Magic Johnson was on the phone, talking about the differences between living in Michigan and living in Los Angeles.

“The biggest difference?” he said. “Hospitality. Just saying hello.”

Saying hello? How hard is that?

“Do you know that in L.A. you can live for 20 years in the same house and not know your next-door neighbor?” Magic said. “Can you imagine that happening in Michigan? You’d know the whole neighborhood.”

We offer that up as Defense Exhibit A in what has been, to this point, a one-way spit-fest between La-La Land and the Motor City.

Now, I understand that when two cities battle each other in a major sporting contest, like the NBA Finals, it is normal that one looks down at the other. This explains why Jimmy Kimmel, the ABC late-night host and admitted Lakers fan (a bit strange for a guy born in Brooklyn and raised in Las Vegas), told a network audience that Detroit would “burn the city down” if the Pistons won.

When I heard that, I wasn’t mad. Why be mad? As Magic said, we’re too busy being hospitable.

Big Apple and Tinseltown

Likewise, when an L.A. Times sportswriter spent half a column last week picking on Kid Rock, calling him a punk, saying he was Detroit’s only celebrity and he couldn’t hold a candle to Jack Nicholson, I took it in stride.

It’s always funny to hear L.A. people boast about how “cool” their city is with all its celebrities, when the people boasting almost never know any of those celebrities, and in fact, if they even got close to some of those the celebrities, bodyguards would shove them backward.

That’s what you brag about?

It’s funny. There’s a feeling in Detroit that somehow, when up against a Los Angeles or New York, that the die is cast, that we can’t compare, that we are the ugly kid in the back of the classroom and the cool kids are always going to point and snicker.

But I have lived in New York, and I spend a great deal of time in Los Angeles, and I can tell you one thing I’ve observed about both places: The people who defend them don’t necessarily like them.

In New York, you constantly hear people complain about the prices, the traffic, the crime, the attitude — but when someone suggests leaving, they say, “Where would I go? There’s no place like New York.”

Likewise in L.A., where people moan about the smog, the highways, the housing prices, the plastic bodies. But when you suggest an alternative, they blanch. “And leave paradise?” they say.

Call me simple. But it can’t be paradise if you have to keep convincing yourself.

We love homegrown favorites

On Friday, I was talking with Bill Plaschke, the L.A. Times columnist (not the guy who went after Kid Rock), and he remarked on how loud the Palace crowd was. He said the Staples Center, for all its glitz, never gets that loud. He said that during the NBA All-Star Game in L.A., there was a moment when Bill Russell was suddenly serenaded by Kelly Clarkson of “American Idol,” and the crowd loved it because, after all, she was famous for the moment, even though Russell had no idea who she was.

You compare that to Thursday at the Palace, when home-grown Anita Baker sang the anthem, and local heroes like Steve Yzerman drew the biggest cheers on the big screen.

“I couldn’t believe that!” Plaschke said. “We didn’t even know who (Yzerman) was!”

But that, I told Plaschke, is how it works in Detroit; we don’t cheer for the most famous people. We cheer for the people we know and like. Yzerman has been here since the middle ’80s. Tom Izzo and Steve Mariucci are friends from their school days in the Upper Peninsula.

Our national anthem singers aren’t only famous, they live here. Anita Baker lives here. Kid Rock lives here. Aretha Franklin lives here. And as Magic suggested, they probably know their neighbors.

Plaschke, the L.A. writer, nodded.

“That’s cool,” he said.

Yeah. It is.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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