Leland Stein III

Posts Tagged ‘Detroit’

Ilitch leaves a noteworthy footprint in Detroit beyond sports

In sports column on February 13, 2017 at 12:57 am
ilitch-title-tigers

Mike Ilitch hoist the American League pennant trophy as his Tigers head to the World Series. Dan Graschuck – photo

By Leland Stein III

Detroit Tigers and Red Wings owner Michael Ilitch recently passed at age 87. He may be gone physically from us, but his legacy and works will keep him in sports lore.

In 2011 ESPN the Magazine released its annual “Best in Sports” rankings and when it came to pro franchise owners, Ilitch was ranked #1. The rankings were reportedly based on honesty, commitment to the community and loyalty to core players.

As I think of great owners in sports, two men quickly come to mind. When I was snotty-noised journalist trying to come up in L.A., surprisingly to me Al Davis (Oakland & Los Angeles Raiders) and Dr. Jerry Buss (Los Angeles Lakers) became my personal advocates and helped me gain traction in the industry, by ensuring I got inclusion, as I was transitioning from engineering to a journalism career.

Any talk of great owners in sports should yield George Halas, Chicago Bears (1920-1983); Ted Turner, Atlanta Braves (1976-2007); George Steinbrenner, New York Yankees (1973-2010); Walter O’Malley, Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers (1944-1979); Robert Kraft, New England Patriots (1994-present); Pittsburgh Steelers owners Art Rooney and son (1933-present), Dan, who took over in 2003 and was the linchpin for the “Rooney Rule, and finally my guys Buss and Davis.

All these men were winners and understood continuity, their athletes and each sieged the moment in front them.

To Ilitch’s credit he tried to siege the moment in front of him during his ownership, not sparing anything, including money, to put both his Tigers and Red Wings in positions to win.

But what puts him up in the top rung of owners is his commitment to the community and the actions he took to make Detroit a better city.

A few years back I wrote a column beseeching, cajoling Detroit’s movers and shakers to seek to make the Motor City a national sports entertainment district.

In my 29-years as a journalist, one of the most amazing transformations I have seen is the cities of San Antonio and Indianapolis. Both were little towns with nothing going on in their downtown, each had minimal restaurants, hotels and entertainments venues.

However both San Antonio and Indianapolis built basketball and football venues and all the hotels and entertainment facilities soon followed.

I think Ilitch saw what I saw in those two smaller cities that were both seeking to define themselves. Each city recognized and acknowledged the walkable sports entertainment future direction and took massive steps to regenerate themselves in that genre.

Building basketball, football and baseball facilities in downtown have worked for both San Antonio and Indianapolis and each city have seen their downtown explode.

Unfortunately Ilitch did not live to see his Little Caesars Arena open. But he can take refuge in the fact that unlike San Antonio and Indianapolis, Motown has all four professional sports franchises, and, they are in walking distance from each other.

Ilitch in his plans for the Detroit District has committed to not only a new basketball and hockey arena, but the redevelopment plans include a posh hotel, medical center, retail shops and residential housing.

“It’s always been my dream to once again see a vibrant downtown Detroit,” said Ilitch in an early interview. “From the time we bought the Fox Theatre, I could envision a downtown where the streets were bustling and people were energized. It’s been a slow process at times, but we’re getting there now and a lot of great people are coming together to make it happen. It’s going to happen and I want to keep us moving toward that vision.”

Indeed Ilitch believed that a sports and walkable entertainment district would collectively help Detroit’s renovation and place the city in rotation for hosting the mega-sporting events like the Final Four, Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend and many other sports and entertainment events.

Maybe, just maybe the addition of Little Caesars Arena could be the linchpin that will even further thrust Detroit into the sports entertainment rotation of major sporting events.

The Motor City is the only cold weather city to host two Super Bowls, and, it has also recently been host to the Final Four and Major League Baseball All-Star Game. With the new arena the NBA and NHL All-Star Games are sure to make their way here.

