What happened a little more than a week ago at the Palace (you do know what I’m talking about, right?) ought to teach us one thing, and it has nothing to do with basketball: As far as the rest of the country is concerned, there is very little difference between Auburn Hills and Detroit. No one outside of Michigan who viewed that mess drew any distinction whatsoever between the suburban and the urban. The brawl happened in Detroit. Period.
For those with short memories — or who are understandably trying to forget — the Palace of Auburn Hills became the site of the NBA’s most notorious and ugly, player-fan free-for-all brawl; a scuffle between Piston Ben Wallace and Indiana Pacer Ron Artest (which Artest started, no question) blew up when some idiot fan threw a cup at Artest. Artest, seizing the opportunity to prove himself an even bigger idiot, leaped into the stands to take on the fans. Artest didn’t even know who threw the cup, just that it came from over there somewhere, so everybody over there must be guilty by association. From that point on, well, hell. What can you say?
But, you know, I kind of had to grin in a sick sort of way when I saw a guy interviewed on local television about his opinion of what happened. His response was that he was highly upset because, hey, it didn’t even happen in Detroit. It happened waaaaaay out there in Auburn Hills. The implication, of course, was that since it didn’t happen in Detroit, then why should Detroit have to suffer the black eye?
Yeah, well. Aside from the fact this was a home game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers, the truth of the matter is that, for all practical purposes, Auburn Hills is Detroit. And even though the whole crazy incident was started by a nut-brained Indiana Pacer who purposefully fouled Wallace and then attempted to take on an entire section of Pistons fans (kill ’em all, let the NBA sort ’em out), you ought to know by now that whenever a TV-ready battle like this blows up in the vicinity of Detroit, the rest of the world is going to assume that Detroit (Riots “R” Us) must somehow be responsible.
In metro Detroit, we all recognize the difference between Auburn Hills and The City. As the most segregated metropolitan area in the entire nation, we don’t have much of a problem identifying who is “them” and who is “us.” But in Montana? Or Colorado? Or California? Or any state without a mitten-shaped peninsula? Auburn Hills is Detroit. Dearborn is Detroit. Southfield is Detroit. And if you’re a suburbanite traveling abroad, don’t even bother trying to explain to anybody on the other side of the ocean that you’re not really from Detroit, you’re from Livonia or wherever. You are from Detroit. There is, after all, a reason why the area in which we live is called metropolitan Detroit and not metropolitan Birmingham or metropolitan Bloomfield Hills.
Here at home, we have grown far too accustomed to pointing our fingers at “them” in the suburbs and “them” in the city, which explains a lot of the problems we have as a community. But in the larger community of America, whether we like it or not, we tend to all be lumped together as Detroiters.
Thing is, there’s no reason why this has to be regarded as negative. It boggles the mind to think of what we could accomplish if we started viewing this region as a region, recognizing the inescapable fact that we really do need each other and have a lot to offer each other. It would beat our typical way of bumbling along like so many fractious two-bit mini-states. Sure, I realize I’m hardly the first person to voice this opinion, but I happen to believe that this is an opinion that bears repeating, especially during times like these.
Remember last year when the Pistons won the championship? Remember when the Detroit Shock brought it home for the WNBA? Back then you couldn’t have found any of the suburbs on the map with a magnifying glass. All you could see was Detroit, located next to Detroit, bordering another Detroit, just to the west of yet another Detroit.
But now? Yep. We’re back to being the Island of Detroit, surrounded by the islands of Southfield, Livonia, Auburn Hills and so on. This is not to say that the Palace brawl worsened the divisions between metro Detroit’s communities — that would be virtually impossible. You can’t get any more divided than we are, and sometimes I get the feeling we’re kinda proud of it. What I am saying is that this is just as good a time — better, actually — to rally together as when the Pistons were on top of the world.
Anyone who has followed the news can see what’s being said about us as a community. It’s nothing new. But what would be new is if we actually worked together to create a cohesive, functional community that proves the mudslingers wrong. Island Detroit can’t do this alone, as much as we might want to insist we’re self-sufficient (look around you, then ask yourself if this really looks like self-sufficiency to you), and the suburban isles can’t pretend to be insulated from all things Detroit, neither can they deny how much they would all benefit from a healthy Detroit.
Because sink or swim, we are all Detroit.
Just one more note on another fading sports controversy. Remember all that yelling and screaming that was going on surrounding that pre-Monday Night Football commercial where Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan (purring white woman wearing only a towel) came on to football star Terrell Owens (big, muscular black man wearing only his football uniform over his big, muscular black manhood) in the locker room before the game? Sheridan drops the towel, Owens (hell, no, we’re not related) forgets about the game, and Sheridan jumps into his arms. Are you ready for some football?
Anyway, since that incident, ABC has been forced to issue an apology saying that maybe the pre-game commercial wasn’t such a bright idea. The Eagles and the NFL apologized as well. Even Owens (no relation, remember?) buckled with one of those conditional apologies, saying that he was sorry if anyone took this out of context and took offense. Nicollette Sheridan? I haven’t seen apology the first.
So, uhhh, what gives? Either I missed the apology (my bad), or Sheridan is still swooning and couldn’t be reached for comment (all that manhood and poor Nicollette without her towel!), or the whole thing was the black guy’s fault. Beauty was jumped by the beast, and now the beast must atone. Shades of Janet Jackson and … who was that white guy again?
Back to the future …Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. Send comments to [email protected]