Saturday, October 30, 2010

A TRUE CHAMPION

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

The dreaded "C" and "D" words have reared their ugly heads again.
Esophagus (throat) Cancer has led to the stunning and untimely "Death" of a former colleague of mine from 1978-81 when my first job was as a "Salad Maker" at the Highland House in Highland, MI.
Thirty two days ago on Sept 28, Gregory Nicholas died early that morning after spending a month at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI. He was diagnosed with the disease in July and now at the age of 49, his life is over.
His older brother Elia told me that Greg's Funeral was packed and he was buried at a Golf Course Cemetery.
Unfortunately for Greg's family consisting of his widow Daena, sons Elia & Zachary and daughter Katina, there will be no Halloween with their father.
As I reflect back on the life of Greg Nicholas, I had a lot of great memories with Greg, whose brother Elia remains one of my best friends.
But the one that stands out was when I decided to wear a Detroit Tigers Baseball Hat over my hair net in the kitchen which had to be worn due to health department regulations.
Elia and his late father Thomas would give me grief over wearing the hat.
However, Greg would tell them to relax and not make a big deal over the Tigers Hat. They eased up and the trend caught on with the rest of the kitchen staff whom began wearing hats of their own. I knew at that point it would be hard to fire all of us.
Greg knew me as "Duke" because I once wore a t-shirt from my fathers sporting goods store called "All Pro Sporting Goods" that had the name "Duke" on the back. The whole restaurant including the waitresses called me "Duke." Despite busy rushes in the back, Elia, Greg and I still used to talk about sports.
When I wasn't at the Highland House, I was working in radio with My best friend George Eichorn for WXYZ Sports Talk as an assistant producer.
Greg and I always talked about the guests that appeared on the show. What stood out about Greg was not only the way he handled the "Tigers Hat Situation" but the way he treated his colleagues in the kitchen. If they had interests outside of the restaurant, he wanted to know the side of that individual away from work.
The cooks were only allowed to make us pizza and burgers and I ate a lot of Greek Salads. Greg didn't care what Elia and the rest of the owners said. He would make us slabs of ribs from time to time as well as other items. We worked hard for it and he was very "Unselfish."
On Saturday Nights, Greg would organize a group after work and we'd go bowling to chill out. Greg and I would also hang out at the Highland House's bar and talk sports. We'd have such spirited debates that when Elia was done with his work, the three of us talked all night about how bad the Detroit teams were during this era and what they had to do to improve. I would even draw ideas from Elia and Greg, talk about them on future radio shows and write periodic stories for the Detroit Monitor.
I'll never forget the time when Greg won a bet with former hostess Lori Anderson and she had to clock in wearing a bikini as the entire kitchen's eyes rolled.
As I look back at Greg Nicholas, there were more similarities than I ever imagined.
Greg was a behind the scenes guy who did the cooking while he quietly gave credit to Elia and the rest of the owners for the success of the Highland House. Greg would learn his lessons well and proceeded to own a pair of restaurants not forgetting the behind the scenes lessons, but now at the forefront of the operation.
My early tenure in radio was a behind the scenes role as an assistant producer. When I learned the trade, I'd eventually become a field reporter, frequent guest on other shows to co-hosting my own program.
As much as Greg enjoyed socializing with his customers, I enjoyed my listeners and readers as a writer and broadcaster.
I'll never forget in 1981, the Highland House gave me a "Going Away Party" when I decided to move to Florida and go to school to be a "Journalist."