Ilitch’s commitment to Detroit is noteworthy. Not only has it been sports, but he showed where his heart is attached when he and his wife, Marian, took a chance on the historic but neglected Fox Theatre when they purchased it in 1987. They restored the 5,000-seat theatre built in 1928 to its original splendor.

It did not stop there as the Ilitches commissioned an extraordinary renovation of the adjacent 10-story Fox office building in 1989, relocating its suburban offices staff, and established a world headquarters for their Pizza Company and Olympia Entertainment, Inc. in the transformed office building.

Since then, the theatre district has seen a rebirth marked by the opening of other restored theatres and new restaurants, and the building of two side-by-side stadiums for the Detroit Tigers and Lions.

In all the Ilitches own Little Caesar Pizza, Olympia Entertainment, Olympia Development, Champion Foods, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fundraising Program and the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, as well as, the Motor City Casino.

Mike Ilitch may have transitioned to the afterlife, but his life’s works here in Detroit will live on and on and on and on.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com and Twitter @LelandSteinIII

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Gholston earns playing time in Tampa Bay

In sports column on November 25, 2013 at 4:10 am
WILLIAM GHOLSTON (# 2) making mark in NFL – Dan Graschuck photo

WILLIAM GHOLSTON (# 2) making mark in NFL – Dan Graschuck photo

Detroiter representing PSL.

By Leland Stein III

DETROIT – When Detroiters – tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston – and running back Le’Veon Bell left Michigan State University to enter the NFL Draft, all knew the Spartans would miss this trio.

The Spartans have, but they have continued to push on, winning the Big Ten Legends Division, and have earned the right to play the Ohio State Buckeyes for the Big Ten title.

When the three Spartans announced they were forgoing their senior seasons, it marked the first time Michigan State has had multiple underclassmen enter the NFL Draft since 1999, when defensive end Dimitrius Underwood and running back Sedrick Irvin left East Lansing.

Leland Stein IIIBell with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sims with the Miami Dolphins and Gholston with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all are making the transition to professional football.

In particular, recently at Ford Field I caught up with former Detroit Southeastern High star, Gholston, in the joyous Buccaneers’ locker room.

With a giant smile on his face Gholston and his teammates rejoiced following its third consecutive victory. This one was an improbable 24-21 upset over a Lions team that has playoff aspirations.

Tampa Bay, just playing every game with nothing to lose, now sits at 3-8, while the Lions fell to 6-5.

“We are happy to being playing good enough to get this thing back on track,” exclaimed Gholston. “We went through some adversity early in the season, but this group has hung together and shone some grit.”

Also showing some grit is Gholston. He came to a Tampa bay team whose strength is a solid young cast of defensive linemen. Gholston had to wait his turn, especially since the team was mired in a prolonged early season losing streak.

“This is a great group of defensive linemen,” Gholston noted. “With a Pro Bowl type player like Gerald McCoy setting the example we are getting better. He has taken me and the other rookies under his wing and never misses an opportunity to help us or give words of encouragement.”

Gholston told me he started slowly in part because he was used to “playing in a five technique,” so he had to learn the nuances of the “four technique.”

He added: “It took me some time to change the way I had learned the game, but now I feel like I’ve got it. Also, the hardest part about moving to the NFL is the mental part of the game. I felt physically I was ready, but I had to understand the ways of being a professional football player, and, everything that comes with that.

“I’ve dedicated myself to just concentrating on football and not hanging out and all that other stuff. Also, I came in with a 17% body fat ratio, and I’ve got it down to 10%.”

Indeed, he has an NFL body. Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing a solid 281 pounds, the Southeastern and MSU star is not out of place in an NFL locker room.

“It feels great to be healthy,” Gholston shared. “As you know, all most all my time at MSU I was playing hurt. I really believe that MSU helped prepare me for the NFL though. In college we looked at it as a business and had fun too. I’m keeping that same prospective here in Tampa.”

