VIDEO FEATURE: Garza Family “Detroit Is Our First Love, Our Dream Come True…”
There’s a mantle in Detroit sports some athletes reach that even the hall of fame can’t quite commend. Where hard work, dedication and no plays off can mean just as much as All-Star appearances, championships and awards. But some less heralded players have been able to carve out a place within the fabric of Detroit sports and the state of Michigan based on how they represented and connected with the community.
There are many who’s stories will be told from players like Nate Burleson to Golden Tate, Lindsey Hunter, to Dave Bing, Chris Chelios to Alan Trammell, but I wanted to start this series with a family that’s made a profound impact on my young career in this industry.
The Garza Family, former Detroit Piston Luka and his father Frank made a point to connect with fans, on a genuine and authentic level to include us along the journey. And that they did from sharing content, coverage and media of some of the Pistons top influencers, to using picture requests as an opportunity to talk life, basketball and the city.
With Luka focused on staying ahead of all the odds against him making it to the NBA, “papa” Frank continued to share the workouts, answer fan questions and uplifting messages.
I refer to them as Frank-ism designed to positively stir the soul.
The Garza’s struck me as authentic showing the power and beauty of a family staying, praying, working hard and succeeding together.
As a relatively young father, I was enamored by the connection and camaraderie they shared. But I was even more impressed with how the Garza’s used their blessings and platform to help others.
They had the same type of impact during Luka’s time as a student-athlete basketball player for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Frank became something sort of a legend based on the same authenticity we got to know from them in Detroit.
The COVID-19 Pandemic began to shudder a lot of the normal during Luka’s first season in the NBA. Including individual workouts with many gyms closed due to health and safety precaution at the time. And if you were familiar with the Garza’s before this time, you know how important their workouts were.
Many of the pre-draft reports were that Luka Garza was a long shot to make it to the NBA. A dream his father Frank couldn’t grasp after his college basketball days, which was inspiration enough during Luka’s attempt.
This is where the unbreakable bond between the Garza’s and Detroit’s Dove Academy began.
Though Luka as an NBA player could enter team facilities, Frank wouldn’t be able too. This endangered their routines as well as workouts they’d run pre and post Pistons official activities.
Remember, the NBA wasn’t supposed to be in the works for Luka. That meant working hard, and then some, is all he knew which so finding a gym to work was paramount.
The Garza’s made a lot of local connections in a short while living in Detroit and some connected to the Dove Academy were able to satisfy the need. Some friends they made were able to introduce them administrators at the school who ensured peak safety precautions. So Luka, and “papa” Frank were able to continue working to keep the dream alive and burning.
Luka was also seeking a partner school to start his reading programs with in the city, and give back the community he was now a member.
So it was a match made in heaven, or “our first love” as Frank referred to Dove Academy. “We don’t know them, but they were so sweet.”
It proved their intuition right about who the people do Detroit were.
Luka as a Piston
Luka Garza averaged 5.8 points on 45% shooting to go with 3.1 rebounds on 44% in 12.2 minutes per game with the Pistons. He routinely brought all out energy with a never back down attitude in every single game including his time in the G-League.
Garza helped the Motor City cruise reach the playoffs in their inaugural season with tough rugged play. One immortalized moment came when Garza sustained a hit to the head and finished the play with blood running down his face. It’s just the type of player Luka has always shown himself to be, which made him a perfect type when talking the Detroit mold.
That no days off and take every shift available mentality is something Detroit knows well and what drew their attention to Luka.
One of his best Pistons moments came against the San Antonio Spurs on New Year’s Day 2022. The team was extremely short handed and called up 6 or 7 members of the Motor City Cruise to play, including Luka. This wasn’t even supposed to be competitive as the only Pistons available that fans knew were Hamidou Diallo and Saddiq Bey.
Luka got the start at center which came with 40 minutes and a lot to prove. He scored 20 points 58% shooting and 14 rebounds which included 9 on the offensive board. The Spurs had a tough time matching up with his always on motor and the Pistons beat the Spurs 117-116 with a big game from Diallo who scored 34 points.
Garza’s spark and heart has continued to keep his NBA dream alive and well as he continues on the journey.
— Brandon Dent | @WoodwardSports #DetroitKoolAid (@DetroitKoolAid) January 4, 2022
But after one hard fought season the path in Detroit came to an abrupt end on the court. But they desired to keep it going off the court, despite still chasing NBA dreams in other cities.
The Garza’s desire to building relationships and continuing endeavors in Detroit even after things didn’t work out with the Pistons spoke volumes.
The impact that the city made on the Garza family in their short time here as Pistons and Motor City Cruise family traveling around and interacting with anybody would give them an opportunity, they just couldn’t shake it.
Luka has remained in close contact with his former Pistons teammates and even honored some. When given the opportunity he selected Saban Lee and Frank Jackson with his first two picks in the G-League’s All-Star game in conjunction with NBA All-Star Weekend. These were his teammates both with the Pistons and the Cruise in which he still holds deep connections with.
Luka got the opportunity to see what Detroit thought of him when the Minnesota Timberwolves visited Little Caesars Arena. Fans continued to shout Lukas name all game and I was able to capture his end game march to the visitors locker room. The serenade of cheers and even some calls of hoping for his returns brought a smile to Luka’s face and warmed Frank’s heart.
I sent that video to Frank and he replied “I felt the love and let them (the fans) know it just absolutely touched me.”
The Impact of Detroit City
”From the moment we got there (Detroit), just coming off the plane people were all so welcoming,” Frank Garza said. “I knew better (than believing negative stereotypes of Detroit) traveling in the Big Ten at Iowa.”
So they looked forward to the love and adoration hard working players received from this town. They knew about this city and it’s true reputation, rather than the played out narratives of a bankrupt Detroit.
“The fans here love, love their teams,” Frank emphasized.
He remarked how they’re experiencing living on the boulevard to “hanging out at Stella’s for Coffee, it blew us (Frank and Luka) away.
They have continued to support Dove Academy and are planning basketball camps in Detroit. Frank eluded they’re armed with showing love to a city that’s only loved on them.
“We’re not going away,” Frank exclaimed. “It’s so much opportunity here and I believe in the city.”