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November 11, 1993 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-11-11

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4- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, November 11, 1993
Mitch Albom on basketball, trash talk and the American Dream

By WILL MATTHEWS
Philosopher William James believed that one
could understand the normal by studying the ab-
normal. This could be translated into an analogy
about sports writing - one can understand the
ordinary by studying the extraordinary. In other
words, sports writing, at its best, can serve as a
window into the most elusive ofnatures-human
nature.
Mitch Albom, nationally syndicated sports
writer for the Detroit Free Press and author of
several books, including this week's Warner
Books' release "Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk,
and the American Dream," is just such a writer.
Albom's easy-going, vernacular style, as well as
his focus on the players and their lives, has earned
him a name in both sports writing and journalism.
"Human nature is an essential element in my
column," he explained in a recent interview. "So
is humor. So is the fact that this is still just a game
and there are a lot of times when you're just
supposed to laugh about it."
Originally, Albom had no plans of being a
sports writer. In college at Brandeis University
and at Berkeley, he studied music, concentrating
on a performance major in piano. After gradua-
tion, he spent time in Europe as, among other
things, a night club singer on the island of Crete.
"I was anight club singer and piano player and
I sang the rock 'n' roll songs with what had to be
a Greek band, which was an interesting combina-
tion," he recalled. "I lived in a bungalow. They
paid me a fortune, I was alittle celebrity on the isle
of Crete. Slept all day in the sun and went scuba
diving and all that kind of stuff and then at night
I was singing with a band, singing Elvis songs. I
think some of the people thought it was original
material. I mean Crete is pretty remote. I think
they thought I made it up."
After Europe, Albom went to New York City
to try his hand at the music business, and eventu-
ally got involved in newspapers. "I did the whole
starving artist routine," he explained. "[After] two
or three years of that you get a little tired... takes

a lot of luck. So I wanted to get into something that
took a little less luck but was still creative. So I
decided this journalism thing would be good."
Albom worked at a New York weekly for six
months on no salary, gaining experience and a
portfolio. When he enrolled at Columbia to con-
tinue his education, he needed money for tuition
and was willing to take any job he could get; his
first prospect was Sports Magazine.
Though originally his interest was writing
about social issues, sports writing gradually be-
gan to dominate his portfolio. "Every time I would
try to get a different type of work they would say
'Well, sports seems to be your forte, why don't
you do that?' and I was in no position to turn down
employment. So I said yes and pretty soon I had
this whole volume of sports work that eventually
lead to my first [full-time] job ... I wasn't even
applying for ajob as a sports writer, but they gave
me the job and I've been in it ever since." After
working at several newspapers on the East Coast
and one in Florida, he eventually ended up at the
Detroit Free Press - as a sports writer.
Working in Detroit, it was only inevitable that
one of the nation's leading sports writers would
get involved in one of sports' most unique and
emotional stories - that of Michigan's Fab Five.
"My initial idea on that was to write a book
about being famous young, and I saw these five
guys come in already famous before they ever got
here," he said.
"I thought this would be a good opportunity to
follow them through college and their experience.
I basically did that through the two years they
were here and then the book grew - I mean, that
book is nothing if it's not about people and what
it's like tobe in the spotlight... what it's like to be
a Black student at a primarily white university,
what it's like to have sort of playground style but
on national television where they cluck their
tongues at you and say, 'You know, you shouldn't
do that,' but by the same token you know that's
what makes you great. All those kind of conflicts
going back and forth."