Gholston said that he has followed every MSU game this season. “The Spartans are rolling,” he unleased. “They are playing that smash-mouth defense that we started. I still text the defensive linemen. It is going to be a heck of a game in the championship against Ohio State; I wish I could be there supporting my guys!”

Gholston twice earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and in his junior year led the Spartans in tackles for loss (13 for 49 yards), sacks (4.5 for 24 yards) and pass break-ups (10). His 10 pass break-ups ranked first among NCAA FBS defensive linemen.

McCoy said about the rookie: “Gholston is a hard worker. He comes to me for advice and is eager to learn and make himself a better player. Once he learns all the little things about defensive line play in the NFL, he’s going to be a beast. He’s a bull and is quick and strong.”

Former Ohio State and now New York Giants rookie defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, who played at Southeastern with Gholston, forming one of the Detroit Public School League’s greatest defensive line pairs, are inspiration for each other.

“Big Hank is my guy!” exclaimed Gholston. “We talk to each constantly. We motivate and uplift each other. We both are trying to learn to be pros’ pros.”

I’ve known these men since high school and have watched their maturation. It is no doubt they both will traverse the mind field that is professional sports, and, find their place as productive and character driven athletes.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

Back home, Jones impresses

In sports column on August 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Detroiter anchors Lion’s defense in win over Patriots

By Leland Stein III

The Detroit Lions’ defense was a question mark as the team began its preparations for the 2013 campaign. However, following its second preseason victory, a surprising 40-9 thumping of the lordly New England Patriots at Ford Field, hope again runs eternal for all the Lions faithful.

Detroit's Jason Jones at Lions press conference. – Dan Graschuck photo

Detroit’s Jason Jones at Lions press conference. – Dan Graschuck photo

With the Lions’ offense still sputtering, the defense took center stage against the Patriots, creating four crucial turnovers. Surprisingly, but happily, the linchpin of that effort was Detroiter Jason Jones.

Departed from the Lions defensive line were both starting defensive ends from the 2012 squad – Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. So, the concern about what would happen there was all too real.

Jones, a Southfield-Lathrup High and Eastern Michigan University alum, has stepped into the void and produced. Signed as a free agent, the 6-foot-5, 275 pounder, could become the pass rusher the Lions so desperately need.

After a stellar career at EMU, Jones was drafted in the second round (54th overall) in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. Injuries kept him from being the best he could be, and, eventually he left the Titans and signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks for the 2012 season.

At Jones’ Lions signing press conference, he told reporters that lining up next to Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh should make both of them better.

Leland Stein

The Southfield product, now a six-year veteran said he was delighted to be back home playing in from of friends and family, with a chance to help make the Lions a competitive NFL entity.

“It’s going to benefit me a lot,” Jones said, about playing next to Suh. “All eyes are going to be on him with what he’s done and his track record in the league. It’s just my job to make some plays and play off him.”

Concurred Lions coach Jim Schwartz: “Jones has got great length, he weighs over 280 pounds, which is a big difference from a lot of defensive ends that we’ve had here. However, he’s not sacrificing speed or agility because of it. There is speed and agility that you have to have to be a defensive end and he has that.

“He also gives us a frame with super long arms. He should be able to help us in the pass rush game and should affect throws even if he doesn’t win in pass rush because of his length and be able to knock passes down.”

Everything Schwartz said manifested itself in the New England game. Jones was a beast, playing the position like a Pro-Bowler.

Jones led the way in the Lions impressive four-turnover outing against a potential Super Bowl team like the Patriots. After the game he noted: “That’s what we know we can do. We try to get the ball out in practice every day. Coming into this game we knew we had a pretty good challenge ahead of us. New England has a pretty good offense and they use a lot of things out there. We wanted to come out, set the tone and play aggressive out there, especially playing at home. We always want to be aggressive and we got four turnovers which is great for our defense.”

