Bankole Thompson

Is the current firestorm that erupted between Quicken Loans chairman and founder Dan Gilbert and the Detroit Pistons and its newly appointed president, Stan Van Gundy, worthy of discussion?

I think so.

Gilbert, who is owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, said on the “Mojo in the Morning” radio show on 95.5FM that the Pistons should remove “Detroit” from its name because they play in Auburn Hills.

Within hours, Gundy, the Pistons’ front man, went on another program stating that, “Dan Gilbert has some selfish interests for saying what he said. I think we know what those are. Finally, I think he has enough to worry about with his own team than worrying about us.”

It is obvious that Gundy’s assertion that Gilbert has selfish interests means the man who is spearheading a lot of redevelopment downtown is simply making an economic case for his own pocket, while the Pistons clearly don’t agree.

True, if the Detroit Pistons were playing downtown it would also vindicate the investments and bets that Gilbert and other companies have made in the downtown area. More people will come to the city’s business district just as they do for the Tigers and Lions games.

But beyond this being seen as an act of selfishness on the part of Gilbert as the Detroit Pistons are saying, it would make perfect sense that the basketball team that for years has promoted Detroit’s name and iconic identity play in the city. That would be a big boost and a source of pride for the Motor City.

Most basketball teams play in the downtown district of the cities they are named after anyway.

I strongly believe the Pistons should not just dismiss this suggestion because it is coming from Gilbert, but, rather, should think about it as a way to be part of Detroit’s renaissance, and not oppose it because they see it as something that stands to benefit the Gilbert empire.

Just because you have an issue with the messenger doesn’t mean you should dismiss the message. After all, Gilbert is not the only economic force in downtown Detroit. The Illitch Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Strategic Staffing Solutions, DTE Energy, Compuware, etc. are all examples of downtown strongholds.

Certainly there are economic ramifications for Oakland County if the Detroit Pistons were to leave the Palace of Auburn Hills and move to downtown Detroit. There is no doubt that Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson would be mad as hell, but that’s okay.

But it still doesn’t mitigate the fact that Detroit is Michigan’s central city, and the basketball team that bears the city’s name should in fact play in the city.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, for example, moved thousands of employees to its downtown headquarters from Oakland County with its “Proud to be Home in the D” campaign, an example of responsible corporate commitment.

Why can’t the Pistons have a similar campaign for Detroit, perhaps a “Proud to Play in the D” campaign, and Tom Gores, owner of the Pistons, can start identifying possible construction sites, etc.

This is in defense of repositioning Detroit. This is in defense of changing the sorry narrative that has defined the city for years. Entities and organizations that claim to represent a city are like ambassadors who convey the values, history and cultural experience of a city. In the case of Detroit, the Pistons are the city’s basketball ambassadors to the world.

So why wouldn’t it make sense that the basketball ambassadors play in the city it represents?

Gundy was quick to mention that the Pistons raised $300,000 for several Detroit charities. That is commendable. We expect nothing less. But that act of charity cannot be compared to the excitement and economic opportunity that will be created for Detroiters if the Pistons were playing in the city.

Many people have longed for the Pistons to play in downtown Detroit, and have spoken out on the matter. But because an economic titan is saying it now, it has gotten a lot of attention. But Detroiters have pondered on this for years. So if it takes a Gilbert to make it a major issue, I have no issue with it.

And beyond the Pistons, I think the North American International Auto Show should also consider changing its name to the “Detroit International Auto Show,” because Detroit is the selling point in this case, not North America. The annual event allows the city to revel in being the capital of the auto industry, a designation that any other major city in the country would love to have.

That is also part of branding the city and reshaping its reputation around the world. The city in the glare of media reviews has been presented often as a place where no major activity takes place.

But if, in fact, the annual auto show were to be designed the “Detroit International Auto Show,” it would mark another turning point in how Detroit is perceived from a global lens; hundreds of international journalists make it their business to be here for the auto show.

Mr. Gundy, think. Detroit is more than Gilbert or any other economic force you may see as a rival to the Pistons organization. This idea is not about any of the economic engines in the downtown area.

Frankly, I think it is an idea you should strongly consider. You would be making all Detroiters and metro Detroiters proud, knowing that the Detroit Pistons would be playing in downtown Detroit.

The message is bigger than all of us and it is one that Detroiters have long wanted to be addressed.

Give us an answer because you, too, are part of Detroit’s renaissance.

Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of a forthcoming book on Detroit. His most recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, Black theology and the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a senior political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email or visit

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