This is a basketball blog, specifically dedicated to the Memphis Grizzlies. This post is about basketball, but it’s also bigger than basketball. This post is about us. All of us. There’s the state you live in, the city, the town, and the neighborhood. Memphis is the little brother in the state, often overlooked, often bullied as less than. I grew up here, and while I’ve exited many times, to here I returned. Memphis is home. Even within Memphis we are subdivided, by income, by race, by location.
There has been so much in the news that portrays Memphis as a city to be feared. The city that never grew up. The city whose citizens cannot get along. The city where doors get locked on sight, and streets are crossed.
There is a place in Memphis where none of that exists. Community is a place where people come together often for a common purpose. Basketball has always been the unifying force in Memphis. The Memphis Tigers, and their NBA counterpart the Memphis Grizzlies.
Growing up here Memphis didn’t have an NBA franchise, we had, and still have, the Tigers. That’s where my love of basketball began, and where my community started. Keith Lee, Andre Turner, Elliott Perry, Penny Hardaway. Those names are hallowed here. Revered by many, loved by all. I wore my socks like Elliot for years. If I’m feeling it on the court, the socks still go up.
When the Grizzlies franchise moved to Memphis 15 years ago it was akin to winning the lottery for basketball fans. We craved it. But Memphis is a fickle mistress. We’ll hold you at arms length until you prove your loyalty, your worth. We’re wary, and we want you to win. Not just win, dominate. Respect must be earned. Once we’re loyal though, we’re ride or die.
The years in the Tomb of Doom were the proving ground. We came, and were unimpressed. We still had the Tigers, and the Grizzlies had to live up to NCAA athletes and records. We waited with baited breath.
The Grizzlies have had hometown heroes and some of the greatest ball players of all time on the roster. Lorenzen Wright, Allen Iverson, Bibby, Rudy Gay. Still we waited. We had Jerry West as head coach. The chase for greater took a long time.
Then there was Lionel Hollins. As much a locomotive as the freight train that bears the same name. Lionel instilled discipline, players and the city responded alike. Lionel demanded we come correct, and come together. He began to assemble THE team. Hollins demanded respect, and earned it. The city returned with the gift of united loyalty, not only for Lionel, but for his arsenal.
Like every great dynasty at some point there is a changing of the guard. Change is hard, whether it’s the changing of a head coach, or of a feeling that pervades a city. There was dissent at the changing of the guard. Dave Joerger the usurper. We waited to see if the players Lionel had assembled would pledge their allegiance before we would remain loyal to the franchise.
They did. Marc, Mike, Tony, Zach. The core four. Last year’s playoffs resulted in largest coming together of Memphians assembled to cheer on a local team ever. It was glorious, and gave us purpose. The last time I remember a sporting event in Memphis with that kind of draw and feel was when Dana Kirk took us to the Final Four.
That brings us to the here and now. We’re on the use of greatness. I know it, you know it, our players know, the Blazers know it. In a city that has been devalued the chase for greater pertains to so much more than basketball. It’s relative to all of us. Isn’t that what we’re doing here?
Memphis is has a fine example to follow. Back in the day Charles Barkley proclaimed he was not a role model. That statement was meant to mean that the role model should start at home. Charles was right, but wrong. Memphis is unique in that our Grizzlies are visible in the community standard. They are role models to children and adults alike. They are a brotherhood in a city that needs one. Playing great basketball is integral to winning, but it’s all the other things that collectively come together to unite a city. The feeling that we’re all in it together. Memphis vs. Errybody.
I’ll leave you with the moments that left a mark on me during game one. First, Zach Randolph purchased 500 tickets, and passed them out personally, then he stuck around to meet and greet the unending line that remained after tickets were gone. That is love. Tony Allen and Mike Conley received standing ovations stepping on the court. Love returned. Gasol has his mojo back. My moment was Vince Carter. He’s been struggling to live up to his moniker Vinsanity. We want it, and he knows it. When Vince left earth towards the glass the entire Forum rose with him ready to erupt. He missed. The “Ohhh” of disappointment was louder than the roar of approval. Vince was visibly heartbroken. Time-out was called soon after. Tony Allen was the first to reach Vince. Courtney Lee joined. Zach and Jeff. Mike and Marc. Nick, Russ, Jordan, Jarnell, Kosta, JaMychal, Beno. Dave Joerger. There was not a man on our team that didn’t get their hands on Vince Carter and love him. I’ve seen Vince do that exact same gesture to every player on our roster at some point this season. I’ve seen them do the same with fans. That is what it’s all about. That is what has trickled down into our community. And there is nothing greater to be given, or received. This is my love letter to you, to our franchise, to my city. We are All Heart in Hoop City.