Yeah it was great to see the Lions beat New England, but the preseason really means nothing in the race to the NFL Playoffs. Still, any coach or fan or player will tell you they want to see their team win every time they line up.

On the momentum from the win carrying over, Jones said: “We don’t want to look back to two years ago and we don’t want to look too far in the future but two years ago we played here and had a very similar outcome and we went to the playoffs. Every year we put on pads we think we know mentally and physically that we are able to get to the playoffs but it’s about going out there and doing it. I definitely think this year with the chemistry of the team we will be able to go out there and perform.”

With a three-year contract in hand, Jones said he wants to be more than a football player and do all that he can to uplift the Detroit area. He has a good track record while in Tennessee, being a big part of the Coaches Association of the Brotherhood (C.A.O.T.B.) organization.

He noted that the group’s purpose was through charitable and educational events, they could help address the youth by mentoring, instructional and sports programs, while working with the juvenile detention systems as well.

Jones is a much need asset to the Lions and the Detroit Metro area, too.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

Banks holding down Kronk boxing lore

In sports column on February 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm

By Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein IIIBy Leland Stein II

The Motor City boxing scene has been on the international map for many, many years. Starting with the Brewster Center and legends Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Emanuel Steward.

Later Steward lorded over the most famous boxing club in the world, Kronk. Out of that mix came Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty and the McCory brothers, just to mention a very few.

Now on February 17th on live HBO Boxing, Detroit’s own Johnathon Banks, will be seeking to keep the magical Motown fisticuffs front and center in the international boxing discourse.

“We may not have a Kronk boxing facility since Emanuel’s passing,” Banks said, “but this February people will see the spirit of Kronk is still alive and making history.”

Banks works the speed bag. – Dan Graschuck photo

Banks works the speed bag. – Dan Graschuck photo

Banks, pepped at Detroit Western International Academy, graduating in 2000. With his size and obvious athletic ability, he could have played any sport in high school, but boxing was always in his blood.

“When I went down to the Brewster Center at a very young age,” Banks said, “and learned the history that had been made there, I was a fan of boxing forever. I started boxing as a kid and never wanted to do anything else. I did run cross country at Western, but that helped me with my boxing conditioning.”

Banks again proves that when a person has a true vision for themselves, he or she generally put everything into that dream and in most cases are better directed and focused at a young age.

“As I kept training, I finally met Emanuel, and he turned my life around in this business,” Banks exclaimed. “After Emanuel became my trainer, he started taking me to fighter camps like (Lennox) Lewis’, and, he hooked me up with Wladimir (Klitschko) whom I took over as his trainer following Emanuel’s death.”

The fact of the matter is in less than a month after Emanuel’s death, on Nov. 12th in Hamburg, Germany, Banks was in world champion Klitschko’s corner as head trainer.

Next Banks (31-1-1) claimed into the ring to contest undefeated Seth Mitchell, a former linebacker at Michigan State University, on November 17, 2012 in Atlantic City. He shocked the boxing world producing a second-round knockout over highly regarded Mitchell.

With that title Banks is now currently W.B.C International and N.A.B.O Heavyweight Champion. He has the unique distinction of being the only boxer in history to train the reigning World Heavyweight Champion to a successful title defense, and a week later compete for his own heavyweight title and win in stunning knockout fashion.

Concerning the double duty as a heavyweight champion and world-class trainer, Banks feels he is a natural for it

“I was taught by Emanuel and some other great coaches,” Banks relayed. “I have the ability to teach and being a good trainer is a job of teaching. A person could be a great or average fighter, but none of that will automatically transfer to a person being a great trainer.

“I think what Wladimir saw in me was that I was always looking at him to explore his best and natural assets. While some trainers try to make a fighter fit into their style, I try to fit into the fighter’s style. I’ve always been eager to help guys out and help them reach their full potential. Inside and outside the ring I try to live like that.”

