Hoops win adds to new Motor City pride

Pistons' gritty teamwork resonates in a reviving city

Immediately after the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship this week, a telling ad came on the air: It featured Pistons players saying, "Celebrate our achievement with style and dignity. Remember, we're all in this together. This is Detroit's moment to shine. Let's show the world how we do it: Celebrate with dignity."

Detroit is hardly the only city that tries to keep post-victory celebrations from turning riotous, but this is a city of often-dashed hopes, one that desperately needed a moment to shine.

Stark contradictions have long held sway: The Motor City that turned into an icon of the Rust Belt. Parks that are beautiful, except that they are strewn with trash. The infamous 8 Mile Road that became a dividing line between a safe suburbia populated by whites and a gritty, largely black downtown. The home of a Renaissance Center that some people thought was named in jest.

So when the Piston's trounced the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers 100-87 before a home crowd, the ensuing celebration prompted some to assert that the Piston's blue-collar grit may symbolize something deeper - a Motor City comeback.

"The difference between Detroit 10 years ago and today is night and day," says David Naczycz of Detroit Synergy Group, an organization of city boosters. "Leaders and people in the community have worked hard and are finally seeing the fruits of their labors. We've turned around this huge ship that was headed in the wrong direction."

As the city basks in it's basketball success - albeit a victory scored in a stadium that's in nearby Auburn Hills - residents are hopeful about the rejuvenation in progress. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's Build Detroit initiative marks one of the biggest construction booms Detroit has seen in 50 years. His Motor City Makeover program is helping to clean up once-littered lots, drawing nearly 100,000 volunteers for spring trash pickups. Unemployment here, while still a bit above the national average, has fallen to 6.1 percent in April.

Many residents, indeed, see not garbage but potential.

Jennifer Graham, a clothing designer for Urbanity Clothing, envisions opening her own boutique in one of Detroit's up-and-coming neighborhoods someday. "I completely have faith in the city because it's distinct, contains so much culture, and is truly a very hip place. That's why I would love to open a boutique for my line downtown."

Chef Dan Smoglia and his wife, Marla, are also looking to buy in. "We'd love to open our own restaurant someday, a nice outdoor café, and the city is the place to do it."

Indeed, it's not the older members of Detroit's community who are pushing for its revitalization - it's largely the young. Many who are in college or have graduated, and in the past would have left town, are staying and adding fresh energy.

Whether in the arts or high-tech, college grads realize that it may be easier to lock in the job of their dreams in a less saturated and competitive town, than in a flooded market like New York or Los Angeles. "All of my friends moved to New York City after graduation, but I wanted to come back home and make a go of a writing career," says Ronit Feldman, a recent Syracuse University graduate who now lives in the rough Cass Corridor neighborhood. She's already landed several freelance jobs, which would have been harder to find in Manhattan.

Automation Alley, Southeast Michigan's regional technology cluster, is aiming to attract technology professionals and entrepreneurs to the region, including downtown.

Young people are lured not just by jobs but also by the entertainment. Eminem's band, D12, chose Detroit's State Theatre for an album-release party recently, not just because Detroit is its hometown but also because the band wants to make the city the hub of hip-hop. Kid Rock and the White Stripes have also buoyed the revival of Motown's music scene. If they succeed, it would benefit more than just the local music industry. It would help ingrain the idea that Detroit is, as Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's terms it, a "cool city."

All this doesn't mean there aren't still big challenges.

Jill Alonso, a mother and elementary school teacher in the suburban Avondale school district, worries about underfunding and years of mismanagement in the city's school system. "There have been problems, but they're working really hard to change that," with test scores now rising, she says.

Unlike cities such as Houston, Detroit has been long burdened by its failure to incorporate wider residential areas into the city. Detroit was never able to capture the suburban prosperity and harness it for tax revenue. Oakland County, which makes up Detroit's tony suburbs, is America's third-wealthiest county.

But even as the city strives for an economic comeback, the Piston's seemed to point this city's way with a hardscrabble brand of teamwork that overcame even the star-studded Laker lineup.

"We did it the right way: working hard, working together," said Joe Dumars, the team's president of basketball operations.

"We have a great opportunity in front of us right now with all of the national exposure," says Michelle Fusco of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's our opportunity to show the rest of the world that they should take a second look at Detroit."

Detroit will get to show the world its style and dignity again: It will host baseball's 2005 All-Star Game, the 2006 Super Bowl, and the NCAA basketball Final Four games in 2009.

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