After deaths in family, die-hard Pistons fans trek to Paris to see Detroit play

PARIS — When the announcement came last May that the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls would play an NBA regular-season game in Paris, Bruce Wolf immediately pondered the idea of ​​going.

After all, the 56-year-old is a die-hard Pistons fan. He’s had season tickets for the last 23 seasons, sitting just behind Detroit’s bench at both The Palace of Auburn Hills and Little Caesars Arena. Life forced him to miss out on Detroit’s trips to London in 2012 and Mexico City in 2019. Wolf didn’t want to miss out on a visit to the City of Love.

However, in mulling over the decision, Wolf had to consider his eldest son, Matthew, 22, who also carries a similar admiration for the Pistons but would be in the midst of his first year of medical school at Michigan State when the game would be played. It felt improbable. The demands of medical school are too much. Bruce and Matthew let time pass before making a concrete decision.

Then, in June, Bruce lost his father, Bill, to pancreatic cancer, a year after losing his mother, Georgann, to brain hemorrhaging after she fell and hit her head at 79. Bruce’s father was 81. After he died, the decision became clear.

“Time is precious,” Bruce Wolf, an assistant dean at the Macomb University Center campus of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, told The Athletic from his Paris hotel on Wednesday. “Then I thought, ‘How many opportunities am I going to get to do this?’ It’s close to both of our birthdays.”

The father and son, both of whom have a birthday next week, flew out to Paris on Saturday and have been waiting anxiously for the game on Thursday. They’ve been zig-zagging through the city’s brick alleys, sporting the Pistons gear that is often their regular leisurely attire. The Bulls Pistons game is a big deal in Paris. It’s the first NBA game there in two years. There’s a reminder every couple of blocks.

“When we’ve been shopping, there are people who are basketball fans, and they’ve been talking quite a bit. It’s really interesting,” Matthew Wolf told The Athletic. “One guy was awesome. He was like, ‘Jordan is the best, then Kobe and then LeBron. LeBron loses too much!’ ”


Bruce and Matthew Wolf alongside Pistons legend Ben Wallace in 2002. (Courtesy of Bruce Wolf)

Bruce and Matthew, who live in suburban Detroit, used to attend every home Pistons game together before Matthew went off to college. Their shared love for basketball has been one of the strongest connectors between them. That is why this trip to Paris, specifically, was so important. Matthew is living in East Lansing, Mich., pursuing his doctorate. His father is 80 miles away busy with school in his own way.

The demands of medical school have not only stopped Matthew from attending as many games as he used to, but they’ve derailed him from watching as consistently as he wants — though he reads everything and stays as invested as he possibly can.

“I learned my letters and numbers at The Palace going with my dad,” Matthew said. “The Palace owns a dear place in my heart.

“Right now, I’m on academic extension. I didn’t think I was going to have the opportunity to come out here based off being in school currently and whatnot. Taking some time off based on how everything went, just to collect myself and better myself. It presented me a lot more opportunities just to come out here and go to the game with my dad, have this last ‘Hoorah!’ ”

Bruce and Matthew have lived two very different lives as Pistons fans. Bruce is old enough to remember the titles brought to the Motor City by the “Bad Boys.” He had season tickets when Detroit was dominating the Eastern Conference in the 2000s, winning a title in 2004.

Matthew was 3 at the time of that last championship and has aged with a Pistons team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. He’s endured the worst years of the historic franchise while always having to hear stories about the good ol’ days from Pops. Despite that, he carries the same passion his father does for the team. It’s hard not to. He knows nothing else.

Matthew grew up alongside Bruce at Pistons games, making memories that will last forever. The duties of life are starting to get in the way now that Matthew is older. It was important to both of them to keep these moments rolling while they can.

“We have the opportunity to do it, so might as well take it and do something different,” Bruce said.

Time is indeed precious.

“The Pistons have been something that connect us a lot, for sure,” Matthew said. “Whether it’s sending him things off of Twitter — he’s not on social media that much — or talking about different things, this is a really cool trip to be able to connect and see the different things. He came to Paris right before he was in medical school 30 years ago, and it is my first time here. Just being able to go around the city and see different things, it’s a good way for us to connect.”


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(Top photo courtesy of Bruce Wolf)

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