April 5, 2009
Pride not pity should be Detroit's Finals legacy
BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
It will not save
us. No basketball game can do that. No matter who wins Monday night,
Tuesday morning the jobs still will be gone, the factories still silent
and empty, the houses still for sale or abandoned altogether. The
out-of-town media who see a national championship tonight at Ford Field
as some uplifting salve for downtrodden Detroit are a bit misdirected.
It’s not our mind-set we’re trying to change.
this bash Motown is hosting is not meant to be a pity party. We don’t
want sad headshakes on your way out of town. As Tom Izzo said today,
“There are a lot of cities out there that have problems; this is ours.”
And he’s right. This is our city, but it’s your America. What the rest
of the nation is suffering, we went through first. And if our leaders
aren’t wise, what we’re enduring now, you may endure next.
can’t cut off your manufacturing arm and expect to build. You can’t
outsource everything and expect to lead the world. And you can’t treat
blue-collar industry as a bunch of dumb rivetheads who need the
government to run them, while allowing the banking world to do as it
pleases with taxpayer money.
It wasn’t the auto industry that shot a hole in the side of America.
A light in the middle of the tunnel
We don’t want you to pity us;
we want you to notice us. Notice what is happening to the middle class
— which was invented in these parts — just as you notice what these
Michigan State kids in green jerseys are doing in this basketball
tournament. What they’re doing is what neighbors around here do when
one is laid off, what churches here do when someone can’t afford an
operation. As Kalin Lucas, raised in Sterling Heights, said today,
“It’s a storm in the city. We’re trying to bring sunlight to it.”
It’s called taking care of each other.
all the injuries and setbacks, these Spartans, like their state, have
kept their heads down and their belief up. Now they have reached the
end of the rainbow, with kids like Raymar Morgan, who lost his way and
found it again, and Goran Suton, who returned from injuries to even
higher form, and Travis Walton, who has played all four years and was
dead set on not letting his career end one game shy of its maximum. Who
knows where he’ll go next, or how far? “But when it’s your last time
around, you want to make your biggest bang,” he said.
It was Walton and his senior teammates who decided what to yell in their team huddles. They chose the word “family.”
Not “win!” Not “kill!”
We’re all in this together
That, too, is what we want
you to notice. How folks here embrace our roots, rather than run from
them. We dream of greener pastures, but we want them in our backyards.
Sure, we’re a tad provincial, we make too much of a local fudge or an
auto show or a hockey team. But as Walton said in the celebration after
the upset Saturday over Connecticut, “We’re not a superstar team. We’re
a family. When you’re a family, it’s not the Kalin Lucas family or the
Travis Walton family. It’s the Spartans family.”
within our state, it’s the same thing. Which is why Detroit and East
Lansing are mingled so seamlessly in this Final Four. It’s the Michigan
family. It’s Izzo talking about growing up in tiny Iron Mountain, or
Marquise Gray from hardscrabble Flint, or Durrell Summers from Detroit,
who, when asked if he knew anyone who’d lost a job, said, “My mother,
my father, my cousin, I could go on…”
will not save us, this game, we know that. But for a brief moment, we
have the nation’s attention. Whatever stories get written, let them
talk about pounding away, doing things right, asking only a workman’s
due, but asking nothing less. Let them talk about family and
perseverance and what it can accomplish. Let them talk about traditions
worth celebrating and preserving.
way, no matter what the final score, they’ll be talking about the
basketball team AND the state it occupies. The Spartans want to make a
memory out of what you’re witnessing here. The rest of us don’t want
you to forget.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
State beat writer Shannon Shelton will chat with fans about the
national championship game at 2 p.m. Monday at freep.com/sports. Get
your questions ready!