Tough Crowds

Today’s rowdiest buildings can’t compare to the old barns

Editor’s note: Today marks the first installment of George Blaha’s blog. As the voice of the Pistons for 31 years, George is a walking encyclopedia of NBA basketball. Every Wednesday throughout the season, he’ll share his thoughts on the history of the NBA, the state of today’s game and the fate of the Pistons with editor Keith Langlois.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

I read last week on that Joe Dumars said he considered Utah and Dallas the two toughest buildings in the NBA right now. I wouldn’t disagree with Joe D. I would add that The Palace, on most nights for big games, is the toughest place for opposing teams to play. We don’t often look at it that way, but I’ve heard more than one basketball person remark about the difficulty of playing at The Palace when it’s a big game and the fans are juiced.

But those two Western Conference stops, Dallas and Utah, are obviously very, very difficult. The Pistons won’t have an easy time of it Thursday night in Dallas against a very hot Mavericks team. It’s a great team and that’s become a very noisy building. Utah, the fans are right on you. They’re a small-market team, which means they have an us-against-the-world attitude, and they have – year in and year out – a great coach. The guy in the first chair there never changes. It’s always Jerry Sloan, and that alone makes it very difficult.

And you don’t ever want to forget Sacramento. They also are an us-against-the-world community, at least in terms of pro sports, and because the fans are even more on top of you than in Utah.

But in my opinion, there are no buildings in the league today that are as tough as the old ones. It’s not even close. I could be politically correct, but that’s the truth.

The toughest place to play, bar none, was Boston Garden in the ’80s, when the Celtics were great, the floorboards were crooked and only the guys in green knew where the dead spots were, where the fans were cocky and mouthy and where the Celtics, who didn’t need much confidence-building, felt even more confident in their play.

You had to play through all of that, not to mention a mountain of noise. Through the years, the Pistons had to take on the mind-set that they were good enough to beat those guys even in Boston Garden, where the ball always seemed to bounce the Celtics’ way, when you’re playing in a building where Red Auerbach still lights his cigar, even though he’s not coaching, and you are the new kid on the block. As concerned as I’m sure the Celtics were, deep down inside, about this terrific young Pistons team, the Pistons first of all had to gain the kind of maturity and poise and cocksuredness it took to beat a great team in a very difficult building.

I would say right behind Boston was Chicago Stadium. The two things that made Boston more difficult were the legacy and the players. Their fans expected to win and so did the players. Chicago had Michael at the top of his game and other guys trying to become great complementary players that they finally did become.

But in terms of noise and absolute venom, nothing topped Chicago. Those people hated the Pistons. I always wondered if they actually had a life beyond their hatred for Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas. The noise there was beyond what human ears are supposed to be able to tolerate. When they had a halftime skit consisting solely of a guy with a chainsaw slicing up a cardboard cutout of Bill Laimbeer, I knew that these were some depraved people.

If you were doing a broadcast there, you could speak to your broadcast partner or to your director in the truck, but if you had to take your headset off to talk to your statistician, it was impossible for him to hear you even though you were sitting right next to him. You wonder how anybody could hear Chuck Daly shut out play calls or Mike Abdenour giving them the warning that the shot clock was running out. The place would shake so, you wondered if it was falling apart somewhere. Give those fans credit – if there was ever a building that they almost blew the roof off of, that was it.