Expect an ‘intimate’ experience as Detroit Pistons welcome fans back to Little Caesars Arena

Vince Ellis
Special for Pistons.com

Morgan Cannon had a thoughtful idea.

Recently closed on a home on Detroit’s east side, Saturday was moving day for Cannon and his fiancé.

His future mother-in-law, who loves new experiences, traveled from out of town to help with the move and Cannon pondered potential activities to show her the city he loves.

Why not take her to see the Detroit Pistons’ young core of Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee and Killian Hayes?

Well, tonight’s outing to see the Detroit Pistons face the San Antonio Spurs might be more for Cannon, if he is being completely honest.

“Gotta see the young bucks,” Cannon told Pistons.com last week. “They are the Core Four like (general manager) Troy Weaver said the other day. I’m excited to see them in person.”

Cannon, his fiancé, future mother-in-law and a friend will be among the 750 fans watching the Pistons in the franchise’s first home game in front of the ticket-buying public since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the NBA’s 2019-20 season.

While many media organizations produced one-year anniversary recollections last week, the Pistons will host a game for the first time since March 7, 2020.

It took much work, patience and diligence for the Pistons to take this small step to a semblance of normalcy after COVID-19 impacted all walks of life.


‘Scary feeling’


There were many unanswered questions when the league suspended play last March after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive.

Health concerns headed the list of questions, but sports executives had to look at the future and wonder when it would be safe to allow fans into arenas.

It was a dicey time, according to Pistons vice president of sales Brad Lott.

“It was a scary feeling,” Lott said. “It was very weird because there’s no manual for how to deal with this. There isn’t a pandemic book you can pull out so it was one of those things where you had to rely on having a great team, great relationships with our fans and being creative on how to work through it.”

The Pistons organization responded.

After an initial focus on safety by allowing employees to work from home, Pistons owner Tom Gores committed to paying employees despite the economic uncertainty.

“It not only helped alleviate any burden on them, it also allowed us to redirect their time and energy in service of the community,” Gores said. “People throughout our organization wanted to help, so we found ways to put their skills and expertise to good use.”

The Henry Ford-Pistons Performance Center was made available to state officials if temporary housing was needed for extra healthcare workers if the pandemic strained local health systems. Gores and the Pistons contributed to local food banks to assist food insecurity among workers who were not sure when the next paycheck was coming. Gores and the Pistons coordinated the delivery of personal protection equipment to healthcare professionals.

And there were other efforts, such as support for education with nonprofit SAY Detroit and the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.

“We knew that beyond the immediate threat from the virus, there would be so much more to do, and that remains true today. We need more plans to revitalize the economy, which will help struggling families, and programs to make sure kids aren’t set behind,” Gores said. “We’ve recently expanded our support for education through organizations like the SAY Detroit, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy and others. The work we are doing on social justice is especially relevant because people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

Gores noted that the Pistons safely welcoming fans back to LCA is another promising sign of progress, but that it is important to remain vigilant.

“I’ve been encouraged by the way people throughout the league and our communities have come together and I’m confident we will sustain that spirit in the weeks and months ahead,” Gores said.


Welcome back


Technically, the Pistons have hosted fans this season. But with the state only allowing a capacity of 250, invites were limited to mostly friends and family of players and team employees.

And while LCA was not close to being full, Lott described an “intimate” experience in the previous 16 homes games.

Attendees could hear the squeaking of sneakers, the chatter among players.

Cannon, who tunes in religiously for Pistons games and is active on social media with his observations, is ready to experience it up close.

“It’s going to feel weird, but it’s a small step toward normalcy,” Cannon said. “At least we’re able to go. Hopefully this leads to more down the road and we can see if we can do this successfully without messing up the numbers.”

Lott said tickets through March have sold out and tickets for April are available by going to Pistons.com/tickets or TicketMaster.com.

“We know at some point we’re going to back to where we can play with a full building again, but we know that there’s going to be a lot of steps to get there so we’re going to try to make it the best possible experience we can,” Lott said.