Once upon a time the Detroit Pistons were so good that they played games on Christmas Day. Usually those games were played in Chicago against Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
It was a blast covering those games in loud Chicago Stadium. The worst part came hours afterwards in a dark lonely hotel room off Wabash Ave in downtown Chicago. I often paced the room, feeling sorry for myself because I was not with family.
Margo Bailey. Miss Boots and Nearly Normal were the people I wanted to be with. If you hang around me or are related to me you get a nickname at some point.
The Pistons lost that game in 1990, 98-86 on a cold and snowy day.
I wrote my game story and had dinner with Boodini, the Free Press beat writer, and The Captain Dean Howe who wrote for Booth Newspapers, now known as MLive.
The streets of Chicago were deserted which added an eerie feel to our drive to the Marriott Hotel. We were hungry and were advised that the dining room would only be open an hour so the cooks and skeleton wait staff could enjoy time with family.
The three of us were the only ones in the restaurant. Our waitress was antsy, eager for us to complete our orders and worrying we might order something that required more time to cook. We didn’t.
After dinner we said our goodbyes on the elevator and retreated to our rooms.
I felt so alone, anxious and sad as I walked into my room. Yeah, I threw myself a pity party.
Why was I here? Who gave a shit about this game? Did my family miss me?
I opened the curtains to glance over the desolate city.
Then I saw something that changed my whole prospective on the road trip, Christmas, and the Pistons-Bulls game that afternoon. An old man with what appeared to be a tattered coat walked down Wabash Ave.
Maybe he was a guy going for a late stroll, tired of his holiday celebration with family. Maybe he was a businessman who needed a break from his hotel room.
The man walked toward garbage bins and began sifting through trash looking for food. He found some bread and prepared a sandwich. Chances are that he was homeless. He had no shelter, no family, no blankets to wrap himself into protect him from the cold.
My bitter attitude changed. I had a warm room to protect me from howling winds. I had a nice king size bed to snuggle in and plush blankets to keep me toasty. I had way more than this man although I was hundreds of miles from Margo Bailey and Miss Boot.
I lowered the lights, eased into bed and thought about this man. Was scrounging through the trash bins an everyday job? Did he have family who loved him?
I glanced out the window one more time, looking for the man. I saw no one. Everybody was with family, I assumed.
The next day my misery ended. I took the first jet out of Midway Airport and enjoyed a warm post -Christmas celebration with my family in Detroit.
I thought of that man quite often that season. Did he ever get to enjoy the embrace of family? Or enjoy the comfort of warm blankets?
Photo: © David C. Turnley, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Free Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC