chicago Stadium, the now-demolished home of their arch-rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, and said that, if the visiting team scores 2 early goals, the Chicago fans quiet down, but Detroit fans stay loud throughout the game.

The Joe hosts college hockey, including the Great Lakes Invitational, in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Michigan Tech is the host, with Michigan and Michigan State usually participating, and a 4th team in rotation -- this year, it's Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. (Comerica Park hosted it in 2013, since the NHL Winter Classic of January 1, 2014 was being held there between the Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

The Joe also hosted the 1980 Republican Convention -- right, the GOP meeting, and nominating union-buster Ronald Reagan no less, in a majority-black, heavily union city, in an arena named for a boxer who struck a blow for racial equality. (Then again, in 2012, the Democrats met in conservative Charlotte.)

The Joe was built next-door to Cobo Center, which was named for Albert E. Cobo, Mayor from 1950 to 1957. Its centerpiece, a building originally known as Cobo Hall, has been Detroit’s major convention center since its opening in 1960, and, following the rejection of a plan to demolish it and put a new Pistons-Red Wings arena on the site, it recently underwent a renovation and expansion.

It includes a 12,000-seat arena that was home to the Pistons from 1961 to 1978, and a convention complex that includes the city’s famed annual auto show. It is known for some legendary rock concerts, including the KISS album Alive! and area native Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. Unfortunately, it may be best known for the January 6, 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan during a practice session for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. 600 Civic Center Drive at Jefferson Avenue. Each arena has its own station on the Detroit People Mover.

* Site of Olympia Stadium. From the outside, it looked more like a big brick movie theater, complete with the Art Deco marquee out front. But “The Old Red Barn” was home to the Red Wings from 1927 to 1979, during which time they won the Stanley Cup in 1936, ’37, ’43, ’50, ’52, ’54 and ’55. In 1950, they hosted Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Pete Babando’s overtime winner defeated the Rangers. In ’54, they had another overtime Game 7 winner, as “Tough Tony” Leswick hit a shot that deflected off Doug Harvey, the great defenseman of the Montreal Canadiens. (In hockey, the shooter is still credited; in soccer, this would have been officially listed as an “own goal” on Harvey.)

The Olympia was also home to the Pistons from 1957 to 1961, and the site of some great prizefights, including Jake LaMotta’s 1942 win over Sugar Ray Robinson – the only fight Robinson would lose in his career until 1952, and the only one of the 6 fights he had with LaMotta that LaMotta won.

Elvis Presley did 2 shows there early in his career, an afternoon and an evening show on March 31, 1957. (If you think that's a lot for one day, he did 3 shows at the Fox Theater on May 25, 1956.) He returned to the Olympia on September 11, 1970; April 6, 1972; September 29 and October 4, 1974; and April 22, 1977. The Beatles played there on September 6, 1964 and August 13, 1966. (However, it was in the Detroit area -- specifically, on the University of Michigan's radio station in Ann Arbor -- that a disc jockey started the 1969 rumor that Paul McCartney was dead. In a 1989 interview, Paul said, "'Paul is dead'? I didn't believe that one for a minute.")

It was the neighborhood, not the building, that was falling apart: Lincoln Cavalieri, its general manager in its last years, once said, "If an atom bomb landed, I'd want to be in Olympia." It was not a nuclear attack, but an ordinary demolition crew, that took it down in 1987. The Olympia Armory, home of the Michigan National Guard, is now on the site. 5920 Grand River Avenue, corner of McGraw Street, on the Northwest Side. Number 21 bus. If you’re a hockey fan, by all means, visit – but do it in daylight.

* University of Detroit Stadium. Also known as Titan Stadium, this was the Lions' first home, from 1934 to 1937, until what became Tiger Stadium was double-decked. The Lions played and won the 1935 NFL Championship Game there, beating the Giants.

The previous NFL team in the city, the Detroit Wolverines, play there in their lone season, 1928. Built in 1922 and seating 25,000, the University's suspension of its football program in 1964 doomed it, and it was demolished in 1971. The school, now known as the University of Detroit Mercy (it's a Catholic school), has since put a new, multipurpose, artificial turf field on the site. 3801 McNichols Road at Birchcrest Drive. 016 Bus.

