Pistons celebrate their past in final game at Palace

The highlight of the night for Detroit fans was a halftime ceremony that honored the top players from the three championship teams, with Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman posing for pictures with Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Dennis Rodman walked across the court to deliver the game ball in a brief pregame ceremony, setting the tone for a night of celebration — one final chance for Detroit fans to gather at The Palace of Auburn Hills and revel in all the Pistons accomplished during nearly three decades at the suburban arena.

There was a game going on out on the court — the Pistons lost 105-101 to the Washington Wizards — but that seemed secondary for much of the evening. Monday night was about appreciating the past and looking eagerly toward the future. The team is moving to downtown Detroit next season, so this was its final game at The Palace.

After a first half full of video tributes and rousing ovations, Isiah Thomas, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace and several other players from the team’s proud history came onto the court at halftime and posed with the three championship trophies the team won while playing at The Palace. Some current players like Andre Drummond came over and posed with them.

“Those are guys you know, and we’ve been celebrating those guys all year,” Drummond said. “It’s just another moment in greatness, and being around that, and being able to just bask in it.”

This is the last of 29 seasons for the Pistons at a building that still has plenty of up-to-date amenities but is being left behind as the team moves on to a location in closer proximity to the city’s other pro teams.

The Pistons and Red Wings both move into Little Caesars Arena next season. The Red Wings played their final game at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday night.

“A few of us have said it, all of our years playing here, that man, we wondered what it would have been like playing in the city. We represented the city, we embodied what the city was all about, but we didn’t play in the city,” Billups said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s phenomenal that they have that opportunity to play in the city of Detroit.”

The Pistons managed to pack quite a few memories into their time at The Palace. They won the team’s first NBA title in 1989, capping the first season at the arena. Another championship followed a year later for Thomas, Rodman and the rest of the Bad Boys.

Both those titles were wrapped up on the road, but in 2004, Detroit routed the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the title series in Auburn Hills, winning another championship behind Billups, Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.

In November of 2004, the building’s most infamous moment occurred when Indiana’s Ron Artest — now known as Metta World Peace — went into the stands, precipitating perhaps the worst melee in NBA history. The Palace will always be remembered for that night, but it will also be remembered for the hard-nosed Detroit teams that played there.

Monday night showcased not only the appreciation between the team’s fans and its greatest players, but also the bond between members of all of the franchise’s title teams.

“A lot of teams have won two championships in this league. When you start getting into the three, four, five and six, that’s when you really start making your mark,” Thomas said. “I thought we laid a nice foundation, but Chauncey, Rip, Ben and that crew, they came in and really stamped it. Now, we need another one.”