Remember the Titans: UDM hoops can play key role for city in transition.

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( “Deee-troit Basketball!”

Thanks to the popular chant made famous by John Mason, a Detroit radio legend who doubles as the public address announcer for our city’s professional basketball team, the Detroit Pistons are known by basketball fans across the globe.

When the chant caught on—about a decade a ago—as the team competed for NBA championships, the Pistons’ front office saw the light and suddenly the franchise was rebranded. Today, the chant remains at the center of the team’s marketing efforts, but despite this strong identification with the city, truth be told, the Pistons have not regularly played games within the city limits of Detroit since the conclusion of the 1977-78 season—nearly 30 years ago. Does that sound like “Deee-troit Basketball”?

A case could be made that the real home of “Deee-troit Basketball!” is a special place smack dab in the center of northwest Detroit called Calihan Hall, which is home to the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) Titans.

While not necessarily a household name, even within its home city, African Americans everywhere can actually take a rooting interest in the Titans, given that UDM boasts an African American president, Antoine Garibaldi; an African American athletic director, Robert Vowels; and an African American men’s basketball coach, Ray McCallum.

At a time when many African Americans in major urban cities like Detroit are beginning to feel displaced, history tells us that UDM has a golden opportunity to provide hope to many people that feel left out of the city’s future plans.

When the Pistons made a “business decision” to depart Detroit and play home games in the cavernous Pontiac Silverdome—a facility designed for football—many local basketball fans hardly missed them because of the excitement taking place at Calihan Hall. During the 1970s, University of Detroit teams coached by Dick Vitale, and Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, UDM President later Dave Smokey Gaines (a Harlem Globetrotters legend) had our town buzzing. These squads showcased local African American talent, including future NBA players like Terry Tyler, John Long, Terry Duerod and Earl Cureton.

Those Titans played exciting basketball, won many games, and appeared in NCAA Tournaments during an era when it was much more difficult to receive an invitation to the “Big Dance.” But more than the great basketball was the spirit of empowerment that was in the air. I must admit that as a preteen at the time the word “empowerment” was not in my vocabulary yet. However, I was indeed empowered along with the other 8,000 or so hyped fans that flocked to the gym for big opponents like Michigan State, Marquette and Georgetown. Attendance at games versus far lesser opponents was high as well, and it was not driven by a catchy marketing slogan. It was far more real than that.

We gathered at this place on the campus of a respected Jesuit institution of higher learning and we experienced a sense of community. This was the spirit of “Deee-troit Basketball!” before it was called that, where people black, white and other of all faiths could come together, cheer for the true home team and have your humanity acknowledged. My takeaway as a sixth and seventh grader during this time was that college was cool, my city was cool, and I had something to be a part of in the future.

Hopefully the importance of reestablishing real, significant, grassroots relationships with Detroiters will be a part of the Robert Vowels UDM Athletic Directorconversation on Oct. 15 during a program called “Talkin’ Hoops in The D,” which will take place at UDM. The event is billed as “a night of basketball chatter” featuring Coach McCallum and Stan Van Gundy, head coach and president of basketball operations for the Pistons.

I want to be clear that Detroit basketball fans will always love the Pistons, and I certainly consider myself a Pistons fan. It does not matter where the Pistons play, because we will support the team to the best of our ability, even if regular visits to the Palace of Auburn Hills (the Pistons’ current home) are beyond some of our budgets. Therefore, any partnership between the Pistons and the UDM Titans should be applauded. But given UDM’s proximity to our people being right in the heart of the city; the affordability of UDM game tickets in comparison to prices at NBA arenas; and more importantly, the lasting, positive impact that attending an event on a college campus can have on youth, parents and people in general, it becomes very apparent that a strong relationship between the UDM basketball program and Detroit residents is a win-win for all.

The Pistons can maintain ownership of the “Deee-troit Basketball” chant—I wish them nothing but success in the upcoming NBA season—but bigger than the NBA are the many overlooked good people in our city, including many African American basketball fans, that are starving for something extra to feel good about in the coming months. The UDM basketball program may just be the ticket, but it will require a full-court-press effort to let the entire community know that Calihan Hall is still a welcoming place for all Detroiters. If executed correctly, history tells us that fans could flock back not in the hundreds, but in the thousands, and “Deee-troit,” the city, would be all the more stronger.

Staff Writer; Scott Talley

This talented journalist is owner of a public relations firm; Scott Talley & Associates, Inc….