Lions owner, Pistons official promise better times ahead

Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Pistons haven’t won a championship in 17 years, while the Detroit Lions are mired in a 64-year title drought, but officials from both teams insisted Friday their franchises are inching out of the darkness.

“Our fans have stuck with us through thick and thin — and there’s been a lot of thin,” Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp said during a live-streamed panel discussion that was part of the four-day Detroit Homecoming VIII event.

“It’s going to take some time, but we’ve got a slew of draft picks coming up,” Ford Hamp said. “…we’re on the right path.”

The annual Detroit Homecoming, which was live-streamed this year at crainsdetroit.com, “is a celebration of the city by its former residents,” according to the organization’s website.

Listed panel discussion topics during the activities that are scheduled to end Sunday include local workforce issues, the “income gap” and real estate and development.

One of Friday’s discussions was titled “Detroit: The Best Sports Town in America?” although the bulk of the half-hour conversation revolved around the prospects of the Lions and Pistons, with only a brief chat about Detroit’s status as a sports town.

Other topics included the attempt to attract high-profile sporting events to Detroit, and the possibility of the NCAA hosting simultaneous men’s and women’s Final Four championships.

The discussion was moderated by Detroit Pistons broadcaster and former Michigan State University basketball star Greg Kelser, who in addition to Ford Hamp was joined by Detroit Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem, Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Diana Sabau, and Mark Hollis, chairman of the Detroit Sports Organizing Corp.

“(The Lions and Pistons) are on almost parallel paths,” Ford Hamp said. “We’re maybe a year behind the Pistons. Our average age is 24, with a lot of upside. We’re 0-2 and there’s excitement in the building. That’s kind of hard to pull off.”

Tellem, a former agent who joined the Pistons in 2015, told Kelser: “This is the best I’ve felt about where we’re headed, on both the basketball and business side. It started with the move downtown (from The Palace of Auburn Hills to Little Caesars Arena in 2017).

“The key to success on the business side has been the partnerships with the Ilitch family to move into the arena, and Henry Ford (the name that adorns the team’s 185,000 square-foot practice facility and team headquarters, which is set to open next month in the New Center).

“On the basketball side, I’m excited because we have hope and direction, and that starts with leadership,” Tellum said. “With (Coach Dwane Casey and General Manager Troy Weaver), we have two outstanding leaders.

“Last year, we were competitive in every game,” Tellum said. “Not that we’re trying to recreate the Bad Boys or the ‘Going to Work’ team, but it’s that attitude — work hard, lay it all on the floor every day — that we want.

“We got lucky and got the number one draft pick (Cade Cunningham), and that will take us to a whole new level,” Tellum said.

Sabau said she’s working to balance academics with keeping the Big Ten competitive in athletics, with an emphasis on uplifting women’s programs.

“As far as gender equity… there’s a level of examination going on right now,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re providing equity for all our sports programs.”

Sabau said she’d like to see “a combined basketball tournament. Wouldn’t that be fun? I can’t speak for the NCAA, but at the conference level, we are elevating women’s basketball.”

Hollis said he hopes to attract national sporting events to Detroit.

“We all remember the Super Bowl era,” he said, a reference to Detroit’s hosting of the Major League Baseball All-Star game in 2005, Super Bowl XL in 2006 and the NCAA Final Four championship in 2009.

“But times have changed,” Hollis said. “It would be really good to get a Big 10 basketball championship here. Nothing great comes fast; nothing great comes easy. It’s bigger than sports. It’s how you connect the dots — sports, culture, cuisine.”

Kelser tried to steer the discussion toward the listed topic, saying, “everyone thinks their city is the best sports town in the country.”

Tellum added: “It’s going to kill my friends back in Philly, but Detroit is an incredible sports town. When the Pistons were rolling with their last championship, they set a record for the most continuous sellouts. I was at The Palace a lot in those days, and it was by far the loudest arena anywhere.

“For all the teams here, whether it’s the Lions, Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons, University of Michigan or Michigan State, the fans have really been supportive,” Tellum said. “For all of us who sit here, particularly for Sheila and myself, we feel the pressure. All I ask is for a little more patience because we’re on our way.”

Last year, Forbes ranked Detroit 7th in its “America’s Best Sports Cities” list, behind Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Minneapolis and Dallas.

The Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Shock won titles in 2008.

The Tigers are in the midst of a 37-year championship drought, the longest in the team’s 120-year history. The Lions haven’t won a title since 1957, while the Pistons last hefted the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in 2004.

U of M’s football team last won a National Championship in 1989, while the basketball team’s only title was in 1989. MSU won its most recent national basketball championship in 2000.

Although there’s been a lack of recent titles, Detroit remains the only city in America to hold three major championship trophies at the same time. In 1935-36 the 1935 Tigers won their first World Series, then the 1935 Lions won their first NFL Championship, and then the 1935-36 Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup.

Detroit Homecoming sponsors include Rocket Companies, Downtown Detroit Partnership, the Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, William Davidson Foundation and General Motors.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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