* Silverdome. Originally Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, this stadium was home to the Lions from 1975 to 2001 (after which they moved back downtown to Ford Field), and very nearly became home to the Tigers as well, before owner John Fetzer decided to commit himself to Tiger Stadium. Heisman-winning running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders ran wild for the Lions here, but the closest they got to a Super Bowl was reaching the NFC Championship Game in January 1992 – unless you count hosting Super Bowl XVI, 10 years earlier, the beginning of the San Francisco 49er dynasty led by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana.

The Pistons, playing here from 1978 to 1988, had a little more luck, reaching the NBA Finals in their last year there. It seated 80,000 for football, set an NBA attendance record (since broken) of 61,983 between the Pistons and Boston Celtics in 1988, and 93,682 for a Mass by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

In 1994, it hosted 4 World Cup matches, including 1 by the U.S. and 1 by eventual winner Brazil. It hosted 2 games by the U.S. national soccer team, in 1992 win over Russia and the 1994 World Cup draw against Switzerland. Elvis had his biggest crowd ever at the Silverdome, 60,500, on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1975.

Without the Lions and Pistons, its future is unclear. It hosted a Don King-promoted boxing card in January 2011, and in August 2010 hosted a friendly between Italian soccer giant A.C. Milan and leading Greek club Panathinaikos – appropriate, considering the area’s ethnic makeup.

In 2013, the roof was deflated as an energy-saving measure; if a new tenant is found, a new roof will be put in as part of renovations. A current rumor is that a group trying to get an MLS expansion franchise for Detroit will use it, or demolish it and build a new facility on the site. But in March of this year, the owners announced that they would be auctioning off the contents of the facility, including seats and fixtures -- suggesting that they're not optimistic that anything new will be coming anytime soon.

1200 Featherstone Road, Pontiac. Getting there by public transportation is a pain: The Number 465 bus takes an hour and 25 minutes, and then you gotta walk a mile down Featherstone from Oakland Community College. Still easier to reach by public transit than the Palace, but if you didn't drive in (or rent a car at the airport), then, unless you have to see everything on this list, or if you're a Lions fan living in New York who has to see it one more time, or if you're a soccer nut on a pilgrimage to all World Cup sites, I'd suggest skipping it. But if you have rented a car, it's only 4 miles south of the Palace, taking Lapeer Road to Opdyke Road to Featherstone.

* Motown Historical Museum. As always, I’m going to include some non-sports items. Detroit is generally known for 3 good things: Sports, music and cars. The Motown Historical Museum is the former Motown Records studio, which company founder Berry Gordy Jr. labeled “Hitsville, U.S.A.” His sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, now runs it, and it features records and costumes of performers such as the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops. 2648 W. Grand Blvd., on the North Side. Number 16 bus.

* Henry Ford Museum. The centerpiece of the nation’s foremost automotive-themed museum is a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Henry Ford himself established the museum: “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.”

It contains the fascinating, including early cars and bicycles, Henry Ford’s first car (his 1896 "Quadricycle"), Igor Sikorsky’s prototype for the helicopter, the bus Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat to start the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and a Buckminster Fuller “Dymaxion house.” It also contains the macabre, with the chair Abraham Lincoln was supposedly sitting in when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington (the theater owner was no relation to Henry); and the chair, and the rest of the car as well, that John F. Kennedy was definitely sitting in when he was assassinated, the back seat of in the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine he was riding in through downtown Dallas.

Next door to the museum is Greenfield Village, which Ford imagined as a kind of historical park, a more modern version of Colonial Williamsburg – that is, celebrating what was, in 1929 when it opened, considered modern American life, including a reconstruction of the Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory of his good friend Thomas Edison. Ford and Edison were both friends of rubber magnate Henry Firestone (whose tires certainly made Ford’s cars easier to make), and Firestone’s family farm is reconstructed on the site.

Please note that I am not excusing Henry Ford’s control-freak attitude toward his employees' private lives, nor his despicable anti-Semitism, nor his failed union-busting in the 1930s. To be fair, he did give his black auto workers the same pay and benefits as his white ones. But I am recommending the museum. It's a tribute to the role of technology, including the automobile, in American life, not to the man himself. Oakwood Blvd. and Village Road. Number 200 bus to Michigan Avenue and Oakwood Blvd., then a short walk down Oakwood.

* Greektown Historic District. Although Detroit is famed for its Irish (Corktown, including the site of Tiger Stadium) and Italian communities, and has the largest Arab-American community of any major city, its best-known ethnic neighborhoods are Greektown and the Polish community of Hamtramck. New York’s Astoria, Queens has nothing on Detroit’s Greektown, which not only has some of the country’s finest Greek restaurants, but also the Greektown Casino, which is at 555 E. Lafayette Street, at Beaubien Street. Greektown Station on the People Mover.

