Detroit: A City in Shambles Puts on an Unforgettable Basketball Weekend

Nick BarnowskiCorrespondent IApril 8, 2009

The Final Four. It's a sporting event every fan wants to attend once in their lifetime.

In 2003, the NCAA selected Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan to be the host for the NCAA Final Four in 2009. Luckily, I was able to go to all three games and check off another item on my sports bucket list.

My dad and I received our tickets in a small, sleek booklet in early February and ever since then it has been all I have been looking forward to.

I've attended many other sporting events, including some Red Wings playoff games, but nothing can compare to Final Four weekend in my home state.

Detroit is a city that desperately needed the 30,000-plus people that visited to help jump-start a comeback even Joe Montana couldn't orchestrate.

My house is only an hour's drive from downtown Detroit, but we left around 1:00 pm, a full five hours before the tip of the Michigan State-Connecticut game.

First up was Hoop City, the NCAA's fan event, similar to major league baseball's All-Star FanFest. The event was held at Cobo Hall.

We received a free ticket that was included with our game admission and took the People Mover, Detroit's version of a subway, to get there.

On the creaky old rail, we met two North Carolina students who drove up to see their Tar Heels play and eventually win the National Championship.

They told us they were going to the Red Wings game on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild, something a lot of people said they were going to do during their stay in southeastern Michigan.

Walking into the building, a crowd of Michigan State fans was shouting relentlessly, "Go Green," to which the other half of the group would shout, "Go White!"

While we waited in line, three coordinators kept shouting over each other, each trying to convey their message to the line of people.

That, to me, symbolized the whole city of Detroit: a lot of ideas, but no action or result.

To be honest, Hoop City disappointed me. It was aimed more toward a younger audience. There were no coaches or players there signing autographs like it said in the pamphlet.

It was a good way to waste a couple of hours before the first game though, and I nabbed a couple of t-shirts for the games.

After eating lunch, we decided we would follow the ESPN College GameDay bus around town. Unfortunately that didn't work out too well, but we did get to see two of the coolest statues in Michigan—The Joe Louis Fist, and the Spirit of Detroit figure.

Detroit is a very boring city.

The Riverfront and Campus Martius Park are really the only nice places in town. Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings play, is on the Riverfront.

The rest is nothing.

There are just as many abandoned buildings as there are bars. They have been planning to build a centralized bus station for a year and a half, but it's still not done.

You can't compare Detroit to Chicago, San Diego, or even St. Louis—all cities I have been to. There is no shopping district, no high-class restaurants, and especially no activity.

The exception here was Final Four weekend.

Detroit was buzzing with people, inside Ford Field and out. For the first time in what seemed like a century, Detroit was full of life.

Our seats were actually pretty good. They were nosebleeds, but it was right at mid-court and you could see everything.

Next to us there were two older men from Kentucky who were hoping to see their Wildcats in the Final Four. That didn't exactly work out.

Also seated next to us were two Connecticut graduates who made the trip here to watch the Huskies. They ended up leaving after the first game.

The Michigan State game was great right from the opening tip. I consider myself a Michigan Wolverines fan, but I cheer for State when Michigan isn't playing them.

The student section came out in full force, and the "Go Green, Go White" chant was roaring throughout the entire game.

The North Carolina-Villanova game wasn't as exciting, but I liked watching UNC's dominant offense.

Monday was the Championship game. Before the tip, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson presented the game ball, which was very cool. 

The game wasn't.

North Carolina's lead was insurmountable and they took home the National Championship. A lot of State fans left early; we stayed.

My thinking was, "How many times do you get to see the Champs cut the nets down?"

The Final Four experience was a great one and I enjoyed every minute of it.

It is an event that everyone should go to at least once and something you will remember for the rest of your life.


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