Fifteen years ago, Memphis felt like a place that was on the downhill slide. Things were leaving town, and they weren’t coming back. Our Arena Football team was gone, our CFL team was gone, the Tigers were in the throes of the Tic Price era, barely making the NIT, and our AA baseball team was playing in a (lovably) decrepit old stadium on the Fairgrounds. Somehow, in the midst of that turmoil, we ended up with an NBA franchise, but no one thought that would last either -- and besides, the Vancouver Grizzlies were terrible.
It’s a different place now. People are moving back into the city. Things are happening – it’s still not perfect, but people are proud to live in Memphis, and proud to be making it a better place even if it’s in a small way. You know what? Basketball has a lot to do with that. The latest news about Robert Pera’s local ownership partners just continues that trend: Memphis is moving (back) up in the world. Here’s why.
The biggest fear when news broke that Robert Pera was buying the Grizzlies was that he’d move the team somewhere else. The much-publicized Larry Ellison bid had just fallen through, and everybody with half a brain knew he was going to move the team to San Jose, and that he didn’t care how much money it cost him to do so. Selling the team to Larry Ellison would’ve meant Michael Heisley went back on all of his promises to look for someone willing to keep the team in Memphis – and after all, he’d told the people of Vancouver all those years ago that he was going to keep the team there, too.
Now we know what Pera’s intentions are. Pera’s intentions are to keep the team here, at least for another fifteen years. The FedEx Forum lease runs until 2021, but one assumes it’ll probably get extended to 2027 at some point in the future. If this sale goes through, we’ll have more local ownership of the team than at any point in recent memory, and the team is guaranteed to stay here longer than it already was.
In the current NBA environment, where the Sonics were hijacked out of Seattle in broad daylight and the Sacramento Kings’ ownership is doing everything short of admitting they’re trying to get the team anywhere but Sacramento, when the Warriors are moving from Oakland to San Francisco, where Anaheim is sitting ready to welcome whatever team comes with open arms and Seattle, apparently not so upset by having had their team stolen that they wouldn’t do it to somebody else, is openly planning to entice someone else’s team to move there, having the Grizzlies commit to staying in Memphis – Memphis, this place that not too long ago felt like it might not ever recover from years of urban decay and neglect – is not something that should be taken for granted. One has to think that after the way the league did everything they could to keep the Hornets in New Orleans, Commissioner Stern and the Board of Governors will be pleased by Pera’s bid and it’s honest, forthright attempt to keep a team cost to its burgeoning fan base.
The current state of the Pera bid is a best-case scenario for the sale of the Grizzlies by Michael Heisley. We get to keep our team, and according to the Commercial Appeal article that broke this story, there are actual costs and penalties involved if Pera wants to go back on that promise. We have a local ownership group that has created for itself all kinds of opportunities to buy the franchise and keep it here in the event that someone else wants to move it. Most of all, we get to keep loving this basketball team, without worrying that they’re going to be taken away from us, the way so many other things have over the last few decades.
Memphis is a great city, and the Grizzlies are now ours for even longer.