If you were to go downtown after a Grizzly win and take an exit poll of the fans leaving the Forum on who their favorite player is, it is easy to anticipate what the overwhelming answers would be: Zbo, Marc, Tony, perhaps a less disenchanted follower might say Rudy, but how many would claim Mike?
During the recent run of successful seasons the Grizz have achieved, players such as Randolph and Allen have (deservedly, I might add) captured the heart of a city who has identified with their gritty, no glory style of play which in essence represents the soul of the community itself: do your job, do it nasty, and move on to the next day. Zbo’s "blue collar" speech and TA’s "Godfather of the ‘grit and grind’" have become rallying cries for Grizz nation as a whole, and have become the pillars on which the team and its following have established their identity.
Lost amongst all this glorious de-glorification, though, is one Mike Conley. He has never delivered an iconic and memorable speech, and has had no nickname endowed upon him, but this soft spoken 25 year old is the quintessential picture of all that Grizz nation believes in.
The job of an NBA point guard is gritty in and of itself, but when compared to the current superstars of the position, the Nashes, Westbrooks, Pauls, Williams, etc. of the league, the manner in which Conley undertakes the task assigned to him night in and night out under Hollins’ offensive system can be sometimes, simply put, boring: play lockdown D, don’t turn the ball over, and get the ball to Marc, Zach, and Rudy.
Do your job, do it nasty, and move on to the next day.
Early in the season there was talk of Mike achieving potential All-Star status; he has busted it in the weight room in the offseason, he is finally fully developed, and oh yeah, he is draining from behind the arc. But it didn’t take long for the story to shift back to the other guys on the team, and once again, despite averaging career highs in scoring and assists, all the while continuing to be entirely faithful to his role in Hollins’ offense, Mike gets overlooked.
Tonight against the Mavs Mike broke the Grizzly career assist record previously held by Jason Williams with a perfectly lobbed oop to Rudy for a monster jam. The play made the top 10 on Sportscenter, yet there was no mention of the remarkable career achievement Mike had just accomplished.
Granted, Mike has had the tendency to be polarizing during his tenure with the Grizz, he has certainly experienced his share of growing pains as he has developed into the player he is now. But look at the product on the floor in 2012. At 25, Mike is the leader of this team on the court. Getting into offensive sets and making correct reads are not exactly glorious feats, but he does them, most of the time unnoticed by the common fan, and does them well. Note the Conley factor: in the game in late November against the Cavs when he was out with the flu: the Grizz only scored 84 points, and for most of the game ran an offensive set that was straight off the court of the Bartlett Rec Center. Without a doubt, a large majority of the success that this team has experienced this year can be directly attributed to Mike’s willingness to do the dirty work and run the system.
Grizz nation, I do not dare ask you to question the love you show towards your favorite Grizzlies, but if you can find room in your hearts, politely ask Zach and Marc and Tony to scoot over some and invite Mike in for some affection. It gets lonely out there chasing around Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, and what harm can there be in giving the glue that holds this team together, the true floor general of the Memphis Grizzlies, some of the fanfare he has so rightfully earned?
Congrats, Mike, and thank you for all that you do for this team.