Editor's note: Y'all know Chris Faulkner. He's a contributor now. Give him a big "official" GBB welcome.
The Memphis Grizzlies have reached the Western Conference Finals, and the masses have taken notice.
It's not too hard to see why. The Griz are a mix of crazy personalities, unique talents, overachievers, castaways and a general melange of interesting story lines. But this isn't necessarily why all areas of the country, some who normally glance over the Grizzlies, have taken interest in the ascent of the NBA super-sleeper. We're a small market team, and quite recently the laughing stock of the entire NBA. At midseason we traded away our "franchise player" in lieu of some "meat & potatoes" sort of players in what looked like a salary purge to some. We hindered, nay, sabotaged our best shot at a playoff push in franchise history. And in spite of this incredible weight of the underdog, the Grizzlies have found themselves in the midst of the Western Conference Finals by way of a secret, Money Ball formula.
Of course we all know it's a bit more organic than plugging an equation into a basketball machine. More on that in a moment. I'd like to first paint a picture for you. Something to settle the mind and distract us from all the playoff commotion. This is a picture meant to give us a clearer picture of what the Grizzlies have accomplished this season. Imagine this Grizzlies team as a living room - a rustic-Walden meets Ron Swanson-type of cabin. And the Grizzlies front office is attempting to decorate this lodge with five core pieces.
You look up in this room to first notice Marc Gasol - the mighty elk-horn chandelier spread across the angled beams, reflecting light and prestige. Underneath the splay of Gasol is Zach Randolph - the plush bear-skin rug crossing over the narrow planks of the hardwood floor, imposing its brute regality and at the same time massaging your feet with its thick fur. In the corner is Tony Allen - a staunch cast-iron stove - gnawing away at chunks of raw timber with fiery jaws of flame and pressure, filling the room with life. In the center of the room is Mike Conley - a giant stump of an oak tree sawed down to a coffee table, sealed and polished with a dense resin and tying the room together. Then you look across the room, right in the middle of the whole dang thing actually, and you see ...... Rudy Gay - a gold plated, Ottoman Empire styled throne complete with taut red velvet cushions and encrusted with sparkling multicolored gems along sleek, sloping arm rests that seems to draw every photon of light in the room.
In other words, it was a nice piece of furniture but it just didn't fit the room. I describe this picture to you not to
further indict Rudy Gay, but to visualize the identity that the Memphis Grizzlies have forged this season - or rather half a season plus half a postseason - by replacing that gaudy throne with a leather armchair of a Tayshaun Prince. The room makes sense now, and it seems to interact more fluidly and compliment the better qualities of each piece.
With complimentary pieces in place, the identity of the team was no longer hamstrung by an attempt to be something it's not. The driving force behind our success hasn't come from the fruition of some mathematical equation. Our success has come from the belief in and total acceptance of our identity as a team and a city.
However, in a scientific attempt to actually crack the Griz formula I've made this break down:
- You'll need an ambidextrous point guard who entered the NBA after attending college for one year and contending for the national title. He'll need to have a very high IQ and a good portion of Olympic-gold-medal-winning DNA spliced in. He's going to need to form a very close relationship with the starting center and grow into an assertive floor general over the course of five seasons. To boot he'll need to run somewhere close to a 4.3 forty yard dash.
- You've got to have the NBA's best perimeter defender, and you'll need to sign him to a fraction of what he's worth. This elite defender will need to have NBA Championship experience after working his way up to elite NCAA play through junior college transference. This shooting guard will need to form an intensely personal relationship with the city and coin several trademark phrases that will be used to ignite and perpetuate the fans' passion.
- At small forward you'll have to plug in a former NBA Champion halfway through the season. He'll need to be able to post up, move the ball well and have a great understanding of floor spacing. He's going to need to open up the paint with perimeter shooting, be able to guard elite NBA scorers, and he'll need to be able to do this.
- For power forward you'll need a 6'9" bull of a man with 2-foot-thick ham-hock shoulders and a center of gravity like Atlas. He'll have to master the full array of low post moves and be able to hit rainbow "jumpers" from all over the floor. Intimidation and blunt force trauma will be part of his repertoire, along with an elite shooter's touch and the smile of a teddy bear. Optional: a nickname that's easy to chant.
- The final piece will require the most bizarre combination. Your starting center will need to be seven feet tall, possess elite passing skills, be able to score from anywhere inside the arc and shoot 85% from the charity stripe. He'll be partially driven to exceed his physical limitations by a combination of his older brother's NBA success, his team's nonchalant acquisition of his rights, and an emotional attachment to the fans based on mutual admiration and respect. His uncommon basketball IQ has to be reinforced with years of international championship experience along with Olympic medaling. He'll need to encapsulate the glory of a George Michael beard with the genuine tenderness of a Rockbiter. Oh, and he has to have graduated high school in the city of which he plays.
Obviously, this formula is scoped with a heavy prescription of homer-vision, but there remains an ironic, grounded point.
The Grizzlies formula is based on the original Naismith basketball model - team play. Honestly, there's nothing new to it at all. They haven't created plays or defied physics. They've simply learned to play with each other, and more importantly, learned to understand one another. Some players are best friends, some are totally different than the other, some have close bonds to the city and some are newcomers - all with the same mindset. The secret doesn't seem to be finding players physically capable of doing extraordinary things. It seems the secret is finding extraordinary people to agree to do the ordinary things. They're all quite different - a motley crew that looks like an impromptu hash of interesting morsels from across the world. But they all understand each other. They respect each other and get the job done, much like the city they represent.
Imitation being the highest form of flattery, we Grizzlies fans should cherish this time. There will be the haters and the doubters and the skeptics, but for the most part Memphis has the new, shiny toy that everyone else wants. The trick is that it's not a cheaply (or efficiently) manufactured product that was packaged and bought from the boutique. This was a treehouse that you and your grandfather spent five summers building in your backyard; sometimes storms blowing away pieces, leaving you to pick up debris and reconsider how the structure should be rebuilt. It's full of memories and heartaches - it's not something that has a price tag or a blueprint.
That's why we love this team. That's what makes it different.
Harken back to the year two-aught-aught-eight (2008) when the Memphis Tigers were ravaging their way through the NCAA en route to lose the national title game. This city was electric with Tiger fever, and watched in awe as a stud farm of basketball athletes put Memphis basketball on the map again. No doubt that the Tigers (and that team specifically) are very, very dear to the hearts of Memphians, but this Grizzlies team is different. It's different I tell you!
During an NCAA tournament you're essentially playing a series of win-or-go-homes's to the finals. Your team loses and it's all over. But with NBA playoffs you have the chance to lose and regroup. We as fans get to see how our players respond to adversity as they adjust to counteractions taken by professionals that want to win just as much as they do. From my limited experience, it's seems to have the potential to be very intense relationship. We plan our whole weeks around the Grizzlies, we read about them and listen to people talk about them. We feel their heartaches and they feel it when they break ours.
We have something special, guys and gals. We've got something unique to our city that has a chance to really make it's mark on the history of Memphis. High-five the strangers with the TA9 shirt, pump your fists and honk your horns at the car flags, sell a bunch of DVD's to buy a playoff ticket, make this the funnest and most ridiculous thing our city has ever seen. It's our time to pound our chests for a minute and appreciate the hard work of the Griz. I say it's okay to get your hopes up and push this thing as far as we can take it. Regardless of how it plays out, let's know that we dove in head first and savored the experience.
It's Memphis-made, and it's going to be hard to duplicate.