Pursuit of seats at Palace reaches beyond raffle

Updated: June 4, 2004, 1:15 AM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Antonio Taylor brought $2,000 in $20 bills, his 6-foot-4 frame and a booming voice to The Palace on Thursday.

"You got tickets?" he hollered in the faces of the lucky as they trickled out of the Detroit Pistons arena with some of the few NBA Finals tickets available. "I'll double what you paid."

The 31-year-old factory worker and longtime Pistons fanatic said he was determined to see his underdog team take on the Los Angeles Lakers when the championship series comes to Michigan.

And unlike thousands of ticket-seekers at this suburban Detroit venue Thursday morning, he wasn't going to take a chance that the number on his little raffle ticket stub might not be one of the ones chosen in the lottery for ticket-purchasing rights.

He bought two $75 tickets for $300 apiece from one man. Then he bought another pair for $300 from a college student. The plan: keep buying, hold on to two for his girlfriend's 29th birthday, then decide how best to dispose of the rest. His girlfriend stood to the side as he conducted business, admitted she's a Lakers fan and said the birthday game was his idea.

"You know, I'm trying to support my man," Luwana Pannell said with a smile. "If this hadn't of worked, he probably would have been flying out to L.A. to do the same thing."

With a cap of six tickets per person, and only 3,000 tickets available for all three potential games, arena officials expected between 500 and 750 people to walk away with tickets Thursday. An additional 1,000 per game went on sale at 10 a.m. online and through ticket agencies.

The rest of the tickets for the 22,076 seats at The Palace were sold out before Thursday.

"We know a lot of people are going to leave here disappointed, but we tried to do this in the most fair way possible, so all kinds of people would have an opportunity to attend," said Jeff Corey, a spokesman for arena owner Palace Sports and Entertainment.

The Pistons haven't appeared in the Finals since 1990, when they won their second straight championship with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers. They advanced to the finals Tuesday with a 69-65 home win over the Indiana Pacers. The Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves to advance.

Ticket-seekers began arriving at The Palace at 4 a.m. Thursday, but not all were Pistons supporters, and many said they planned to sell their treasures.

As of the early afternoon, about 500 ticket packages were for sale on Internet auction house eBay, going for as much as $4,800 for two seats behind the Pistons bench.

One Lakers fan and recent college graduate came to Michigan from Huntsville, Ala., to get tickets and visit family, and another man drove through the night four hours from Buffalo, N.Y., and camped at a nearby McDonalds for the chance to see the Finals.

"I love basketball. I love the NBA," said Shane Palermo, 28, of Buffalo. "I like the Pistons, because they've got heart."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press