On one side there's Tony Allen, the seasoned Grindfather of one of the most tenacious defenses of the modern NBA game. On the other is Zach Randolph, a proven "throwback" type of player that muscles for rebounds, scores on body positioning and carries a generally intimidating clout of street smarts and hard-fought experience.
You have late-blooming-stars like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, anchors at the essential point guard position and the pivotal, and increasingly scarce, center position. To compliment them, you have an even more proven veteran in Tayshaun Prince, a championship NBA player who has seen the rising and falling tides of the NBA. Even his backup, Quincy Pondexter, has a mentionable amount of presence from his 2013 playoffs surge. And Pondexter's consistent presence in the local community only cements his personality among the players most fans will identify with the Grizzlies.
But there are others. There are others that play essential roles in the dynamic of this NBA team. There are others that use their position as an influential NBA player to enhance and enrich the world around us. They are not always featured on social media and other proliferating venues of information. They are not always under the spotlight.
There are people like Jerryd Bayless.
So many times in the arena of sports, we spend too much of our focus and effort on prying out stories from individuals that are set up to receive that attention. No one is blind here, and it's easy to identify the good stories. You have players come from horrid and appalling backgrounds. There are players that overcome injuries or intense scrutiny from media and fans. Players may travel overseas to make their mark in the NBA, or they may even come out of a single year of NCAA basketball experience and prove themselves with instant results and acclaim.
But then there are also people like Jerryd Bayless.
Jerryd Bayless isn't born out of the projects of an inner city, he's from Phoenix, AZ, where his father practiced as a psychologist and his mother was a counselor. His parents were able to provide a stable upbringing that allowed him to attend a private high school and go to college, a college that allowed him to showcase his physical talents.
Does that make Bayless soft? No. Does it make him less of a warrior? No. Does that discount the hard-ass attitude that Bayless has contributed to the Memphis Grizzlies? I say, "absolutely not."
In spite of any flaws of basketball relevance, what I see in Jerryd Bayless when he steps onto the basketball court is a component of Grit and Grind basketball that is absolutely, positively essential. There isn't fear in his eyes; there's no hesitation to pull the big shot or try and make a game changing play. He's intensely emotional, but that emotion is directly funneled into his play on the court. (Assuming Hollins hasn't just
slammed pulled him to the bench.)
It's the look of "I'm about to beat you." It's the facial expressions that say "Yeah, I just did that to you." It's the fact that Tony Allen, one of the hardest players ever to suit up in a Grizzlies uniform, went on air and said that "Jerryd Bayless is the toughest light-skinned brother he's ever met."
Whoa. Wait a second. Clean cut Arizona-born, Portland Trailblazers drafted-NO Hornet/Toronto Raptors traded Jerryd Bayless is the toughest light-skinned African-American that Tony Allen has ever met? I'm not sure about everyone else, but as a personal subscriber to the Grindfather's Schtick, that means something. I'm not going to pretend that I know anything about subsets of African-American culture, but when Tony Allen says "toughest guy I've ever met," I'm going to listen up, regardless of whatever adjectives are used to describe said person's skin, brain, toes or eyes.
Is his defense elite? No. Is he an elite shooter? Not quite. Okay, what's so special about this guy? Well, for one, next to Marc Gasol, Bayless was the best free throw shooter for the Grizzlies last season. And after Conley and Gasol, Bayless lead the Grizzlies in assists, tallying up 264 assist compared to Gasol's 318, with Gasol's coming on much more playing time.
Regardless of how Jerryd Bayless fits the typical GnG mold, I hold him in high esteem amongst some of my favorite Grizzlies. In his latest blog posting, Jerryd documents his recent trip to Africa with NBA Cares, and of specific importance to him, Bayless was able to include his father on the excursion to help fulfill one of his lifetime goals.
I'm aware that many people in the United States make fervent claims of wanting to visit Africa, but include Bayless among those that has now actually backed up his claim. His blog will go into more detail of the experience, but he was able to share his knowledge and ability to positively influence African communities on a personal basis. Along with helping to conduct basketball clinics for African communities, he was able to bring encouragement and inspire many people with his efforts. His outreach is an endeavor to which very few NBA players can make a claim.
You may ask, "Why isn't Bayless more involved in the local Memphis community?" I'm not sure, but when you're held to the standards of Tony Allen, Quincy Pondexter and Zach Randolph, I can understand why you might try to expand your horizons and reach out to what some people choose to pass up. Besides, I can't expect Bayless to completely immerse himself into Memphis culture when his continued employment by the Grizzlies is primarily attributed to his activation of a low-ball player option this season.
In spite of his contractual circumstances, Bayless has still accepted Memphis with generously open arms. He's a smart person; he understands what is going on with this Memphis Grizzlies team. He knows that the custom brew in Bluff City is a special batch that only comes along so often.
Don't view Jerryd Bayless any less than other Grizzlies because he's different. Cherish and savor Jerryd Bayless because he's different than most Grizzlies. Heroes aren't always born from the muck and mire of the world, folks. In fact, Stan Lee would have us believe that most heroes are often just like me and you. Circumstances can make you seem great, but circumstances don't always make the person. There are great people that will do great things for the Memphis Grizzlies, and they will come from all different walks of life.
Jerryd Bayless isn't the prototypical Grit'n"Grinder, but he represents that sentiment just as much as anyone else on the Memphis Grizzlies roster. I hope his performance this season warrants him an extended stay in Memphis, because I think he's got the attitude that makes the Memphis Grizzlies.
And he's not Yella Yella, he's Yello Yello, bitches.