Motown Mojo

Go, Tigers: In Detroit, it’s all for one and one for all

When it comes to Detroit sports victories, it's all for one and one for all.
AP Photo
Over the last five years, I’ve discovered how long the tentacles of the NBA really are. Especially as the Pistons were driving deep into the playoff chase, going to the Eastern Conference finals six straight years, their worldwide appeal was stunning. Not a week would pass where I wouldn’t hear from Pistons fans on at least five continents and often six.

Many of them are basketball fans only, I suppose, and care little for other quintessentially American sports. So, yeah, there are Pistons fans either unaware of or apathetic about the fact one of the Pistons’ pro sports neighbors, the Detroit Tigers, are preparing to open the American League playoffs on one of the grandest stages in all of sports: Yankee Stadium.

But there remains a huge overlap of Pistons fans and Tigers fans (and Red Wings, and Lions, and Michigan and Michigan State) and … well, it’s fair to guess that a significant portion of Pistons Nation is planning its day, and its weekend, and optimistically hoping to plan much of its October, around watching the Tigers start what they believe could be a stirring World Series push by a team that heads to the postseason with a palpable confidence and momentum propelling them.

It isn’t necessarily like that in all other American cities. Detroit isn’t unique, but there aren’t many in its class, either, for the passion it expends so forcefully in the interests of its favorite sports teams.

You maybe take that for granted if you grew up in Detroit, were nurtured on the fortunes of the big six sports teams and know little else. That was underscored for me when I talked to the new president of the Pistons and The Palace, Dennis Mannion, only recently about why he chose this opportunity among the many offered to him when he decided to leave his post as president of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

High on the list of several items he ticked off? The passion of Detroit sports fans. Mannion’s parents, H.K. and Marie, moved to Detroit when his father took an executive position with the old Crowley’s department store chain with Dennis a college undergrad in Massachusetts. In their 15 years spent in the area, they were struck by the depth of passion Detroit sports fans held for their teams.

“They said there are six teams they’re rabid about,” Mannion grinned. “I thought, that’s pretty cool.

“I knew from my many visits I had made here, everyone is talking sports. Red Wings, Lions, Tigers, Michigan, Michigan State, Pistons – that part of it was a huge attraction. I thought, I want to be in an area where what you do actually matters. That the people care. … This market, if it hasn’t proven anything else, it sure as heck has proven it supports its sports teams in a big way – in a really big way.”

Mannion grew up in Pittsburgh and saw that sort of passion for the Steelers, but it didn’t spill over universally to the city’s other teams. He launched his career in Philadelphia and saw it in spurts. He went to Denver and experienced it for whichever the hot team happened to be, but it waxed and waned. In Baltimore, he was responsible for growing that sort of passion for the Ravens as they built toward and captured a Super Bowl, but there was little else in town to celebrate. And then it was on to Los Angeles, where the distractions are many and the populace is incredibly diverse.

The interconnectedness extends to Detroit’s pro athletes, too. Joe Dumars deserves much credit for that, reaching out to the town’s other franchises early in his tenure as president of basketball operations to let them know their players were always welcome at The Palace. Players like Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge have been frequently spotted at The Palace over the years, and Pistons players have reciprocated by making Comerica Park a regular summer stopover.

There was a school of thought that prevailed for years that held there was only so much pie to go around, so fans invested heavily in one or two Detroit teams meant the others would lack for attention. But great sports towns like Detroit seem to operate on a different plane: the more, the merrier. The success of one or two sports teams – and who hasn’t been invigorated by the scorching Detroit Lions, whose 3-0 start has every appearance of legitimacy? – merely seems to grow the pie for everyone.

Nothing quite enthralls an entire city – at least a city that shares the sports-mad DNA of Detroit – like a team banding together and throwing everything it can muster at the pursuit of greatness. The Pistons have taken fans on that exhilarating ride a dozen or more times since Jack McCloskey drafted Isiah Thomas and made all the other moves that produced the Bad Boys and their heirs, the Goin’ to Work Pistons put together by one of the Bad Boys’ best, Joe D.

And the Pistons – from Joe D’s office to the heart of the fan base of Pistons Nation – are looking forward right along with Tigers fans everywhere to a stirring World Series push for their baseball neighbors. Bless you, boys.