Every Detroit Pistons' fan immediately knows the popular chant that became a staple at home games during the 2004 championship run. It's become a rallying cry behind some of the biggest moments in Pistons' history and still pumps up the fans today. But who is the man who's voice has become synonymous with Motor City hoops?
Simply known as “Mason” to fans and players alike, John Mason has been the public address for the Pistons since the 2001-02 NBA season starting at the Palace of Auburn Hills and now at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit. Additionally, he's also a radio personality, having served as the host of “Mason in the Morning” on WJLB for nearly two decades, and also hosted his own radio show 105.9 KISS-FM.
He's had the best view in the house for nearly two decades now and has seen some of the greatest players in Pistons history suit up, from 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups and four time defensive player of the year Ben Wallace to Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. But for those wondering how it all came to be, Mason graciously joined us for an exclusive interview and peek into his life as the arena voice of the Pistons.
Q: How did you get the job of Pistons public address announcer?
A: “Well you know, It’s a funny thing. I had just changed radio stations, and the radio station was looking for publicity for the change. They asked me to do some practice; I knew nothing of PA announcing, so I said okay. I had just switched jobs so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to maybe get a deal on season tickets. So I did that, and they told me I'd be going to The Palace (of Auburn Hills). I said that’d be cool. Afterward, they soon gave me the Pistons' schedule – I didn’t know they were actually asking me to be the PA announcer! Again, I didn't really know anything about announcing, just what I heard in the background on tv. I didn’t take a paycheck until three weeks before the season ended. I was just having fun, I didn’t know how to ask for one! I was just so locked into doing it correctly, but I didn’t think I had an “arena” voice. I just didn’t want the people to be mad. I didn’t know that you really got paid for it; I thought the prestige was enough.”
Q: You were front and center for one of the ugliest moments in sports history – the Malice at the Palace. Can you share the experience from your unique perspective?
“When the Indiana Pacers took the floor to open the game, they had a chip on their shoulder from the onset. Jamaal Tinsley started cussing after the opening tip-off, so this was happening right away. But the incident with Ben Wallace and Ron Artest – Artest said something about Ben’s mother who had just recently passed away and he made a comment about it. Then, they wanted to pick on Derrick Coleman who had his inner-city friends that night in the crowd. He didn’t want any of that, he laughed it off, and he wouldn’t engage. They were all over the arena. I tried to tell (sportscaster) Jim Gray that was the real story, but they wanted that Hollywood stuff.
I’d never heard players start cussing and stuff at the start of the game as if something had already happened. But you don't say anything into the microphone to the crowd until the refs tell you, they never told me to tell people to leave. Meanwhile, (then-Pistons coach) Larry Brown started yelling at me to say something; I said I can’t say anything because the mic is broken. He’s going nuts – this is prior to me telling him that. He told me I need to be saying something to the crowd. So when I made the announcement imploring the fans to leave peacefully, nobody had told me what to say, I just said what I felt. Those refs were just in shock.”
Q: After the run of six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, things started to not go so well for the team. Did you find it harder to maintain your trademark excitement with smaller crowds and an ever-revolving door of players?
“To me, it was all new, because the run of sellouts took off right around the same time that I started, and then the crowds started to shrink and players/coaches changed. It was tough. I still wanted to do a good job; I tried to say away from “Detroit Basketball” because that changed. But a team executive asked me to say it once at least once a game; he said sometimes that's the reason why people make a long trip out to the arena, just so they could hear that. So that was a little lesson. But yes, it was tough. I still wanted to be a pro and do well, and give the players energy.”
Q: You're known for your energy on the mic, have you ever had a player request you to do their intro differently or in a specific way?
“Dwayne Wade once came up to me and asked how come I don't use those kinds of intros for us? Almost right away, Rasheed Wallace came over and told him that sorry, but you need to be a Piston for that. A funny story about Chauncey Billups – I had a friend who works for him, and he told me Chauncey wanted to see me. I said to just tell me what he wants, but he insisted I go see Chauncey. I went up to him and I'm just star struck. I didn't really hear anything he said because I was so star-struck. He said that he wanted me to add in his introduction that he's from Park Hill, so I said okay. I added the “Deal from Park Hill”. Marcus Morris also didn't want me to list his college, but just to say that he was from North Philly.”
Q: You spent plenty of years at The Palace as PA announcer before moving to Little Caesars Arena; aside from the 2004 championship run, what was your favorite memory of The Palace?
“It was nothing to do with a call; Rick Carlisle was coach and it was a pre-season game, and he came down and helped me with the players names. I think it was my first full season with the Pistons or second. And then for the next two or three games, he would find a way to speak to me and talk and ask how I was liking everything.”
“One day, it was in a full presser before the game; he stopped it, walked away form the cameras, and came over in the tunnel just to see how I was doing, asked if everything was good, am I enjoying the season, and that’s all he wanted! He then went back to the presser. I still talk to him! One time, Mark Cuban one day early before a game came onto the floor and yelled: “Hey Mason!” I had no idea how an NBA owner would know my name. He said something to me, I was in shock! You know, (current Pistons coach Dwane) Casey used to stare me down, he hated when I said Detroit basketball! I’m glad he’s on our side now.”
“There was another time, it was Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA, and it was during my second year. It was a Sunday afternoon pre-season game, Jordan was back. He was playing at the Palace with the Wizards. But at the same time, there was a football game at the Pontiac Silverdome, and I got caught in traffic. I called a Pistons executive and apologized, saying I wouldn't be able to make the opening tip-off. She told me she'd call back, and about four minutes later, she told me to drive as fast as I could to The Palace, and to not stop at any lights. I got there about five minutes before the introductions. Somebody made a call with a lot of clout and they were waving me in.”
Q: Any other cool sports memories?
“I had a beautiful experience with the Red Wings; people would be envious! I had an apartment next to Joe Louis Arena; and during the championship run of 2008, when the Red Wings would score, I'd mute my television and just listen; I could hear the crowd noise from down below and it would rock the apartment! I’d just walk over there to be in the atmosphere.”