Nothing Plane About It

Ever fly aboard Roundball One? According to a lucky Crew Member, there’s

Crew member Dr. Milan Sata (left) and his friend Dr. Satish Tummala traveled with the team to Chicago for last Thursday’s game against the Bulls.
Pistons Photo
Like any grand-prize winner, Dr. Milan Sata was thrilled when he heard the news, which came not with a knock on the door but a phone call from the Detroit Pistons.

“At first it was just total excitement,” he said. “I was like a kid in the candy store.”

A Pistons season-ticket holder, Dr. Sata didn’t win just any contest; he was the final winner of the “Ultimate Crew Giveaway.” His prize was entrance to a very, very exclusive candy store. The dentist from Grand Blanc won a trip aboard Roundball One, the Pistons’ private jet, to an upcoming road game. He traveled with the team to Chicago for last Thursday’s game against the Bulls.

“As far as how it played out, I don’t think I could have expected it to be any better,” Dr. Sata said. “From the moment you walk up to the jet you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m going on a private jet and the Pistons are going to be on it.’”

A Pistons’ Crew Member for 10 years, Dr. Sata invited his friend, Dr. Satish Tummala, on the trip, which began Wednesday afternoon. Roundball One departed Oakland County International Airport at 3 p.m. “It’s pretty incredible to be able to just walk up to your own jet,” Dr. Sata said. “It was just an incredible experience.”

Dr. Sata described three seating sections on Roundball One - four seats at the front for the coaches; a larger, “more lounge atmosphere” area for the players and the rear of the cabin for non-team personnel. “What was really cool was that [vice president of basketball operations] John Hammond was sitting behind us and George Blaha was back there also,” Dr. Sata said. “They introduced themselves and we actually got to talk to them a little bit, which was nice.”

The players’ area had larger seats, understandably, but also sofas, televisions and tables commonly utilized for card games. Many players pulled out their own laptops to occupy the time, Dr. Sata noticed. “On the way there everyone seemed very laid back, they were just having fun,” he added. “You could see some of them playing cards and laughing.”

Though it’s only a 45-minute flight, food was readily available the entire time, courtesy of three flight attendants. “Just the service on there was impeccable,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been served so much food in such a short period of time. There was just food galore.”

He recalled two types of soup, two types of salad, sandwiches and pasta - just for the trip there - and pizza, salad, pasta, cookies and two types of bread for the return trip, in addition to the players’ individually pre-ordered meals waiting for them. “Just anything you could want,” he said. “It was amazing.”

Upon arrival at Midway Airport, 10 miles from downtown, limousines escorted everyone to the Ritz-Carlton, the team hotel. Dr. Sata and Dr. Tummala found an unlikely companion later in the evening.

“One of my lasting impressions is going to be George Blaha actually came down to the bar at the Ritz-Carlton and had a drink with us, and then he came out to dinner with us,” Dr. Sata said. “That was amazing, to be able to sit at dinner with George Blaha, talk about Detroit. I guess it was something that I never expected.”

Dr. Sata’s enthusiasm for the trip wasn’t dulled by the Pistons’ 97-93 loss. He said the mood on the flight back was more subdued by the late hour - they flew out at Midnight Detroit time - than the loss. “They lost, but it was like they knew it was just one game,” he said. “They were still smiling, they were still talking.” The coaches were already back to work, breaking down the game film on the monitors in front of their seats.

From its hi-tech toys to its first-class-deluxe service, Roundball One has set the standard in NBA travel. For Dr. Sata, however, none of it could compare to meeting the longtime voice of the Pistons. “This is George Blaha, I’ve been listening to him for 20 years,” he said. “He was still courteous even when we went to the game early; he came up and shook our hands and we got to take a picture right next to the court with him. That to me is very exciting.”

Who could have guessed the secret of Roundball One is not how high it can fly, but how grounded the people are inside of it?