Greg said, "Good luck Duke, I know you'll do well and don't forget us when you make it to the top because I know you'll do well. You know your subject real well." He gave me a big hug!
I enjoyed working at the Highland House and they all treated me like family and they still do when I return to Michigan. In addition to Greg and Elia, Gene Ryeson is another class act!
When I returned to Detroit from school usually during the holidays, it was fun telling Greg, Elia and Gene, whom I always viewed as an adopted uncle, about all of the big interviews & sports events I have covered working for the Hallandale Digest, Tampa Tribune in addition to my role as Sports Editor of the Broward Community College Newspaper "The New Horizons."
Greg and Elia were the older brothers I never had.
Elia and I have remained close for 33 years.
Even after Greg left the Highland House to work at his own restaurants, we stayed in touch from time to time. We had our own special bond. Then again, anyone that knew Greg had a special bond. Once in awhile, I'd see him at the Highland House and occasionally made it to his other restaurants.
When I knew Greg was coming down to see another close friend Gus Pantelides in Clearwater Beach, Florida, I'd take the 5-6 hour drive from Ft. Lauderdale to see them. Back in the 1980's I-75 North wasn't completed for a drive which now only takes just a little over four hours to finish.
Pantelides scrapped my nickname "Duke" and replaced it with "Scoop." Greg adapted to it quickly as the tape recorder replaced the salad bowl.
Greg came down on a trip when Pantelides won the Tom Selleck look-alike contest at the Clearwater Mall wearing that same old "English D" Tigers hat that I proudly wore in the Highland House kitchen. That Tigers hat was magical just like Greg was in his own way.
What really bothers me about Greg's death was that he never smoked, did drugs and was a non-drinker. He somehow got "Cancer" second hand and I'm puzzled as to how he obtained this silent killer.
There are three good things about living in Florida.
1) It's a Clean-Air Act State where there is no smoking in restaurants.
2) No State income tax.
3) Weather
Greg didn't miss anything with the scams and phony people in this transient area.
But I do know that Michigan recently passed the Clean-Air Act and one thing I'm sick of hearing is all the complaining and whining going on with the restaurant and bar owners. I know they're feeling the financial crunch because of the law. However, in the long run, they'll better off healthy and avoid an early trip to the casket.
Now Greg Nicholas won't be able to watch his kids grow up and will not be a grandfather. I'm sure he's missing a lot of rounds of golf. He died way too young!
But for all of mankind, I hope the Clean Air-Act is adopted in all 50 states. We'll never know whether this would have saved Greg's life but we do know it will save many others.
I am extremely proud to have known Greg. Thanks to the new information age, more people will know about him. I hope Greg does rest in peace and he comes across a Detroit Tigers Hat in Heaven.
Please say hello to My Uncle Ernie Harwell and I'm sure that you'll enjoy his broadcasting from above and he'll talk a lot of baseball with you. Thanks for the memories Greg. All of us are better people because of you and you are "A TRUE CHAMPION."
Even though I was 1,200 miles away from Greg's Funeral, I did post a message on the Lynch & Son's web-site which read, " am deeply shocked and saddened at the loss of Greg! I worked with him in the late 1970's and early 1980's at the Highland House. Back then I was known as Duke, not as I'm known now as Scoop, and he was one of the nicest people I've ever worked with! I knew he had the potential to do great things in the restaurant business, and he became a legend! Greg's death proves that the adage is true, That It Isn't Quantity, But Quality. Morris Had 9 Lives, We Have To Make The Most Of The 1 We Have! My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Nicholas family and I hope you rest in peace Greg! You will be missed by all, especially myself!."

