Kaid Benfield Archive


Go Spartans

Kaid Benfield

Posted April 6, 2009 at 3:29PM

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Everyone who knows me personally knows that I am a passionate college basketball fan.  And tonight I will be rooting for the Spartans of Michigan State to bring home the national championship in Detroit.

It's natural to root for the underdog, of course, and the Spartans will certainly be that.  Their opponent, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, have the best team in the country and, in my opinion, can't really be beaten when they are playing at their best.  Magic Johnson congratulates the Spartans (by: Chris Chambers)But, like every team, sometimes they don't always play their best; and sometimes the underdog gets ridiculously lucky. 

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should report that I root especially for two teams:  the Duke University Blue Devils, the team of my wife's alma mater and North Carolina's arch-rival, and the Hoyas of Georgetown, where I went to law school and who knocked UNC out of the tournament in an improbable upset two years ago.  It was a glorious night.

But I don't really hate the Tar Heels.  I really like their homespun coach, Roy Williams, who happened to grow up just a few miles away from me in North Carolina.  And you'd have to be nuts not to enjoy watching the Heels' electrifying guard, Ty Lawson.  Heck, I'm not sure I even hate Tyler Hansbrough, the UNC center who has managed to take more free throws than any other player in college basketball history.  Now, he does shuffle his feet when he has the ball, and never gets called for it, perhaps because the refs are too distracted watching him flailing his arms at his opponent in the hopes of getting yet another foul called and yet another trip to the free throw line.  And he also flops like a pancake when he's on defense.  So he's sort of easy to root against, but he's the only one, really.

Meanwhile, I couldn't tell you the name of a single Michigan State player.

But the reason my rooting for them elevates to something worthy of a blog post is because Detroit and the state of Michigan need this.  Writing on the Sustainable Cities Collective blog, Aaron Renn summarizes the plight:

"Out-migration from Michigan is not just an effect of the poor economy there, but has also become one of its causes. Growth has its own particular logic. It feeds on itself. So too with decline. It begets more decline. Reversal will not be easy . . . The demographic challenge facing Michigan is huge:

  • A net of 109,000 people left Michigan last year
  • Since 2001, Michigan lost 465,000 people to migration - as much as the population of Grand Rapids, Warren, and Sterling Heights (the second, third, and fourth largest cities in the state after Detroit) combined. 'Population loss of that magnitude is so rare that its impact has never been studied.'
  • Those departing are disproportionately educated and higher income. The state lost a net of 18,000 people with college degrees in 2007 alone. Half of Michigan's college grads leave the state a year after graduation. The largest single city for Michigan State alumni is now Chicago. 'It's just like being back at Michigan State' says one of the people who moved there.
  • People leaving earned $49,700. Those who moved in, only $40,000. This represented a payroll loss in the state of $1.2 billion in 2007 alone - with an additional $3.7 billion in indirect effects.
  • a distraught neighborhood in Detroit ( (c)Alex S. Maclean/Landslides)The departure is putting downward pressure on housing prices, reducing tax collections, and making it difficult for the state and its communities to invest in improvement."

I wrote about the woes of Detroit itself just a few days ago.  So the surprising ascent of the Spartans to the championship game, being held right there in the Motor City, has given the city and the state a lift.  Here's John Feinstein, writing for The Washington Post:

"This has become a joy ride, not just for this basketball team, but for a city and a state that has known almost nothing but heartache in the past year. Ford Field was predictably packed with people in green and white Saturday night [for the semifinal game] and even in the cavernous confines of this massive building, it was apparent all evening that they were very much along for this ride . . .

"[Spartans coach Tom] Izzo has spoken emotionally about how this Final Four run is like no other he has been involved with. He has talked to his players often about bringing happiness to people desperately in need of something to feel good about.

"'We've talked about the fact that just by being in the Final Four we're bringing hope to a lot of people who have had tough times,' point guard Travis Walton said. 'We've felt all week like we were bringing some joy to Detroit.'"

Do it one more time, guys.