Pittsburgh mentioned in Pistons' relocation speculation
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The Detroit Pistons could be sold. Pittsburgh has a new arena, with a lot of dates to fill between Penguins games.
Can the Pittsburgh Pistons be far behind?
Don't count on it. But that hasn't stopped speculation about the potential for the Pistons to move to Pittsburgh, a city littered with the carcasses of professional basketball teams that came and failed.
It started with Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp, who warned in a Jan. 23 column that there is a possibility that a buyer of the Pistons, the National Basketball Association franchise, could move them elsewhere.
"And there's the lure of a new state-of-the-art arena in Pittsburgh later this year, and Kansas City already has its own version of the Palace [the Piston's home arena], waiting to pirate away another city's NBA or NHL franchise," he wrote.
Hockey fans might recall Kansas City. It was where the Penguins were headed during the dark days before the team cut a deal with state and local leaders in 2007 to build the $321 million Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Team owner Mario Lemieux later admitted that the goal all along was to keep the team here.
Now it's Pittsburgh, by virtue of its new state-of-the-art palace, that's on the receiving side.
The Pistons have played in Detroit for more than 50 years. The future of the franchise became an issue last month when principal owner Karen Davidson, who took over the squad after the death of her husband William last year, said she would consider selling the team.
Mrs. Davidson said in an interview with the Daily Tribune that she can't imagine the team playing anywhere but in Motown.
So far, it doesn't appear that any potential buyers have emerged, certainly no one with an interest in moving the franchise to Pittsburgh or anywhere else.
An NBA team in Pittsburgh could pose competition to the Penguins, who now have the winter market all to themselves once the Steelers season ends. In fact, Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer said at one point he didn't believe Pittsburgh was big enough to support pro hockey and basketball.
Still, the Penguins said Wednesday they'd "certainly be willing to listen" to a prospective owner with an interest in moving an NBA team to the Consol Energy Center.
One skeptic is Mt. Lebanon billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. In an e-mail, he said, "I don't see any chance that a team would leave Detroit for any city. And I don't know if Pittsburgh could support an NBA team. They would have to compete with the Penguins, and that's hard to do."
But Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the naysayers about basketball in Pittsburgh are wrong. He noted that the University of Pittsburgh basketball team typically sells out its home games.
Also, an exhibition game last fall between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Mavericks drew 10,011 people to Pitt's Petersen Events Center, up nearly 2,000 from a 2008 exhibition game.
Mr. Zober will get an argument from Bill Miller, owner and general manager of the professional Pittsburgh Phantoms of the American Basketball Association. In its first year, the team, which started its season in December, played its home games at the Carnegie Library in Homestead and was "happy if we get 200" people in the stands, he said.
"We can't get anybody to see our guys. I just can't see a following for NBA basketball here in Pittsburgh. It's a football town, a hockey town," Mr. Miller said.
The city at one time was home to a pro basketball pioneer. In 1946-47, the Pittsburgh Ironmen played in the Basketball Association of America, a forerunner to the NBA. The Ironmen played in Duquesne Gardens, a converted trolley barn. The Ironmen folded before their second season.
A team called the Pittsburgh Rens, short for Renaissance, represented the American Basketball League but didn't make it past its second season.
Basketball returned in the form of the Pittsburgh Pipers of the American Basketball Association in 1967. They dispatched the New Orleans Buccaneers in the seventh game of the championship round to win the ABA title.
Owner Gabe Rubin, who claimed losses of $250,000, sold the team to Minneapolis in June of 1968. The franchise lost a reported $400,000 and returned to Pittsburgh for the 1969-70 season. In 1970-71, the team changed its name to the Condors. The Condors failed to qualify for the playoffs in two seasons and were disbanded after the 1972 season.
Yes, it's a sorry history. But a city's sports legacy can change in an instant. Just ask New Orleans. And with NBA superstar LeBron James becoming a free agent after the season ...
First Published February 4, 2010 12:00 am