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.








Pistons, Devil's Nights

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When I was a child living in Southfield, MI a few decades ago, the evening of Oct 30 was a night many of us youngsters looked forward to as we loaded up on soap and eggs to have fun on Devils Night.

It was an evening that homeowners disliked because they were not looking forward to cleaning their windows after they were soaped and hit by an egg, or in other extremes broken windows had to be fixed as a result of rocks.

Myself and other friends never went past soap and eggs because these were the same people we would see with costumes the next night wanting candy for Halloween.

When I moved to Highland, MI., there was no Devils Night because this was the country and there were major distances to cause havoc. By the same token, there was no Halloween and all of my friends lived in Southfield so this wasn't fun anymore.

Devils Night doesn't figure to be fun for the Detroit Pistons this year as this franchise takes an 0-2 record to Chicago to face the Bulls (0-1).

But there is more to this situation than meets the eye.

Detroit lost it's opening game Wednesday Night to the New Jersey Nets 101-98 in Newark. What made this loss more painful was the fact that Detroit lost to a coach it could have hired in Avery Johnson when the two sides couldn't agree to contract terms a couple years ago. Johnson felt he needed some job security to get this franchise back on track and Vice President Joe Dumars couldn't close the deal to lure him to the Palace.

Now Johnson is working for Russian Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov who met Johnson's price and has deep pockets to land the coach the talent he needs to be successful as they prepare to move to Brooklyn, NY in a couple years.

Detroit hired John Kuester instead and in his first season the team finished with a 27-55 record although the team had to deal with 155 games lost to injury and was 7-4 when his squad was totally healthy.

Nevertheless, Detroit's problems go beyond last season. When Kuester was hired he became the 27th coach in franchise history. He's followed in the shadows of Hall of Famers the late Chuck Daly, Larry Brown, Doug Collins and Rick Carlisle, whom elevated this franchise to elite levels.

In addition to not hiring Johnson which in my opinion, this move will haunt the Pistons for years to come, Dumars knows he'll always regret not drafting Carmelo Anthony and taking Darko Milicic instead with the second pick of the 2003 NBA Draft.

While most franchises would be thrilled to reach their respective conference finals every year, Dumars wasn't. He dismantled the team by trading his quarterback Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson on November 3, 2008 and he would become Anthony's teammate in Colorado.

An inexperienced head coach like Michael Curry had to deal with a disgruntled guard in Iverson which proved to be a big mistake.

While Brown did make a mistake by wanting the New York Knicks job while he was employed by the Pistons, it still boggles my mind that Dumars and late Owner Bill Davidson couldn't work out their differences to co-exist. Davidson gave Brown millions of dollars to leave.

Instead, this once proud franchise is in such disarray because it's just a matter of time before Owner Karen Davidson does sell it. If Red Wings/Tigers Owner Mike Illitch does buy the franchise, will Dumars be a part of the new management team? Despite three championship rings, will the what have you done for me lately theme lead to Dumars becoming a paid season ticket holder?

Will Dumars become a season ticket holder at the Palace of Auburn Hills or a new arena in downtown Detroit?

He certainly won't be credentialed by late Vice President of Public Relations Matt Dobek.

I doubt he'll be working with Tom Wilson, who has his hands full trying to get Illitch a new stadium.

Perhaps Dumars could reunited with John Hammond who learned his lessons well and has turned the Milwaukee Bucks into a playoff team last season.

As all of these mistakes have compounded themselves, in recent years, the Pistons fans have faced more tricks than they have treats. There losses on and off the court will only lead to more empty seats at the Palace.

While I do feel bad that Kuester has inherited this mess, is he the guy that can turn around this team which has an aging Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton plus hope that Tracy McGrady can make a comeback with Arnie Kander as his strength and conditioning coach?

Time will tell whether Ben Gordon (5 year/$55 Million) and Charlie Villanueva (5 year/$35 Million) are worth their contracts. I do believe that selecting 6-11, 250 Georgetown Center Greg Monroe as the seventh pick overall in this years draft was a good move, but the problem is there haven't been many good decisions lately.

So how many more Devils Nights will there be for Pistons fans? In an economically depressed city, I'd think that taking money from customers for an unsatisfactory product is worse than soaping and throwing eggs at windows. The fans are getting eggs thrown in their face.

I can't imagine a happy fan after the Pistons lost their home opener 105-104 to the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night.

These questions remain.

What will the Pistons record be with a healthy 2010-2011 roster?

Will Kuester be around to finish the rebuilding job?

What big name coach will be brought in to finish what Kuester started?

When will the team be sold?

How much patience will the new owner have with Dumars?

How small will the crowds shrink to?

What will become of the Palace of Auburn Hills?

One thing is for certain, Avery Johnson is glad that he won't have to answer these questions at any of his press conferences in New Jersey.

His team is 2-0 and last year's Nets squad became only the fifth team in NBA History to lose 70 games by finishing with a 12-70 mark. Johnson's team has only one way to go and that's up.

Will we say that about the Pistons? They can still regress at 27 wins.

Time will tell but in a matter of time, Karen Davidson won't care that she was unable to keep her late husband's legacy alive.

In the meantime while Devil's night antics have been replaced by cable, satellite television, video games and the Internet, Pistons fans can only hope their are less tricks, soap and eggs in the future and there are more Halloween evenings instead.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.


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