Dan Isenberg: Slam dunk!

Dan Isenberg: Slam dunk!

When Dan Isenberg (known professionally as Dan Eye) made the flight from Michigan to California in the summer of 1988, he expected big things. After all, he was on his way to witness the last battle for the NBA Championship between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles Lakers. It was going to be exciting! What he did not anticipate was that he would be the jumper in the ultimate alley-oop play of the weekend.

Musically speaking, I mean. 

Alley-oop: “An alley-oop in basketball is an offensive play in which one player throws the ball near the basket to a teammate who jumps, catches the ball in mid air and slam dunks it before touching the ground.” — Wikipedia

Once Dan arrived in California and got himself all checked in to his hotel room, he met up with a couple of his college buddies from Oklahoma Christian University that lived in the area: Troy and Jon Jon. It was June 18, the day before Game 6 of the NBA series, and he had some time to play and explore. Their first destination was Universal Studios. It was there that Troy would throw Dan the (metaphorical) ball, and Dan would fly with it and slam dunk it into history.

I felt all of the importance and impact and thrill of this event as Dan enthusiastically recounted to me one of the best memories of his life.

So let’s travel back in time to 1988:

pistons logo“I was in my 3rd season working for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and I was an account executive, early in my career, selling Pistons season ticket packages. When the Pistons made it to the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, they flew all of us employees [to California] for Game 6 and Game 7. I was out there and I decided to go to Universal Studios, and one of my buddies, Troy, he just said, ‘Hey Dan! That’s Benjamin Orr of The Cars!’”

They were all standing in the gift shop at Universal Studios, and Troy had seen Benjamin walk in. Ben was wearing sunglasses, and he was strolling hand-in-hand with a petite blonde woman, and the two had begun shopping. When Troy pointed them out to Dan, Dan was a little starstruck. With Troy’s encouragement, Dan took the leap. 

“I just simply went up to Mr. Orr and I’ll be darned, he was just shopping with a real pretty blonde woman,” Dan remembered. “I don’t know if it was his wife or a girlfriend, but sure enough, she was with Benjamin, and she realized that I recognized him. She also, and this is just me talking… she also kind of knew to just keep shopping and let me get my photo taken with Benjamin Orr. I thought that was kind of cool, you know?

“I just said, ‘Excuse me, hey Benjamin’ and I just said, ‘I’m Dan Eye. I work for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and I’ve got my camera with me and I’m a big fan of The Cars, and I was just wondering if I could just maybe get my photo taken with you?’ And he said, ‘Sure!'”

The woman subtly kept shopping while Ben turned to Dan. The two posed together for this photo, snapped by Jon Jon. 

1988.06.19-21 in Los Angeles by Dan Isenberg
Benjamin Orr and Dan Isenberg, Universal Studios, June 18, 1988. Photo courtesy of Dan Isenberg; shared with permission.

“I said, ‘Here’s my business card. If you are ever in Detroit, you can just simply call my direct line on that card, and I’ll make sure that you and a guest get two phenomenal seats for any game that you ever want to see.’ And he just looked at my card, and with his thumbs up he said, ‘Basketball?! Okay!’ and I said, ‘All right!’

“And then Jon Jon said, ‘Now, are you guys from Boston?’ and Benjamin said, ‘No, no, we’re not from Boston. You know, The Cars, we’re kind of from maybe a little bit of Cleveland, a little bit here, maybe a little bit there.’ I thought that was a cool, cool answer.”

Dan asked Benjamin if they could get one more photo together in case the first one didn’t turn out so great. “And he said, ‘Sure! Sure, Dan.’ And that’s when he said my name! Because he looked at my business card, you know? And that made me feel so cool that Benjamin Orr said, ‘Sure, Dan! Sure! Yeah!’ And to this day I’ll never know if Benjamin Orr said my name because he saw my name on my card, or because he said, ‘I’m going to hang onto this guy’s card because I want two front row seats for the basketball game next time I’m in town!’” Dan said, laughing.

“And I loved it! I thought, ‘I’m with Benjamin Orr!’ I just loved that guy!”

In spite of looking high and low, Dan can’t find that second photo, but he remembers it very well.

“It had me and Benjamin, and it had that beautiful woman that he was with. She did have like a little sunny summer dress on. And she was really, really pretty. A very classy woman. And I was like, wow, this is so cool, because Benjamin Orr isn’t with, like, some blonde bombshell like Pamela Anderson. We would all think that our favorite rock stars who are so cool looking, like Benjamin, you would expect him to be with some kind of pin-up model.