Banks has always had the magic touch when it came to boxing, and, he said that is what Emanuel saw and helped bring out in him. Prior to turning pro, Banks enjoyed a great amateur career that saw him become a three-time National Amateur Champion at 178 lbs.

He went on to become IBO Cruiserweight Champion and now the heavyweight crown. Now in mid-February Banks says he ready to show the world that win was the real deal and to keep the memory of Kronk alive.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

Proposed Ilitch Downtown Detroit arena could be linchpin for area.

In sports column on December 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Detroit a sports entertainment venue, get Ilitch development done

Ford Field hosted Super Bowl and Comerica hosted MLB All-Star Weekend.

Ford Field hosted Super Bowl and Comerica hosted MLB All-Star Weekend.

By Leland Stein III

Wake up Detroit movers and shakers! This is a crucial time that calls for bold moves and long-term vision, not only for Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, but the entire state.

Now that the Ilitch organization has finally put it out on the table their vision for building a new entertainment district downtown anchored by a multipurpose arena that would be home to the Ilitch-owned Red Wings, and hopefully the Pistons, I say make it happen with the quickness.

As Detroit continues to dig itself out of the economic disaster of 2007 that sent the city, state, country and the auto industry on a precarious and uncertain future, this proposed venue would give the Motor City an enormous shot in the arm.

All of Detroit leaders need to look at transformation Indianapolis and San Antonio undergone. Two smaller cities that were both seeking to define themselves. Each city recognized and acknowledged the future and regenerated themselves as sports entertainment venues.

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

Indeed sports and walkable entertainment collectively is the new model to ensure a city’s rotation in hosting the mega-sporting events like the Final Four, Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend and many other sports and entertainment events.

Sure there are those that will Detroit’s finances, the many vacant homes, and the continued Urban American homicides. Distracters will talk about the neighborhoods needing special attention and rightfully so. However, the dynamics of inner cities in America is a national problem of economics, employment, shifting population, and old infrastructure.

But one problem is no reason to hold up another potential uplift. If indeed the proposed multipurpose arena is commenced, it would not only host hockey and basketball, it would host a range of shows, concerts and other events, while the broader district would include residential housing, retail shopping, office space and more.

What more needs to be said? The City Council, Mayor’s Office, and state government needs to all get on board and help turn this vision into a reality.

I have been to both San Antonio and Indianapolis and seen how the new model of building all their sports venues in a walkable proximity. In conjunction with the arenas and stadiums hotels, eateries and housing have evolved.

Take the Los Angeles Staples Center for example. I was in LA when the developers started building the arena and many said who will perform there and that it was a waste of money and resources.

Well, the Lakers and Clippers and Kings after seeing the venue quickly abandon their arenas. The Staples Center has galvanized a three block district called LA Live that has clubs, restaurants, theaters and hotels.

The LA downtown area before the Staples Center and LA Live was built was a waste land of poverty.

A number of cities have shown us how a city came use the sports entertainment model to regalvanize a downtown and city.

An Ilitch family’s Olympia Development news release quoted George W. Jackson Jr., the city’s top development official and president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., as saying the plan “makes good” business sense.

“It’s not a plan for an isolated, single-use structure,” Jackson said in the statement. “Instead, it builds on the clear successes we’ve already had downtown integrating districts that feature entertainment, and support commercial, retail and residential development around them.”

The Ilitch organization pegged the probable price tag at $650 million. Legislation introduced in Lansing would create a new “catalyst development project” that could benefit from support from the Michigan Strategic Fund and also from the use of Downtown Development Authority tax revenues that support projects in the central business district.

“It’s always been my dream to once again see a vibrant downtown Detroit,” said Mike Ilitch, chairman of Ilitch Holdings, in the statement. “From the time we bought the Fox Theatre, I could envision a downtown where the streets were bustling and people were energized. It’s been a slow process at times, but we’re getting there now and a lot of great people are coming together to make it happen. It’s going to happen and I want to keep us moving toward that vision.”

