Jan. 12, 2019 marked 1,000 days since a Detroit pro sports team won a playoff game, the worst such stretch of futility since 1978-84.
Detroit Free Press
Earlier this week, the Free Press ran a story ranking Detroit’s four professional sports teams’ chances at winning a championship. I didn’t participate because of the word “bump.”
In an email, the editors used that word to motivate us to get our picks in. I thought they were scraping the story — back in my short-order cooking days we used the word “bump” to scrap an order.
I’m old, I guess. Or at least older than I thought, which gave the editors a good laugh. Though at least I can cook; they can barely open a package of ramen. But never mind that.
In any case, here is my list:
The Detroit Lions. The Red Wings. The Tigers. The Pistons.
Now, now, I know what you’re thinking, that none of these teams have a chance. Not anytime soon, anyway. And you’re right.
Yes, the Lions have been stuck in a dungeon for decades.
But then again … of the four, the Lions are the only team that participate in a league where teams routinely climb from the basement quickly.
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And yet, if we’re focusing just on championships, and who has the best chance of winning one, we’re kinda missing the point.
“Not a fan of these exercises because they give in to the notion the only reason to consume sports is the pursuit of titles, but unpredictability of NHL and MLB postseasons makes this an easy call.”
I’m with Vince here. And before you say, “Vince covers the Pistons, what else is he supposed to say?” I’d say: When did we lose sight of all the reasons we like to watch sports?
In fact, we have a former NBA player to blame — Michael Jordan. Before he started winning, we watched because of the way he played.
It wasn’t always about the rings. His titles — all six of them — obviously shade how we view him now; how we remember him and talk about him and argue about him in the context of LeBron James.
More from Windsor: Why LeBron is the G.O.A.T., not Jordan
Yet before those rings, Jordan was a phenomenon. I remember it well. My freshman year at the University of Texas coincided with Jordan’s rookie year in Chicago. His Bulls played in San Antonio that spring.
A friend and I drove down from Austin to bear witness. Jordan dropped 38 points.
I don’t remember most of those points — I had to look up the total. But I do remember the feeling in HemisFair Arena. I’d never experienced anything like it. Every time Jordan got the ball, especially on the break, the crowd rose to its feet in anticipation of seeing something they hadn’t seen before.
It was new. It didn’t matter that Jordan played for the opposing team. Or that this was in the middle of a football state. Or that he’d only been in the NBA for four months.
We were there because Jordan was resetting the possibility of the human body. Of what it could do in flight. Of what grace and speed and power could look like in a setting where we thought we knew its limits.
Most cities, of course, don’t get the benefit of watching a cultural trendsetter up close every night. But most teams in most cities in all four leagues offer moments of escape.
Whether it’s Dylan Larkin rushing down the ice or Miguel Cabrera centering his bat or Kenny Golladay rising up on the sideline hauling in a pass or Blake Griffin learning how to run a team as a point-power forward.
None of these athletes are giving us what Jordan did. But they are giving us a version of it. And they are part of teams that give us stories.
Those stories are part of our identity. Those stories explain why grown men paint their faces, strap on fake Lions’ manes and howl from the seats of Ford Field for eight Sundays in the fall, no matter how often the Lions keep losing.
They keep coming back because of the chance to see something extraordinary, even if only for a moment. They come back for a chance at renewal, at redemption, and because they are connected to something larger than themselves.
Chasing championships may be the ultimate goal of front offices and even of athletes, but it can’t be the only goal. Teams and players go lifetimes without winning, which means there has to be something else.
More from Shawn Windsor:
So, yeah, sure, it’s fun to rank teams and think about where they are in relation to a championship parade. And as ridiculous as it sounds, I’d argue the Lions are the closest to getting there.
But then that’s relative, too. The Lions may be another half-century away from a Super Bowl.
That’s life. That’s also not enough reason to turn away. Because we are forever chasing moments.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.