“I have only met two guys in my life that I can say, ‘Holy smokes, these are two of the coolest looking guys ever!’ And the two of them are Benjamin Orr and Rob Lowe!” Dan exclaimed, laughing again. (And guess what? Coincidentally, Dan had just met and interviewed Rob Lowe only days before at one of the other games! How terrific is that?)

“And then, you want to know what is so funny? I just went, ‘Wow! I got my photo taken with Benjamin Orr of The Cars!’ And I just called every one of my college classmates from Rochester College and Oklahoma Christian University.”

Dan was a massive Cars fan in the 80s, their music streaming out of his dorm room on a regular basis. In fact, when The Cars played Cobo Arena in Detroit back on February 12, 1982, Dan and his college friends went all out. “We ALL totally dressed up, and dressed up like the ‘new wave’ look of The Cars. We took photos of ourselves; we had a professional photographer!”

“When we were at that concert, my date was Melanie, a beautiful little redheaded classmate of ours. She and I were so punked out and we were in the new wave look, and we just held onto each other and we danced and danced, kissed and kissed, we were just jamming all night… jamming together to The Cars!

“They ended with ‘Shake It Up’ and all of us were underneath a little corridor at the entrance of the arena, and there was a loose board or something, like metal or whatever… we took our elbows and went choon choon choo-choo-choon, choon choon choo-choo-choon [banging elbows against it to the beat], and we were just jamming away again to the music…  It was just SHAKE.IT.UP! And when we left, we felt like we had been through a war!”

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons
Bob Seger at a Pistons game, April 26, 2005. Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dan has never forgotten the experience of meeting Ben, even after all these years. He went on to have a very successful career with the Pistons, and as part of his job, he was the personal account executive for Bob Seger for 18 years. He explained, “I worked with his agent and on many occasions, I’d have to see Bob at halftime and give him extra VIP parking, playoff tickets, and sometimes concert tickets. One game, I said ‘Hey Bob, here’s your Dixie Chicks tickets.’ He always called me Daniel, and said, ‘Thanks, Daniel! Are you going to the concert?’ I said ‘Yes, and my wife and I are sitting right behind you!’ Bob clapped and jammed to almost every song and turned around to high five me after ‘There’s Your Trouble!’ He truly is the nicest guy EVER!!! 

“I busted my butt for Bob Seger. One time Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles called Bob Seger and said, ‘Can you get us two tickets for the Pistons game for Game 5 when The Lakers play The Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals?’ and Bob Seger said, ‘Let me call Daniel!’ And I go, ‘I got this.’ And I said, ‘Bob, I just want you to know, I’m only doing this because I love you, and I love rock stars, and Bob? I once got my freaking photo taken with Benjamin Orr of The Cars!’” Dan recalled, cracking up. “Oh man, Bob Seger laughed!”

“Since then, I’ve gotten my photo taken and been backstage with Ted Nugent and Aretha Franklin. I met Ronnie Wood. I’ve met Burton Cummings, Joe Walsh, Dolly Parton. I’ve met Ringo Starr… but Benjamin Orr in California? I felt like I was really in the presence of the music that I grew up with. I’ve just always had the greatest luck ever for meeting my musician idols, my heroes. But it all started in 1988… I met Benjamin Orr! And I was like, man, where do you go from the top?”

Slam dunk!


Random thoughts:

  • I loved chatting with Dan! He was so energetic and fun to talk to, and genuinely eager to share. Thanks again, Dan!
  • Too bad Ben never called Dan up for tickets. Rats!
  • I sent Dan a couple of photos of Diane Page from 1986 and he was able to confirm that the beautiful blonde Ben was with was her. ❤ 
  • June, 1988, was about 6 months after The Cars officially disbanded. Ben looks happy and relaxed here, and I’m so glad to see it.
  • He also looks very tan! I wonder if he was mainly living in Kauai during this first half of the year?
  • In spite of his touristy button-up shirt, he’s still full-on rock star, with his studded leather bracelet and his sunglasses hanging off his chest. The epitome of cool!
  • And speaking of bracelets… I can see his treasured cuff next to his watch. ❤
  • I wonder if the necklace he’s wearing is that gold dolphin one he wore in some of the Door to Door promo photos?