It used to be that a 20-year-old sports stadium/arena would be still among the newest of its brethren. In fact, it might have, at one point, still reign as the newest.
Not so anymore.
The Palace of Auburn Hills — for a long while I refused to refer to it as that (more on that later) — officially turns 20 today, as it held its first event (a Sting concert) on August 13, 1988. But what’s striking isn’t that the arena is 20 — time does fly, after all — but that its age places it as the third oldest arena in the NBA, behind Madison Square Garden in New York and the Izod Center in New Jersey, which is on its countless different name. I remember it as the Brendan Byrne Arena, which shows you my age.
So the Palace, still a youngster at age 20, has now risen to being the third oldest arena in the league, out of 30 venues. So 27 arenas have been built since ’88, and that’s over one a year, on average (I told you I was good at math). It’s hard to believe that the Palace could be no. 3 in age, but we are smack dab in an era of stadium-building frenzy. An era when fans and municipalities are held hostage by franchise owners who threaten to pick up stakes and leave unless money is freed up for a new stadium.
I’m not going to get into my own personal memories of the Palace — I haven’t really attended all that many events there, anyway — but I will reveal my own private war that I waged back when the arena opened.
They ran a contest to name the new arena, and opened it to the public. The winning entry was announced during a Pistons game at the Silverdome. When “the Palace of Auburn Hills” blared over the PA system, folks booed. Loudly.
I, for one, was appalled at the choice. I thought the name sounded far too stately and snooty. “The Palace” was bad enough; when combined with Auburn Hills, it made the arena sound far too California for blue collar Michigan. My opinion.
So I boycotted the name. For years — maybe five to ten — I refused to call the Palace by its contest-awarded name. I referred to it only as “the Auburn Hills Arena.” Admittedly, people would look at me strangely, or assume I was talking about another venue in Auburn Hills. Others wouldn’t challenge me, and would know that I was referring to the Palace. Occasionally, someone would say, “Don’t you mean the Palace?” Yes, I would say. “Then why not say, ‘The Palace’?” Because I refuse to acknowledge that name, I would say.
Yes, I was petulant and, maybe, a jerk about it. I admit that. But I just didn’t like the name. So I refused to use it.
Anyhow, Happy Birthday to the Palace, and in its 20 years, it’s seen its share of championships: three by the Pistons and two by the Shock. It’s also hosted marvelous concerts and other special events. It was the site of Gordie Howe’s one-shift stint with the old Detroit Vipers, at age 68, so no. 9 could say he played professional hockey in six different decades.
I am beyond my petulance now — I’ve been calling it the Palace for more years than I didn’t. I don’t know what caused me to stop my private war. Guess it gets boring after awhile.
I lied, by the way, about not sharing any memories of the arena. I will just say this: I was living in Clarkston and working in Taylor (thank God this was before gas prices skyrocketed) when the Palace was being built. So, from I-75, I could see it grow before my very eyes.
Oh, and I did attend a boxing event at the Palace with my late father, an avid boxing fan. I had scored some free tickets. We got there after the bouts started, and almost as soon as we entered the building, we could hear the bell ring, signaling the end of a round. My dad looked at me, I looked at him, and we both said, almost at the same time: “Some things never change,” referring to the ringing bell. I’ll never forget that.