By: Will Burchfield
The Pistons’ downtown homecoming began with a surprise appearance by Eminem, who took hold of a mic and fired up the crowd from a courtside seat just before tipoff on Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Eminem’s inclusion in the Pistons’ opening-night festivities came just a week after he ripped Donald Trump in a freestyle rap video at the BET Awards, and Stan Van Gundy believes it was by more than coincidence.
The head coach of the Pistons suggested afterward that team owner Tom Gores, perhaps with the help of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, was sending a message.
“Having Eminem up there was great as a Detroit guy, but I thought it was great of Tom — and if Adam Silver was involved — to think about that. I think without making any statement, they were able to make a statement by involving Eminem in it,” Van Gundy said with a wink-wink smile.
Van Gundy is an outspoken opponent of Trump. He called the President an “openly brazen, misogynist leader” in a lengthy tirade after he was elected last November, and in January he compared Trump’s travel ban to Hitler’s treatment of Jews.
At Pistons media day last month, Van Gundy read a pre-written statement concerning Trump’s comments about player protests in the NFL to keep himself from ranting.
So it was no surprise that he enjoyed the Pistons’ endorsement of Eminem, if that’s indeed what it was.
Eminem’s cameo was the final act of the pregame show. Wearing a blue Pistons shirt beneath a black hoodie, he pumped up the crowd as the opening notes of his song ‘Lose Yourself’ played on the arena loudspeakers.
“Detroit, welcoming back for the first time in almost 40 years, to our city, to my city, to your city, make some noise for the Detroit Pistons. Let’s Go!!” Eminem yelled, as he saluted the fans.
In his takedown of Trump, Eminem declared he’s “drawing in the sand a line” between his fans and supporters of the President. The Pistons, wittingly or not, may have just chosen a side.
They celebrated his appearance afterward — as did Little Caesars Arena.
The players themselves were awestruck. Andre Drummond, for one, couldn’t look away.
“I’m not gonna lie, I saw him at the timeout, I couldn’t stop looking at him. He walked in with his hood on and the hat on, and I’m like, ‘Man, that face looks so familiar. Who is that?’ I see him sit down and I was like, ‘No, there’s no way. That can’t be him.’ I’ve never seen Eminem in my life before that, or even at a game. So just to see him be there for the time he was there was pretty cool,” said Drummond, smiling the whole time.
Tobias Harris said Eminem’s appearance was a surprise to everyone.
“We didn’t know about it. We found out right when everybody else found out. It was hype, man, it was crazy. I’m not gonna say I thought I was on 8 Mile, but I kind of thought it was 8 Mile,” Harris said with a laugh. “I don’t think any of us knew, but that was pretty dope.”
Harris, who dropped 17 points in the first quarter of the Pistons’ 120-90 win over the Hornets, said he was energized by the many celebrities in the crowd.
“Just playing off the crowd, Eminem hyping us up before the game, Big Sean sitting courtside, there was a lot of energy in the building today. We just used that and embraced that,” Harris said.
Drummond felt the same way.
“It was star-studded tonight — Kid Rock, Eminem, Big Sean. It was a great turnout tonight and a great home win for us in a new arena,” he said.
The Pistons also included Dave Bing and Bob Lanier in the pregame ceremonies, two franchise greats who played for the team the last time it called downtown Detroit home. The Pistons were residents of Olympia Stadium from 1957 to 1961 and Cobo Arena from 1961 to 1978 before moving to the Pontiac Silverdome and later the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Said Van Gundy, “It was great before the game to see Dave Bing and Bob Lanier out there, particularly Dave. No slight on Bob, but Dave’s lived here continuously for the entire time, was the mayor of the city, was heavily invested in bringing the Pistons back into Detroit. Most of you have been here longer than me, but I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s been more important to this city than Dave. To see him at midcourt was great.
“I thought the whole thing in terms of what happened before the game was extremely well thought-out and well done, and I enjoyed it. Not as much I enjoyed the win, but I enjoyed it.”