by | May 2, 2002 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

“Check it out, check it out,” I say, standing on the street corner, slapping my palm. I catch your eye. You stop.

I wave two pairs of tickets.

“Pistons or Wings? Hockey or basketball? Game 5 or Round 2? What’s it gonna be, my man?”

“Are you talking to me?” you say.

Of course, we’re talking to you. You and the rest of the fever-pitched, dry-throated, double-fisted Detroit sports fans, who face the enviable problem of two big playoff games in one city in one night. Pistons or Red Wings? Downtown or suburbs?

What’s it gonna be?

“I got two on the floor at the Palace,” I say, dangling them under your nose.
“Close enough to feel the thundering of Ben Wallace’s sneakers. Close enough to get soaked with Jerry Stackhouse’s sweat. Close enough to see what Corliss Williamson really did to his hair.”

“Oh, I like those!” you say, trying to grab them.

“Not so fast,” I say, pulling back.

“Not so fast?” you say.

I go to my left — hand, that is. Two other tickets, which I tickle against your forehead.

“These babies are right against the glass at Joe Louis Arena. Close enough to see if Stevie Yzerman has his teeth in. Close enough to count the scars on Brendan Shanahan’s chin. Close enough to feel the rumble of Darren McCarty slamming some St. Louis guy against the boards.”

“Yes, those! YES!” you say, lunging.

“Not so fast,” I say, sliding away like a matador.

“Not so fast?” you say.

Raptors vs. Blues

Think about it. Which is more important? The last game in a first-round series, or the first game in a second-round series? Which is more important, a Pistons playoff victory, which we hardly ever get, or a Red Wings playoff victory, of which we never get enough?

“The Pistons haven’t advanced in the playoffs in 11 years,” I say, laying the tickets across my forearm like a designer watch. “The last time they did, Joe Dumars was wearing shorts and shooting jumpers. Now he wears a suit and signs checks.

“The last time they did, Bill Laimbeer was standing in paint, fighting Robert Parish. Now Laimbeer is sitting at the announcer’s table, asking George Blaha to scootch over a few inches.

“The last time they did, Bush was in the White House. Papa Bush. Tonight could be historic. A turnaround after years of frustration.”

“YES! HISTORY!” you say. “I’ll go to the Pistons!”

“On the other hand . . .” I say, switching to my other arm.

“On the other hand? . . .” you say.

“On the other hand, every night is history with the Red Wings. This is the greatest roster ever assembled. From Yzerman to Hull to Robitaille to Lidstrom to Fedorov to Shanahan to Hasek to Scotty Bowman behind the bench. If they win it all, this might be a run for the ages — especially the older ages.

“How great would it be to say you were there? To tell your grandkids, ‘I saw Fedorov make that move. I saw Chelios check that guy. I was there in ’02, when the Wings were winning it all.’ How great is that?”

“OH, BABY! LEMME HAVE THOSE!” you scream, lunging again.

I dodge you nimbly, a dancer in a pas de deux.

“One last thing,” I say.

“One last thing?” you say.

Price of success

“The Pistons need your support,” I say, using the Palace tickets in a patriotic salute. “We all saw what happened in Toronto when the crowd up there got behind its team. The Raptors acted like they’d just been hired for
‘Jurassic Park IV.’

“Rick Carlisle, the Pistons’ coach, said Toronto was ‘the loudest building I’ve ever been in.’ Now it’s our turn. The Pistons played all year to get home-court advantage. The fans could be their sixth man, pushing them over the top.”

“You’re right,” you say, pulling out your wallet. “I need to support the men in blue. I owe it to the team. Lemme have those tickets.”

“Then again . . .” I say.

“Then again?” you say.

“Then again, the first game is so important in a hockey playoff series. Look at the first round against Vancouver. The Wings lost that one, then they lost the next, and we nearly had an epidemic of whiplash with all the people jumping off the bandwagon.

“Home ice is nice in the NHL, but a fast start is even more so. Every win is such a blessed relief.”

“Good point,” you say. “Gimme two by the glass.”

“You’re choosing Red Wings?”

“Yes, sir. How much?”

I tell you how much. Your face gets red.

“On second thought,” you say, “how much for the Pistons?”

I tell you how much. Your face gets redder.

“So what’s it gonna be, my man?” I say.

You look in your wallet. You swallow hard.

“Are the Tigers playing tonight?” you ask.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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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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