“Few cities have as rich a cultural and sporting history as Detroit,” said the introduction to Grantland’s “Detroit Week” 14-article series published last month. However, not a single Black person, neither a native Detroiter nor from anyplace else, was in the series.
“They don’t care what we [Blacks] care about,” states Eric Pate, a former Detroit sportswriter and sports talk host of mainstream sports journalism sites. Nonetheless, Black Detroiters are proud.
“My dad passed in ’99, and he never went to a Tigers game because they were second to last to integrate next to the Boston Red Sox,” recalls Pate. “Once the Pistons moved from the [Pontiac] Silverdome to the Palace, he said, ‘Never again. They are not the Detroit Pistons — they are moving further and further away from the Black community.’ He stood for something.”
Where else in America will you see Blacks at hockey game except at Joe Louis Arena, continues Pate, now a school principal. “I just took in a hockey game no more than two or three weeks ago,” he points out.
The Motor City “is much underrated” as a sports town, says Pate. “There is so much history here when you’re talking about athletics in this city. We should be right up there with New York, Boston, Chicago and Philly, because here in Detroit, we have the rabid sports fans [especially] in the Black community.
“I just think there are a lot of folk out there that discount what real sports are. They discount what real Detroit sports fans are and who they are.”
Detroit fans overall aren’t bandwagoners. Before the former owner moved them out of Motown because he wanted “a different clientele” and eventually relocated to One Championship Drive, the Pistons enjoyed plenty of Black support when they played in Cobo Hall downtown.
“You look at the Detroit Lions, who haven’t won anything since 1957, yet still throngs of people go out there and check that team out,” adds Pate. “I feel Lions fans don’t get their due. This is what we do here — we love our sports.”
Pate and this columnist last month both felt proud watching “Bad Boys,” perhaps one of the best in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series when it first aired April 17, not just because it was about our hometown Pistons of the late 1980s and early ‘90s, but also because it gave an excellent back story on perhaps the NBA’s most underappreciated two-time champions in three tries.
If you are a lover of sports history, it’s a must-see.
“I absolutely loved the documentary,” says Pate. “I thought it was real and poignant. I thought it described what the team meant to this city. When they finally won it in 1989, it was one of the things where you are proud to be from Detroit. It gives you a sense of pride.”
It’s no secret of late that the Motor City has hit some bad times: “It is not the Detroit we grew up in,” admits Pate. But as the Chrysler’s 2011 Super Bowl ad demonstrated, “Somehow, some way, Detroit always comes back. I think the Detroit that’s going to be rebuilt is going to be something people haven’t seen,” he surmises.
This is one reason why sports is so important in Detroit, unlike any other city. “You can look high and low, and need not look any further than Detroit. It’s the best sports town,” concludes Pate. “People ask you if you are from Detroit, you say, ‘Hell, yeah.’”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.