Don't Stop Believin': NCAA Gives Detroit a Free Throw

Greg SheehanCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

Magic Johnson was available for interview on ESPN Sports Radio just minutes before Michigan State’s Final Four Appearance at Ford Field on Saturday night, and the local boy turned superstar told us what things looked like outside the walls of Detroit’s football stadium.

“Detroit needs something, Michigan needs something to feel good about.”

He was probably talking about his Michigan State team in part, but when you step back for a moment, economically speaking, Detroit does need something.

Every once in a while, sports, our favorite distraction can become more than just a show. I think of the Beijing Olympics most recently as one of those times. Providing an economic and political boost, last Summer’s games showed us that our greatest sporting events can transcend the bounds of competition.

After Hurricane Katrina, the NFL opened their Monday night rotation in the Louisiana Superdome, bringing some attention to an area that felt overlooked while standing through a crisis.

Nationwide, our economy has ripped jobs from people, but that was thought to be impossible in Detroit. Auto-manufacturing was our beating economic heart, and buying US cars was the American way. Generations of laborers found out early in their lives that they could follow in their father’s footsteps and work hard at a good job and retire with a family.

Their health insurance would be paid for, their pensions would be secure, they wouldn’t have to learn any other skills or trades, it was the American promise.

Slowly, good old-fashioned competition brought more options to consumers, cars that didn’t have health care and pension costs buried in to each unit. As US cars got larger, foreign cars stayed small and efficient; gas prices went up and consumers shied away from American made gas-guzzlers.

Enter the recent financial crisis and consumers have less money to spend, and their credit has been getting worse as they steal from Peter to pay Paul. Credit which has become so much more precious since lenders have their hands tied and can’t give out the loans they used to.

The city boys born and raised in South Detroit are searching for jobs where they don’t exist, finding that their trade is replaceable, and that their futures are trembling in uncertainty.

These phenomena are surely affecting people across the country, but Detroit is a city that stands out in my mind as one that was already in decline before our banks asked for a bailout. The financial crisis has only made things worse.

Magic Johnson couldn’t be more correct: “Detroit needs something, Michigan needs something to feel good about.”

The NCAA has given Detroit a boost by bringing the Final Four to Michigan; a financial shot in the arm, and something to feel good about. To be featuring Michigan State in the Championship game is even greater for the local Spartan fans. If only for a moment in the scheme of things, it invites us to sing at the top of our lungs our favorite song about the city boy from South Detroit...

“Don’t stop believin'.”