by | Apr 6, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It will not save us. No basketball game can do that. No matter who wins tonight, 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.

It’s yours.

Because 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 Sunday, “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.

You 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 Sunday, “It’s a storm in the city. We’re trying to bring sunlight to it.”

It’s called taking care of each other.

Through 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!”

Family. 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.”

And 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 …”

It 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.

That 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


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

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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