* Hamtramck. Pronounced “Ham-TRAM-ick,” this city is actually completely surrounded by Detroit. When the Dodge Brothers (who later sold the car company bearing their name to Chrysler) opened an auto plant there in 1914, it became a hub for Polish immigration. However, the Polish population of the city has dropped from 90 percent in 1970 to 22 percent today. And Arabs and South Asians have moved in, making it Michigan’s most internationally diverse city. Nevertheless, if you want the best kielbasa, kapusta, golumpkis and paczkis this side of the Oder, this is the place to go. Hamtramck Town Shopping Center, Joseph Campau Street and Hewitt Street. Number 10 or 34 bus.

* Mariners’ Church. On my 1999 visit to Detroit, I discovered this church by accident, walking past it without realizing it was there until I saw the historical marker. Every March, it holds a Blessing of the Fleet for every person and ship going to sea. Every November, it holds a Great Lakes Memorial Service for those who have lost their lives at sea within the past year.

The most famous of these ceremonies was for the 29 men lost on the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. Built and homeported in Detroit, the Big Fitz was commemorated by Gordon Lightfoot, whose 1976 song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” mistakenly, but poetically, called the church “The Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.” (Edmund Fitzgerald himself was the president of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, which invested in the ship's construction, because it was heavily invested in the ore industry.)

170 E. Jefferson Avenue, at Randolph Street, across from the Renaissance Center. If you're going to visit the church, be careful, because Randolph Street empties into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

* Spirit of Detroit. In front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the city hall named for the 1974-93 Mayor, stands a marble monument with a bronze statue of a kneeling man, the seals of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, and a Biblical inscription, from 2nd Corinthians 3:17: "Now the Lord is that spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." In his left hand, the 26-foot-high kneeling figure holds a gilt bronze sphere emanating rays, to symbolize God. The people in the figure's right hand are a family group. The statue was dedicated in 1958, 4 years after the Municipal Center opened. In recent years, a large jersey has been placed over it when the Tigers, Pistons or Wings have been in their sport's finals. (As yet, this has never been done for the Lions, who haven't been to an NFL Championship Game since 1957, 9 seasons before they started calling it the Super Bowl.) 2 Woodward Avenue at Jefferson Avenue.

* Monument to Joe Louis. Erected in 1986, on a traffic island at the intersection of Woodward & Jefferson, it is a 24-foot-long arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot-high pyramidal framework. Since it is a monument to Louis, the great black heavyweight champion, the arm and fist are black bronze.

* Colleges. The University of Michigan is 44 miles west of downtown Detroit, in Ann Arbor.  It is possible to reach it from Detroit by bus, but it will take 2 hours: You can take the 851 bus to the airport, and transfer there to the 787.

Gerald Ford was President from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977, and was a graduate of (and an All-American football player at) Michigan in the 1930s. His Presidential Library, and a School of Public Policy named for him, are on the Ann Arbor campus, at 1000 Beal Avenue. However, he is the only President whose Library and Museum are separated, and his Presidential Museum is in his hometown of Grand Rapids, at 303 Pearl Street NW, 158 miles northwest of Detroit. You'll need Greyhound if you want to visit Grand Rapids.

Michigan Stadium is at 1201 S. Main Street at Stadium Blvd. "The Big House" has hosted UM football since 1927. Its peak attendance is 115,109 for Michigan's 2013 win over Notre Dame. This past year, it set new records for highest U.S. attendance for soccer (109,318 for Manchester United beating Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup), and for highest attendance anywhere on the planet for hockey (105,491 for the NHL Winter Classic, the Toronto Maple Leafs beating the Detroit Red Wings).

Adjacent is Crisler Arena, named for Herbert "Fritz" Crisler, the UM football coach from 1938 to 1947, who, in another connection between Princeton University sports and the State of Michigan, had previously coached Princeton's Tigers, and brought his "winged" helmet design with him, making Michigan's "maize and blue" helmets among the most famous in college football. Elvis sang at Crisler Arena on April 24, 1977. The other sports facilities, including Yost Arena (hockey) and Fisher Stadium (named for Ray Fisher, who pitched for the Yankees in the 1910s before they got good and then coached at Michigan, including Charlie Gehringer), are adjacent.