I too had this vision. So let’s keep it moving Detroit.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

Déjà vu for Detroit Cass Tech

In sports column on November 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Detroit Public School League team best Detroit Catholic Central again for yet another State title.

By Leland Stein III

Detroit Cass Technical High Schoool celebrates second consecutive Div. 1 State title. – Andre Smith photo

Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher came into the post Division 1 State title press conference at Ford Field with a giant smile on his face. Good for him! He, his coaches and his players earned it.

In fact, the excellent turnout in Downtown Detroit showed up in respect for the Detroit Public School League (PSL). It mattered not where one graduated from, the Cass Tech 36-21victory over perennial power Detroit Catholic Central, was a victory for all that has prepped in the Michigan’s largest public school district.

In the post game press conference Wilcher exclaimed, while smiling like a Chester the cat, “Hey, you only live once. We may not make it back again.”

Leland Stein III

 

While his retort is very, very true, as evident by the fact only two PSL schools – Cass Tech (12-2) and Martin Luther King (2007 Div. 2) – have won Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) titles in football, he surely had his fingers crossed for the future.

Sure Wilcher will lose some of the top talent in the state, but with the closing of former PSL powers like Mackenzie, Redford and Murray Wright, just to name a few, the talent in the City has been condensed, and, with Cass Tech at the same time developing a solid overall program, they have been able to create an environment where good student athletes want to come. Couple the closing of historic PSL schools and the environment Wilcher has fostered at Cass Tech is why it has become an elite program in the state.

“This is happening because of the approach of our coaches’ teaching,” Wilcher told me. “They work our kids hard in practice, and, hold themselves accountable for our outcomes.”

Cass Tech’s Damon Webb runs by a DCC defender at Ford Field. – Andre Smith photo

Sounds like a very good formula for success to me.

That formula was tested in last year’s MHSAA Div. 1 Final, where Cass Tech socked the Michigan high school football world with a resounding 49-13 spanking of the Lordly Detroit Catholic Central. Sure that victory was great, but last year was last year.

No matter, Cass Tech came out strong, scoring on four big plays, forcing five turnovers. It all started when Jourdan Lewis scored on the first play from scrimmage. He beat double coverage and turned a 40-yard gain into an 89-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jayru Campbell.

“I just don’t think, I react,” Lewis said. “The safety was playing over the top. Jayru put it in the right spot.”

To show Campbell’s growth as a quarterback, he noted that the play was intended as a short pass, but the corner came up. “We both looked at each other and went with the go (pattern),” he said.

Five plays later 6-foot-2, 260 pound defensive lineman Kenton Gibbs scooped up a fumble and nimbly ran 58 yards for a touchdown and a 12-0 Cass Tech lead before I had finish eating my between game sandwich.

Another game-changing play happened in the fourth quarter as Cass Tech faced a fourth-and-9 and Campbell checked out of one play and into a draw that turned into a 26-yard gain.

“I think the strength of the quarterback,” Wilcher gladly noted, “like I told him on the telephone one night, ‘I don’t care about your arm right now, I just love the way you think on the football field.’ That’s what makes him so important to me right now.”

What had hurt the PSL in other years was the line play, but Cass Tech’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the game. Lead by seniors Gibbs, David Dawson and Dennis Finley the Technicians played the game in the trenches.

“”It feels great that all the hard work in practice and the off season has paid off,” Finley said. “This is what you play for, and, we did this as a team.”

Added Dawson: “I knew we had a chance to make history. We lost some tough games, but we did not lose confidence. We rebounded from that King loss in the City Playoffs and refocused as a team as we did last year.”

Campbell threw for 154 yards and Mike Weber, another sophomore, rushed for 186 yards on 20 carries. Weber did play in last season’s title game because of a knee injury. “I had to wait my turn,” he said. “I just ran with my blocks and had fun.”

