Vidakovich column: For a good holiday read, check out ‘The Stranger in the Lifeboat’
I have read every book that Mitch Albom has written, most of them more than once.
Albom is a sports columnist who writes for the Detroit Free Press. He is also one of the panel members on an ESPN talk show called The Sports Reporters. His book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” which chronicles the post-college relationship between Albom and his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz, is the bestselling memoir of all time.
Albom’s first book, titled “The Fab Five,” had nothing to do with a band from Liverpool, England, but everything to do with the University of Michigan’s 1991 basketball recruiting class, still considered to be one of the best in college basketball history.
Living and working in the state of Michigan, Albom had a vested interest in Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, the five young freshmen who were destined to take the basketball world by storm and win several national titles for the Wolverines. They were immediately anointed “The Fab Five.”
This heralded group did make it to the national championship game in 1992 and 1993, but a lopsided loss to Duke and a narrow defeat at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels kept the championship trophy from ever landing in Ann Arbor. The ’92 game was noteworthy in that it was the first and last time a starting lineup consisting of five freshmen played in a national championship game.
Not only did this talented group fail to win a national title in their two years together at Michigan, they never claimed a Big Ten conference championship, either.
Unfortunately, during their years at Michigan, the Fab Five were as well known for trash talking and brash behavior toward opponents as they were for accomplishments on the court. Albom goes into depth in his book, bringing to light the family backgrounds in the tough neighborhoods of their youth that grew into the diverse personalities that were on nightly display in the basketball arena.
Thank goodness Albom didn’t hang up the pen and pencil following his first foray into the literary field. Several more books have followed, and many have been distinctly tilted toward the meaning-of-life mode.
Being a deeply religious man, several of Albom’s books have focused on the possibility of heaven and the mystery of faith. In his latest book, “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” he points out that worry is something that we all bring upon ourselves to fill a void, with the void being a lack of faith. Not just faith in the afterlife but in one’s ability to perform well the everyday tasks related to jobs, family, relationships and aspirations.
In the book, a perfect read during this holiday season, a small group of shipwreck survivors are drifting aimlessly on a life raft in the ocean when they encounter a mysterious man floating in the water, all alone, barely able to keep his head above the crushing waves. When the stranger has been safely pulled into the already crowded raft, one of those who had been adrift at sea for several days now says, “Thank the Lord we found you.”
The man, in a quiet voice, looks at them all and states, “I am the Lord. You have been calling for me to help.”
As you may expect, this bold statement is met with a combination of amusement and skepticism by the group, which has been clinging to life with little in the way of remaining food or fresh water. When the stranger is asked to save them all if he is who he claims to be, he replies that nothing can be done until they all believe in him without reservation.
As is the case in Albom’s book “The First Phone Call from Heaven,” his latest writing focuses on what can be accomplished when we, first and foremost, believe in ourselves rather than spending our days casting doubt on others.
Maybe that’s all the Fab Five needed to get them over the top to a title was a little more faith, but I remember watching that group and rooting against them at every turn. If their basketball game would have been as big as their talk, the trophy case at Michigan would be filled with championship trophies.
Have a good Christmas, and have some faith. I will try to also.
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer, teacher and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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