Wednesday, 2 June 2010

NBA Tour Part 2 - The Worst Experience, Detroit

I’ve always said, that the worst day travelling and watching sport, is always going to be better than the best day at work.

Sure, there are times when that theory is going to be pushed to the limits. My worst day – or to be more precise night – travelling so far has been when I had my wallet stolen in Boston, shortly before having to get on a bus to Montreal, only to then be held at the border for eight hours waiting for the immigration office to open. Luckily though, that has been the worst of it, although one weekend of my NBA tour through North America, has come close.

In trying to get to games at all 29 NBA cities, there is going to be some that are not really built for travellers. One of these, is Detroit.

Now I know Detroit was once a great city. Home of the US car manufacturing industry, as well as the home of Motown Records, which gave us some of the greatest musical acts of the 20th Century. Their basketball team – the Pistons – were also once great, winning back to back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990 with Isiah Thomas and the “Bad Boys”, and another in 2004 with Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups.

I think its safe to say though, that Detroit’s best days – both on the court and off it – are well behind it.

The American automotive industry isn’t what it used to be, which has resulted in the city of Detroit halving its population in the last 50 years. This leaves the city feeling like a virtual ghost town with crumbling boarded buildings, horrible roads and a bit of an eerie feel for the tourist.

Its really not set up for the backpacking type traveller either. There were no backpacking hostels – not that I really expected one – so I treated myself to a four-star hotel (through a cheap booking website obviously). When getting off the bus I discovered two other issues – the city is massively sprawled out, and lacking in public transport. Both of these issues are obviously due to it being built around the car, but don’t make it easy for the traveller without a car.

When finally making it to the hotel – much nicer than anything I normally stay in – I was keen to get out and see the town. I was promptly told by the concierge (I know, an actual concierge, I thought they only had those in movies) that I “didn’t want to go out around this part of town”. Great.

Getting to the game the next day wouldn’t be easy either. I could attempt the public bus, which I’d been assured would take me at least 2 hours due to it being a Sunday, r I could get a cab for $50. Normally you can be sure I’ll take the cheap option, but on this one occasion I decided I just wanted to get to the game.

Once at the game, all of the problems with the city of Detroit went away. This was what I was here for – the hoops. While it wasn’t the most intriguing match up I’m hooked on NBA basketball, and this is what I do.

Unfortunately, like the city of Detroit, the Pistons have been crumbling for some time. After winning the NBA championship in 2004, and enjoying a couple more trips to the Conference Finals, the Pistons lost Ben Wallace and traded on court general, Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, resulting in the team being a shadow of its former self.

With the team well and truly in rebuilding mode, their match against the Philadelphia 76ers was never going to be a clash of the titans. Detroit managed to win the game 88-81, and while the game was far from the best I’ve been to, you could tell the crowd still love their team. The hard nosed bad boys of Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn, Bill Lambier, Rasheed Wallace and company are all gone, and have been replaced with Charlie Villenueva, Ben Gordon and Kwame Brown – hardly inspiring replacements.

Long periods of success create long lasting fans, but like the city of Detroit, the Pistons are going to have to give the fans a reason to keep coming back while they’re going through tough times, otherwise the Palace of Auburn Hills will become another of Detroit’s crumbling buildings.

While Detroit would undoubtedly be the least favourite place I’ve gone on my NBA tour so far and I cant imagine a situation where I’d ever want to go back, I am glad I went – if for no other reason than it has gotten me one step closer to my goal.

And hey, it still beats any day at work.

Next week I take a break from the NBA Tour series to focus on the big sporting event of the year – the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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