The entire PSL and it alumni had fun, too.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

International gathering sends Emanuel Steward Home

In sports column on November 18, 2012 at 3:13 am

International gathering sends Emanuel Steward Home

Emanuel Steward and Leland Stein III at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Final bell rung for Detroit icon.

By Leland Stein III

Well, no more dog walks together or eating that great barbeque. The final 10-count bell has been rung at Greater Grace and my friend, and more importantly, a friend to thousands has been laid to rest.

Emanuel Steward a certified Detroit and international icon has gone home. The humble founder of Detroit Kronk Boxing Team, an HBO Boxing commentator and Hall of Fame trainer, probably would have blushed if he could have seen the spectacular celebration given to him by the multitudes of pugilist, media peers and admirers.

Men and women from all over the world found their way to Detroit to honor a man that only wanted to help others, the only way he knew how. Get them in the gym and in the process sneak some life lessons to them that more times than not stuck.

I understood the depth and breadth of Steward’s impact in the Sweet Science, but I was even surprised to see the overwhelming inclusion of individuals that he has cajoled

Aretha Franklin.

In all our dog walks and general conversations he never bragged about the company he kept and experienced.

He just would have been happy to know that Mayor Dave Bing, Aretha Franklin, Judge Mathis, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, Bob Arum and Jim Lampley were there to celebrate his noteworthy life.

But he would have been impressed with the pugilist that came to acknowledge how he turned good athletes into champions.

Some of those champions in attendance were Sugar Ray Leonard, Hilmer Kenty, Milton McCrory, Lennox Lewis, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, Thomas Hearns, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, Iran Barkley, Jimmy Paul and Roy Jones, just to name a few, were all there and spoke of the legendary memories that Steward has left us all with.

Champions Lennox Lewis and Thomas Hearns.

Frank.lin, the Queen of Soul, stood in the church pew and blasted out a special ad-lib song that was generated just for Steward.

“Emanuel flew away,” Franklin sang, as she started to improvise and the applause grew and tears started to well in my eyes. “Emanuel Steward was a good man! Yes, he was. He was a champion . . . Oh, yes, he was. You have to be, you’ve got to be, a champion to train one . . . Oh, yes, you do.”

Representing Steward’s HBO family was Lampley. He talked about their special bond. “I can truly say that Emanuel was my best friend,” he exclaimed, “but I’m sure all of you here and many more across the world can say the same thing. If there was any man that lived up the Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s dictum it was Emanuel. He judged people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; he was truly color blind.”

Wladimir Klitschko

Breaking me down even further was Hearns, who Steward took off the streets and turn into a legendary multiple champion.

Soaking in tears, Hearns shared: “This is hard for me. I said this morning that I would be alright. I tried to make Emanuel proud of me. He was a very special man in my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without Emanuel Steward in my life. He was more than a trainer to me — he was like a dad. He taught me things, and I saw my life change.”

Wladimir, who flew in from Germany said: “We have lost a friend, but Manny Steward lives in the hearts of all of us. He had a great gift from God. I will carry on all my life what he taught me. He was a great mentor.”

“I had the opportunity to meet Emanuel about 40 years ago,” Bing said during an uplifting but heart-wrenching memorial service. “We had great respect for each other, and I have always looked upon him as a friend. He represented his family and the city of Detroit with dignity. He always made me very proud to know him.”

Emanuel Steward at his last interview at the Joe Lewis Arena in Detroit. Dan Graschuck photo

Leonard called Steward a trainer of life. “He saved the lives of kids out there by putting them in a sweaty gym,” he recalled.

Said Holyfield: “Nobody ever lost when they did what Emanuel Steward told them to do in the ring.”

Lewis echoed the sentiments of many: “Emanuel was there for my major fights — I wish I was there for his. He is the greatest trainer that ever lived. We can’t forget his contribution to the sport of boxing. I can only rejoice in his memory.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII