AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Fans thronged to The Palace of Auburn Hills last night in hopes of joining an unprecedented party: a Detroit Pistons NBA championship won on the home court.
The Pistons faithful began setting up tailgate parties in the parking lot as early as 5, including Mark Sutton and Joann Reaume, both of Berkley, who chilled a bottle of champagne in anticipation of a Pistons' victory.
Sutton, 35, a building contractor, said he saw one Finals game in Los Angeles and there was no comparison with the Palace crowd, consistently rated among the loudest in the NBA.
"It was so lame out there, no atmosphere," the season-ticket holder said.
By contrast, said Reaume, a 33-year-old cook, "you can hear from both of our voices
how hoarse we are from the past couple of games."
Detroit won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990, but both clinching victories came on the road, first in Los Angeles against the Lakers and then in Portland against the Trail Blazers.
The Pistons took a 3-1 lead into lastnight's game against the Lakers. A celebratory atmosphere pervaded The Palace inside and out. The Pistons set up three face-painting stations and a tent where people could make their own signs for free.
The tent was manned by Rich Lagrou, 25, of Macomb County's Shelby Township, who said he had to edit some of the signs he watched people produce.
"We tell them, for one thing, they're not going to show up on TV."
Dozens of fans sported Ben Wallace afro wigs, and Wallace's No. 3 was by far the most popular jersey. Steve Knurick of Oakland County's Commerce Township wore both.
The 15-year-old said he did not have a ticket for the game - and apparently slipped under the radar of guards who were to allow only ticket-holders into Palace parking lots.
But he was prepared to spend all the $200 cash he had on hand, earned by cutting grass, baby-sitting and dog-walking.
"I'd pay $500 if I had it," said Knurick, whose Wallace wig soared a full two feet above his scalp. "Anything for the Pistons."
Rich Kulka of Clawson set up a gas grill in the parking lot and hoisted a skull and crossbones flag over his van while preparing to cook steak and shrimp with some buddies.
"It's going to be wild," the self-employed businessman said of a possible victory celebration. "But I don't think it will be like '84 when the Tigers won it."
Detroit's image has taken a beating largely because of disturbances that broke out following other championship wins. A photo snapped after the Tigers won the World Series in 1984 shows a man, his shirt too small to cover his belly, holding a pennant in front of a burning car.