Michigan State University is 88 miles northwest of Detroit, in East Lansing, adjacent to Lansing, the State capital.  Greyhound runs 4 buses a day from Detroit to East Lansing, at 8:00 AM, 12:10 PM, 2:20 PM and 7:40 PM, and it takes about 2 hours. Two buses go back to Detroit, at 3:40 and 5:55 PM. $38 round-trip.

Spartan Stadium, formerly Macklin Field, is at 325 W. Shaw Lane at Red Cedar Road, which is named for the river that bisects the MSU campus. Jenison Field House (the old basketball arena, where Magic Johnson starred on their 1979 National Champions), Breslin Events Center (their new arena), and Munn Arena (hockey) are a short walk away, at Kalamazoo Street & Birch Road.

UPDATE: According to an October 3, 2014 article in The New York Times, UM has a decided, though not overwhelming, advantage in fans in the Detroit area, and also in most of the State of Michigan. Only around the State capital of Lansing do you get an edge for MSU.

* Home Improvement. The 1991-99 ABC sitcom is easily the best-known TV show to have been set in Detroit, with the studio for the show-within-the show Tool Time being in the city and the Taylors' house in the suburbs -- I don't think the exact town was ever specified, but a likely location is in Bloomfield Hills.

As far as I know, there were no location shots, not even in the episode in which the Taylors got to see the Lions' annual Thanksgiving game from a Silverdome skybox. So if you're looking for the Taylors' house, you're not going to find it -- if there was ever a house, not just a studio set, it was likely in or around Los Angeles. Other shows set in or around Detroit have included Martin, Freaks and Geeks, Sister, Sister, and 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.

Several films have been set, but not necessarily filmed, in Detroit. Axel Foley, Eddie Murphy's character in the Beverly Hills Cop films, was a Detroit police detective, but most of the film, including the Detroit scenes, was shot in Los Angeles. While RoboCop was set in Detroit, it was filmed in Dallas. (And you thought "Dallas sucks" was just a sports chant.)

Billy Crystal's movie about the 1961 home run record chase, 61*, used Tiger Stadium as a stand-in (with computer-generated help) for the original Yankee Stadium (since the 1973-76 renovation left it looking very little like it did in 1961). Other recent movies set in Detroit include Eminem's Roman à clef, 8 Mile; and Clint Eastwood's retired autoworker vs. gangs film Gran Torino.

* Windsor. Across the Detroit River is Windsor, Ontario. Most Americans know it for Caesar's Windsor, one of 4 casinos in the area. Like its namesakes in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, it has a Roman theme. It may be only 2 miles from downtown Detroit, but because it's in Canada, where they have things like sensible gun laws, national health care, and, you know, water that its city government hasn't turned off, it may feel like the other side of the world (if not in Rome itself). And, because it's in Canada, you'll need a passport.

377 Riverside Drive East. There is bus service available -- less for Michiganders wanting to gamble, more for Windsorites wanting to go to concerts and Red Wings games. (They are Canadians, after all.) You can contact Transit Windsor at

The Wings' first home was actually in Windsor: They played their first season, 1926-27, at the Border Cities Arena, which still stands, and is now named Windsor Arena. Like a lot of old arenas (this one was built in 1924), it looks like a barn, and so is nicknamed The Barn. It seats only 4,400 people in its current configuration, but it still hosts the University of Windsor hockey team. Its longest-term tenant, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, now play elsewhere. 334 Wyandotte Street East, at McDougall Street.


A visit to Detroit does not have to be a scary experience. These people love basketball -- especially "Dee-troit bas-ket-ball!" And, while they don't necessarily like the Yankees, they don't have a problem with Knick fans. They love basketball, and they should be able to show you a good time.


Guillermo said...
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Guillermo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guillermo said...

This is not that relevant, but since Presley was mentioned as playing Detroit, not just twice, but thrice in one day, let me point out that Presley's biggest working day wasn't in Detroit, but actually in Atlanta, GA, on June 23rd, 1956, with 4 shows at 12.30, 3.15, 5.30 and 8.30 pm. That year he gave 235 shows, but that's nothing compared to how many he gave the year before, when he wasn't that known, a whooping 327 in 129 cities, travelling there, with one single exception, in his own car...

Uncle Mike said...

Thanks for the info, and for indirectly reminding me that I didn't mention Elvis' Atlanta shows when I did this format for the Braves -- or the Beatles' Elvis concert, for that matter!