"[Or] someone like Steve Fisher who came
from a small town in Illinois, primarily white, to
be coaching five kids, five young freshman from
the inner-cities, most of them. What it's like for
existing players who have been there and thought
that they were going to have their moment now as
juniors and seniors, suddenly have to move aside
to make room for the freshmen. It's very human
and talks about very simple emotions - ego,
fame, resentment, heroism, excitement, gratitude,
lack of gratitude, jealousy, exuberance of
youth... [the book] is all about human emotions."
The prologue to the book is indicative of the
human lens through which Albom approached his
subject. It begins at the State Theatre in downtown
Detroit, where Chris Webber is throwing a party
for his teammates, friends, supporters and fans in
celebration of his new career in NBA basketball
on the day of the NBA draft pick. He then cuts
directly to senior guard Michael Talley at his
home, accepting the fact that he was overlooked in
the draft pick, and that his dreams of the NBA are
dimming."This is a story about extremes," writes
Albom in the prologue, "City meeting suburbs,
veterans meeting rookies, white meeting black,
noise meeting quiet. It's a story about the Greatest
Class Ever Recruited in college basketball, the
Fab Five, and how a group like them will never
come along again."
Through the lens of college sports, Albom
writes a book that exposes not only the lives and
nature of extraordinary athletes, but the delicacies
of human nature as well. Above all, Albom ex-
plains, it is a story with elements of drama and
humor that reveals people and their relation to the
American dream.
"It's a great story, whether you like college
basketball ornot-it'sjust a great story. Five kids
come from all over the country, each one of them
being told that they were the greatest thing that
their high schools had ever seen and suddenly
they're all on one team and there's only one ball
and what happens to thatdynamic when you can't
all be the superstar. That's what it's about."

S

Mitch Albom used to be a night club singer. Picture him in a powder blue tux.

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SLAM
Continued from page 1
responds the way I want them to.
(Then I know) I've hit the nail right
on the head."
Stebleton acknowledges that the
type of poetry appropriate for the
jAnn Arbor Civic Theatre
Second Stage Productions
AT ONA
HOT T IN
OOF
by Tennessee Williams
directed by Anne Kolaczkowski Magee
November 4-20,1993
Thurs dmSat. 8:00p.m.
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Poetry Slam might notv
forums. "You have af
audience, who like tot
poems are going to be
drinking," he explaine
are going to hear protes
political undertones."
In the slam's protes
buzz word seems to be
nasty, profane wash-you
with-soap word that you
spellcheck. YourEnglis
have told you it cannot b
poetry, but some local,
have to disagree. "I'll u
words I think sound righ
are a lot of swears, thent
of swears," Cormier sta
And swearhe does. W
for language and unint
choice, Cormier remode
Haiku, the five-seven-
pattern we alllearned inl
"Ernie Harell, you craz
me down to Memphis.
and "Clandestine me
Christ and Uncle San
tongues and screw" exem

gets to heart of rhyme
work in other lyrics that your fifth grade teacher
fairly literate would probably be hesitant to repeat.
drink, so the If Cormier's Haikus don't sound
e on sex and like poetry to you, it may be because
d. "You also his work is about performance, not
t poetry with just words. A skilled musician in gui-
tar, drums, and bass, Cormier has an
st poetry, the ear for rhythm and a pension for per-
"fuck," that forming - both which add to his
ir-mouth-out- slam performances. "It seems like the
won'tfindin most surface thing, but poetry needs
h teachermay to be entertaining at some level,"
e considered Cormier stated.
poets would Poets have different styles of en-
use whatever tertaining. Cormier bangs on himself
ht and if there with his hands and becomes a "hu-
there are a lot man percussion machine." Stebleton,
ted. also a drummer, uses unique subjects
with his knack and his distinguished, theatrical voice.
hibited word Steve Marsh delivers a "Condom
els the classic Rap," which relates the dangers of
five syllable unprotected sex through humor. Some
grade school. poets scream and yell, while others
y fucker. Ride dance, play harps, repeat nonsensical
Hee Haw!" words or dance wildly around stage.
eting, Jesus Only at the Poetry Slam, and that's
in exchange what makes slamming, well, unique.
nplify his raw When you go to read poetry at the
Heidelberg, chances are nobody will
ask you how many credits of English
you have under your belt. Nobody
will care if your metaphors are incon-
sistent or if your fluorescent orange
shirt clashes with yourfavorite pairof
bowling shoes. This poetry is about
ti performance, but not about appear-
ance. This slam is not just a poetry
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whale of a good time.
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