The first game of Christmas day
The city’s new NBA team, called the Detroit Pistons, played a game against the Lakers on December 25, 1957. It was the first chance for Detroit-area sports fans to attend an NBA game. the day of Christmas. It was a tradition that would last 15 years.
The history of the Detroit Lions of the NFL at Thanksgiving dates back almost to the beginning of the league. The Pistons, in their first season in Detroit, decided to have their own game on vacation.
Luckily for them, the Red Wings, the main tenant of Olympia Stadium, had nothing to do, so the Pistons scheduled a game with the Lakers (then based in Minneapolis) for Christmas Day.
It was a cloudy and windy day in Detroit with temperatures down to 40 degrees. While there is no known record for official participation, the Pistons averaged 4,800 fans per game that season.
Christmas spectators attended an entertaining game. The Lakers held a 16-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Detroit made a comeback that narrowly missed (1957 pistons look a lot like 2021 pistons) and were edged out, 106-104.
George Yardley, en route to the first 2,000-point season in NBA history, led Detroit with 29 points.
It was the third loss in four games for new manager Red Rocha. He replaced Charley Eckman after Detroit started with a 9-15 record. Ironically, three future NBA coaches, Gene Shue, Harry “the horse” Gallatin and Dick McGuire were among the Pistons players that day, bringing new meaning to “playing like a coach on the court.”
McGuire would become head coach at 34 Pistons in 1959 and last four seasons. His younger brother, Al McGuire, would win an NCAA title at Marquette.
Playing on Christmas Day wasn’t the big deal it is now. Only two other NBA games (Boston-Warriors, Knicks-Nationals) were played that day.
Having a game on December 25 was not a new experience for Pistons players. The year before, when they were the Fort Wayne Pistons (Zollner), they had also played the Lakers at Christmas, but at a neutral venue, Rochester, New York.
The Detroit players were probably happy to spend Christmas at home, rather than in western New York.
The Christmas Day game with the Lakers actually kicked off a four games in four days stretch for the Pistons (the players union would never go for that now). People were off work and the 11-year-old NBA was trying to take advantage of it.
After the Lakers game, the Pistons headed to St. Louis and the following night they beat the Hawks. On the 27th, Detroit lost to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, ending that brutal streak, with a home win over the Nationals (now the 76ers) on December 28 to go 2-2.
Rocha would eventually turn things around and Detroit ended up losing to the Hawks in the Western Conference final. The Pistons would only make a conference final another time, between that date and 1987.
To make such a crazy schedule somewhat palatable, Detroit was one of the few NBA teams to own its own jet, thanks to owner Fred Zollner, who owned a piston factory in Fort Wayne, and let them use the jet. company plane.
Like NBA.com described it:
In 1952, the Pistons became the first team to travel by private plane. Zollner’s DC-3 aka “The Flying Z” was definitely not a Roundball One, but it raised the bar to accommodate an ever more rigorous travel regimen. .
When Dave Bing joined the team 15 years later, the Pistons were still the envy of the league, according to the Hall of Famer. He found the team’s plane to be ideal for getting to places in a timely manner, but noted the lack of amenities.
“It wasn’t as good as regular commercial planes, but since it was private and you only had to deal with people from the organization, you could set your own departure time. All of these were benefits, ”Bing said. “But that doesn’t compare to a scheduled commercial flight. “
For 15 years, 1957-82, the Pistons played on Christmas Day. They weren’t always at home, but they were still playing. The NBA office then got more involved with the schedule and began to view Christmas games as a marketing opportunity, rather than a tradition.
But 64 years ago, Detroit fans got to see NBA basketball over Christmas for the first time.