Arenas may be gone, but not memories

Two iconic sporting venues in the Detroit area will soon be no more. Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit is already on the receiving end of the wrecking ball and the Palace of Auburn Hills, out in that suburb, is currently awaiting its impending doom. And probably far sooner than it expected.

In the case of the former, it’s been on its last legs for years and has probably been quietly hoping for its death.

JLA is a building where I spent three days four years ago and it was clear that it was built on the cheap, but as Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press pointed out, the facility’s slow descent into the abyss helps remind people that there were some truly great memories inside it.

I’ve written about the history of JLA before and how despite its cramped and decaying interior, it still has a charm about it.

Standing in the makeshift press box snapping photos before the Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament, I felt the history around me. It was physically there with the retired numbers and Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters.

Since it was built in 1979, JLA had seen the Wings win two Stanley Cups on its ice during the team’s heyday in the 1990s and 2000s and even had a WNBA team, the Detroit Shock, clinch a title inside.

Some truly incredible events took place in JLA and when you see the large staircase that faced the Detroit River that I and many others climbed in the cold to get inside, it feels like a small part of you is gone.

From what I’ve read and heard from other people, the Palace brings up different feelings.

Oh, there are great memories, but it’s still a perfectly fine arena. Whereas JLA looked like it was thrown together at the last second as was evidenced by the press box, the Palace looks pretty nice, at least from the outside.

Now to be fair, I haven’t set foot inside, but from what I’ve heard, it’s still relatively new and when the Pistons were good, it got insanely loud.

Detroit won the 2004 NBA championship at The Palace and later that year, the Pistons and Indiana Pacers literally fought each other on that same floor. Even people who aren’t Michiganders will have both of those memories etched in their minds.

I know I will as my hometown Timberwolves had the best year in franchise history back in 2004, but were bounced in the Western Conference finals by the Lakers. My fandom shifted entirely to Detroit for about two weeks and when the Pistons quickly dispatched the Lakers, that was both a thrill and a relief.

The “Malice at the Palace” with the Pacers has a bit of a different feeling as I watched it play out that same night on endless replays, but it was still a moment that I’ll take with me for years. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but it’ll still be there for sure.

I’m not a native Michigander, but I can sympathize with you. Growing up in the Twin Cities, I watched three teams leave the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (with its field dubbed Mall of America Field in 2009) with its pathetic purple overhang plastered on the outside of the roof.

Honestly, after watching dozens and dozens of sporting events there, I can say that the former vice president deserved a much better facility to be named after him, and to a lesser extent, so did the Mall of America.

It reeked of stale hot dog water, spilled beer, cold microwave pizza, and once you left, you could occasionally smell some marijuana. There used to be fiberglass on top of the fences in the outfield during Twins games, and when the team was awful from 1993 to 2000, there was a gigantic tarp that took up the majority of the outfield upper deck.

The Twins tried to make it pretty by putting massive photos of players who had their numbers retired, but it was still kind of sad. During Vikings’ games, let’s just say that the bathrooms were less than appealing and during the one Golden Gophers game I saw there, the merchandise sold wasn’t worth giving as a gag gift.

Yet, just like JLA, the Pontiac Silverdome and the Palace, the Metrodome had its charms and created a lot of memories.

I watched my first NFL game there (the Vikings fumbled a punt in overtime and lost to the Buccaneers) and also my first NFL playoff game (another Vikings loss that signaled the end of the Tarvaris Jackson era). I also watched the Gophers throw a pick-six in an overtime loss to Northwestern in a nationally televised game that took away their top-25 ranking.

Those were some highly disappointing outcomes, but they still matter. I also watched a few walkoff Twins’ victories and one of the first dates I had with my wife was at a Twins’ game. My dad got to watch Game 7 of the 1991 World Series there as I watched it on TV, so there was a shared memory we had of the dome.

So I’ve got some quality good memories as well as some bad ones and I think that’s the case for the other three facilities I mentioned.

The dome doesn’t exist anymore and by the end of next year, both JLA and The Palace will be gone. Like I said earlier, one should’ve left a long time ago and the other probably deserves a few more years in the spotlight.

However, that’s how things go these days. Unless you have a legendary ballpark or stadium that allows you to upgrade it like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park or Lambeau Field, chances are your favorite sports facility will eventually be torn down.

As heartbreaking as that may be to see them disappear, the moments that you spent there, good and bad, will stay with you. So when a new facility emerges from the ashes of the old one, like Little Caesar’s Arena did for JLA and The Palace, you can take all those memories with you and start a new era of your fandom.

LCA is now the symbol of rebirth for both the Wings and the Pistons with the first firmly in the rebuilding phase and the second looking to make another playoff appearance.

Two iconic venues will be gone by 2021 and it’ll be sad to see them go. But there’s a bright and sparkling spot in downtown Detroit and the great moments made there might eventually surpass the ones you’ve already made.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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