Last week, news came out about the absolutely tragic death of former Grizzly and Tiger Lorenzen Wright. It's hard to take any positives from this story, but in remembering ‘Ren, it made me think -- he's the one player that managed to effectively bridge the gap between the often disparate groups of Tigers fans and Grizzlies fans.
The vehement disdain for the Grizzlies by many Memphis Tigers fans has long puzzled me, and I want to examine it a bit more in depth. I would love any input from the comments to shed light on the situation further.
Now, no one in their right mind will mistake me for a Memphis Tigers fan. I attended Ole Miss, and while I don't hate "Memphis State," they are kind of like an annoying little brother that never shuts up. However, due to a healthy diet of Memphis sports talk radio, I am quite familiar with Tiger fans. I've gathered a list of why a good portion of Tiger fans seem to dislike the Grizz, and I've compiled them below the jump.
1) We didn't want them anyway! My taxpayer dollars built that arena! We already had basketball!
What this segment of Tiger fans doesn't realize is that by agreeing to allow the Tigers to play at the FedEx Forum, the Grizzlies have helped Tiger basketball immensely. The Memphis Tigers now play in one of the top 5 nicest college arenas in the country and this is an absolutely invaluable recruiting tool.
I'm sure Grizzlies and Tiger fans remember the Pyramid. I know I do. I also remember how crappy it was, and how you felt like you were staring over the edge of the earth every time you were sitting in the upper deck. I never once sat in that building and didn't feel like I was going to tumble into the abyss. The Memphis Tigers would still be gracing the Tomb of Doom without the Grizzlies, and that's reason enough for Tiger fans to be happy.
And none of this takes into account the truly epic positive charitable and economic impact the Grizzlies have had on the city that many fans of both teams call home. The Grizzlies are the only pro sports franchise in town, and help Memphis achieve a national prominence that is reserved for a select few communities.
2) NBA players are a bunch of thugs! College basketball is better!
This argument always kills me. The NBA pales in comparison to the NFL in terms of criminal activity, yet the reputation of "thug" still persists. Look, I know there are bad guys in the NBA. What goes unnoticed, however, are the hours that NBA players put into charitable causes. A lot of this is mandated by the teams through the NBA Cares program, but a lot of it isn't as well.
Remember Zach Randolph paying people's MLGW bills? Everyone from Pau Gasol to Rudy Gay buying tickets for fans? These things happen too.
Another part of this argument that really bothers me -- where do 90% of NBA players come from? College! That place that is chock full of 17 year olds getting paid by agents and fake SAT scores. You can't cheer for Joey Dorsey and think he walks on water because he went to the University of Memphis while calling Mario Chalmers a "thug" just because he beat your team in the NCAA Championship. That is what's called a double standard.
3) They're just going to move in 3 years anyway. The Tigers will always be here!
Memphis can be a very defeatist city. A good segment of the population constantly thinks someone is out to get them, just check the comment boards for the Commercial Appeal. I'm not sure how else to say this, but the Grizzlies aren't going to move. They just aren't. There are no better markets, too many penalties, the recession, Heisley, you name it. The Grizz are here to stay.
What Tiger fans sometimes forget to acknowledge is that pre-Calipari, and even the first few years of Calipari, Grizzlies attendance doubled that of the Tigers. Everyone in Memphis likes a winner, and will turn out to see a team that wins, and wins often.
I just wish Michael Heisley would realize this. Anybody with a thimbleful of knowledge about the city of Memphis and its history with basketball will realize that no matter the connection, lots of losses equals lots of empty seats. Well, unless you're the Warriors.
4) The games aren't as much fun and nobody goes anyway!
This is the same principle that Michael Heisley uses for not spending money on the team. If you don't go because no one else is going, and there are others like you, then no one will go. Simple as that. I will grant you that a packed arena of 18,000 people is almost always more fun than when the empty chairs outnumber the full ones. However, this is a problem that can only be fixed by people showing up.
If you enjoy a college atmosphere with a band and cheerleaders, than more power to you. The NBA has different styles of entertainment- halftime shows, dance teams, and constant giveaways. If you truly have a preference, then so be it, but there's no reason to hate something you just because you don't prefer it.
Now here's the section where I can empathize a little.
5) I can't afford to go watch the Tigers and the Grizzlies!
If you are a die-hard Tiger fan and own season tickets, nobody expects you to buy Grizzlies season tickets too. The economy is awful, no one has any money -- including bloggers (ed. note: Church!) -- and season tickets are both an investment and a commitment. However, just because you don't or can't go to Grizzlies games doesn't mean you can't still be a fan.
Damn near every single Grizz game can be watched on basic cable. Granted, you'll have to put up with Sean Tuohy, but its still available. I'm not even asking Tiger fans to watch or care, but there certainly isn't a need to hate. The Tigers and Grizzlies are not mutually exclusive. And by the way, Pete Pranica is awesome.
Lorenzen Wright did a valuable thing in this city. Even if only for a few brief years, he brought together two fan bases that are often at odds for no good reasons. It helped that he played on some fun teams to watch, that nearly every Grizz fan looks back on fondly. Maybe we could remember him best by sticking together again.
RIP ‘Ren, and thank you.
- Chris Wilson