by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

OK, we get it. It’s Detroit against the world. It wasn’t enough that in the Heat series, it was Detroit against South Beach. Or in the Lakers series last year, it was Detroit against Hollywood.

No, now the stakes are higher. Now it’s the 2005 NBA Finals. So the basketball gods sent the good people of Detroit the entire planet as an opponent, wrapped in the black-and-white uniforms of the San Antonio Spurs.

Forget Texas. Texas is just the start. Think Europe. Think South America. Think the Caribbean. Think Slovenia. (OK. So you have to look up Slovenia. Look it up. Then think it.)

Because that’s what we have here folks, starting tonight, about 9 o’clock, in San Antonio, a town whose major attraction was, before the Alamo, dust. Now it is the center of the basketball planet. The Spurs, in their starting lineup alone, feature an Argentinean, a Frenchman and a gentleman giant from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands.

Manu. Tony. Tim.

Si. Oui. And “pass the sunblock.”

And we haven’t even mentioned Slovenian bench players Rasho Nesterovic or Beno Udrih. (I have no idea how to pronounce Udrih’s last name. It’s either “uhhdree” or “youdree” or “youdrehhh” or “Johnson.”)

(And his first name is either pronounced “Benno,” like the patron saint of fishermen, or “Beano,” the liquid you squirt on gassy foods before you eat them. Either way, it must mean something else in Slovenia. Or his parents have a weird sense of humor.)

Anyhow, this is the kind of global opponent Detroit now faces in San Antonio, a south-central Texas outpost that is too far from Dallas, too far from Houston, and too far from any soul music to make a Motown man feel comfortable.

Yet all these foreign players love it. I asked a TV sportscaster from San Antonio to tell me what a dusty Texas town like San Antonio could offer a sophisticated Frenchman like Tony Parker.

And he said, “Eva Longoria from ‘Desperate Housewives.’ “

Parker dates her.

So we know he’s staying.

Manu, Manu

What about Manu Ginobili, the Spurs’ tremendous swingman who’s having his best year ever? He grew up in the Argentinean town of Bahia Blanca (translation: “Nowhere Near Detroit”) and, according to the San Antonio Express-News, he “copied his crossover dribble from Serbian guards Dejan Bodiroga and Sasha Danilovic.”

Didn’t we all?

Manu currently can be seen in the NBA commercials with Dr. J, comparing his love for the championship trophy to “stars in the night sky.” Maybe that’s the kind of thing they do in South America. I don’t know. I asked that same TV guy how San Antonio could lure a star like Ginobili from Argentina and he said, “Didn’t they have a lot of kidnappings down there?”

So we known Manu is staying.

And then there’s Tim Duncan, whose middle name, I am now convinced, is “the quiet and dull guy who never gets enough credit but is a really great fundamental player and would be so much more famous if only he weren’t so quiet and dull.” Well, Duncan has been in San Antonio so long, they’re thinking of giving him his own theme park. They already have two, one of which is Six Flags and the other is which is SeaWorld (which seems odd since you ought to have a sea somewhere near SeaWorld, don’t you think?).

Then again, what is Duncan, who grew up swimming laps in St. Croix, doing in the middle of the dry land of Texas?

What about last year?

He’s playing basketball, that’s what, for a team that is a clear favorite against the Pistons, despite the fact that, last we looked, the Pistons were wearing the championship rings. It is vogue now to say the Pistons didn’t really capture the championship last year, they somehow “fluked” into it. In fact, the more I listen, the less I believe the Pistons actually did win it. Some aliens came down and hung that banner at the Palace.

A fluke?

“That’s what they always say about us,” Lindsey Hunter said Wednesday.

Hmm. I guess they must forget that last year, when Detroit began the Finals against Los Angeles, everyone had L.A. sweeping. If the Lakers were such a clear favorite, and Detroit beat them in five games, how could it have been a fluke?

Forget it. That’s too logical. So now the Spurs are getting their “rightful” chance at the men of Motown? Fine. Do they think Detroit is scared? Do they think the Pistons are intimidated by the global chic of the Spurs’ roster?

Hah. Are you kidding? The Pistons have a global chic all their own. For example, Rip Hamilton hails from Coatesville, Pa., which has a lot going for it, such as it is not far from Philadelphia, which gave us hoagies and cheesesteaks and also Rasheed Wallace. Ben Wallace is from White Hall, Ala., which is sophisticated in its own right, in that it gave us Ben Wallace, and also is in the same part of the country as Jackson, Miss., which gave us Hunter. And who doesn’t love California, which gave us Elden Campbell, from L.A., and Tayshaun Prince, from Compton. You can find adventure in Compton. Maybe not the kind that Tony Parker finds in Paris. But adventure.

And we do have Carlos ‘n’ Darko.

No, that’s not a fast-food chain.

Anyhow, last time I checked, you don’t win NBA Finals by speaking multiple languages. You do it with defense, with adjustments, with moxie and with nerve. The Pistons have all that, and they’ve demonstrated all that. Starting tonight, they’ll try to do what they do best, which is prove people wrong.

So, Spurs, to paraphrase the Who in “Tommy”:

Si, me, oui, me

Pistons in six.

OK. So I made that up. How are they gonna know?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or He will sign Father’s Day copies of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” on Sunday – 12:30 p.m. at Borders in Southland Mall in Taylor – and on June 18 – 11:30 a.m. at Borders in Birmingham, 2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Northville and 4:30 p.m. at Borders Express at Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read recent columns by Albom, go to


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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