SVG on Pistons fans: ‘We owe these people’
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As a visiting coach, Stan Van Gundy loathed the experience of coming to The Palace. That’s exactly why he’s eagerly awaiting the opportunity to coach there for the home team. But he knows he won’t be able to leverage the same level of fan passion he remembers from playoff stints in Miami and Orlando until the Pistons regain the public trust.
“We’ve got to do our part to bring them back,” he told me. “We can’t expect them to come back and then we follow along. We have to give them a reason to come back and that’s one of the things Tom Gores talked about right off the bat. He feels a responsibility. This is a community asset and we owe these people. We absolutely do.”
Van Gundy knows what stirs Pistons fans – tough, physical, take-no-prisoners defense. He remembers the fever pitch The Palace would reach when the defense anchored by Ben Wallace would stonewall the opposition possession after possession and what a grind it was to execute offensively against not only the will of the Pistons but the din of the crowd.
“I remember that I used to absolutely hate Pistons fans,” he laughed. “Hate ’em. I mean it. There are players – I use Bill Laimbeer as an example, because he’s a Detroit guy – so if Bill Laimbeer is on your team, you love him. He’s the greatest guy in the world. If he’s on the other team, you absolutely hate him and the way he plays. It’s the same with fans. I was one of the ones who spoke up at the time but every other coach, I’m sure, felt the same way – hated Detroit fans. They were rough on us. I saw a hard place to play.”
“That’s great now. I hope 29 other coaches hate Piston fans.”
Preaching strong defense is a part of Van Gundy’s coaching DNA. It’s something he’d be prioritizing no matter the history that contributed to the three NBA titles won by the Pistons, but he’ll use that history to prod his Pistons teams to raise their level of defensive performance.
“We’ve got to get players who understand that,” he said. “We’ve either got to get these guys we have to understand it or we’ve got to find people who will understand it. There’s a way to play the game and that’s probably true anywhere, but more so here. The legacy here is strong and it needs to be respected and honored every single night. We’re going to find people that will go out and do that.”
Van Gundy knows that after five straight non-playoff seasons, and especially coming off a disappointing 29-win 2013-14 season, penetrating the thick veneer of fan skepticism won’t come without dramatic improvement to enter into evidence. He’s not promising X number of wins next season, only consistent and undeniably obvious effort.
“The only thing I’m going to say is that we are going to be absolutely committed to putting a team on the floor right now – forget roster changes or anything else – right now that will represent the Detroit community the way they’ve been used to the Pistons representing them in their great years. That this team will go out and play extremely hard every night. We’ll fight for 48 minutes and we’ll do it together.
“From there, we’ll try to get better every day but I’m not going to go out and sell a number of wins or anything else. If we do things the right way, if we compete hard and at a high enough level and if we’re a great pactice team looking to get better every night at 100 percent and if fans can see that and say, ‘Well, maybe there are some things I don’t like but these guys are out there competing. I can be proud of them to be a Pistons fan.’ ”
Once he wins that battle, he’ll be on course to make The Palace the kind of place he used to loathe visiting – the kind of place 29 other coaches around the NBA will dread entering.