During my younger days I was playing in the media division of the Gus Macker basketball tournament at Eastern Michigan University and things were not going well.
I’d just made the controversial decision to leave the Detroit Free Press for the Detroit News. I played on the News team and we were getting our butts kicked, 18-12, by the Freep team. It was bad and some of the spectators were making fun of our team. One of the Freep players said “I am really enjoying this ass kicking,”
But then I heard a lone voice from the crowd.
“This game is not over. T is not going down like this.”
The lone voice was that of Cliff Russell who always believed in me. His words motivated me and I went on a scoring binge and we won 23-21. I am sad to report that Russell, 61, is dead. A giant void in the Detroit media has been created by his passing. He was not a giant of a man but he was a giant. Russell was the first black press secretary for the Detroit mayor’s office and Major League Baseball’s first black senior director of communications for the Detroit Tigers.
He had a radio show on 910 AM and was the radio voice of the University of Detroit Titans basketball team.
He played basketball at Texas El Paso and became a Hall of Fame basketball player at Wayne State University.
When Mike Ilitch was ready to spend money and compete in baseball Russell convinced Ilitch that I was the best person to tell the story first. He arranged a one on one interview on a Saturday afternoon in Ilitch’s Comerica Park office. After a two-hour interview I wrote the first story of the Tigers willing to spend and compete.
Ilitch kept his word and turned the sad sack Tigers into a contender.
Once again Russell believed in me to tell the story.
Russell was a really, really good guy who loved Detroit, Detroit history and could educate anyone about black history.
We bantered about me appearing on his radio show. Russell suffered several heart attacks and I had a stroke two years ago. We thought it would be a good idea to swap stories about life style changes and how to help others obtain good health.
Sadly, that show never happened.
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