Sometimes in life, to paraphrase Tony Allen, you have got to keep a cool booty.
That's easier said than done in an instant gratification world, right? So many of us look for that quick fix, the immediate assurance, information and entertainment in the palm of our hands that can reach around the world and back again. If there are not immediate dividends being paid, then what's the point?
We are all guilty of this, especially in sports. A player has a bad stretch of games? Trade him. Team loses 2 or 3 in a row? Fire the coach, bench the quarterback or point guard or right wing or shortstop. And if a younger player does not come along fast enough, or to the standard set by the masses? He can't play for us. Time to move on.
Sometimes those masses are right.
Then, there's Mike Conley.
The younger Mike Conley struggled a good bit. Poor overall shooting percentages in his first couple of seasons and an apparent lack of leadership skills led to losing the starting job. Some Grizzlies fans and media types called for moving on from the young man taken fourth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. Trades with the Trail Blazers for Travis Outlaw & the Bucks for Joe Alexander and Ramon Sessions were rumored and debated. The question was asked -
Why would the BUCKS make that deal?
Mike Conley was down about all of this of course. But even then, he showed signs of being that Captain of Clutch and Cool we all know now.
"They've given me chances," Conley said. "I wouldn't say they've given up on me. We've been searching. It's tough. You don't know what the organization might be doing. My dad (and agent, Mike Conley Sr.) told me not to worry about it and just play."
- Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 11th, 2009
Hindsight is always 20/20. But the commitment to Mike Conley has more than worked out for the Memphis Grizzlies. His PER since the 2009-2010 season has increased every single year, as has his ability to lead and finish for the Grizzlies. Finishing in particular has become more and more of a part of his identity as a basketball player. That name, "Captain Clutch", that Grizzlies TV play-by-play man Pete Pranica has been using (along with others) is fitting. It seems as if whenever Memphis needs a shot this season he is there to respond.
Against the Sixers...when you need him:
Against the San Antonio Spurs...again, when you need him:
Those are just two examples from this season. There are many others from this season and beyond: Free throws against Dallas to secure the seven seed, lay-ups against the Spurs, and shots from range against the Thunder. More and more moments in Grizzlies history are being etched by a guy who, five years ago, was rumored to be traded for Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander.
Keep a cool booty, right?
The cooler than the other side of the pillow aspect of Mike Conley goes beyond even his clutch nature. His game itself is rather icy at this point. Conley's shot chart this season as compared to last is indicative of that, despite the 40 or so game smaller sample size.
Conley 2014/January 1st, 2015
Three point shooting stands out, but that is not the only area where he has shined. His game continues to grow and develop; improvement finishing at the rim and better understanding of what Coach Dave Joerger wants out of him as the commander of the offense are evident.
And the confidence! He is capable of going toe-to-toe with the great players of the NBA, as this video breakdown of Conley vs. Steph Curry shows.
The Grizzlies' offense continues to become more and more Conley-centric. His true shooting percentage of 58% is a career best up to this point, as is his 24.9% usage rate, .3 higher than his usage last season. Flare screens, the pick-and-roll that Conley excels in, penetration leading to Spurs-ian ball movement around the perimeter either started by a Conley drive or finished by a Conley three point attempt. All-Star Game or not, Mike is having, yet again, a career year.
The final bit of cool from Conley has to do with another "C"- class. Athletes get attention for a lot of negative reasons. Not Mike Conley. The 2014 NBA Sportsmanship Award recipient was called a "hard, competitive guy" by Dave Joerger who "does it in a very classy and professional way". Conley himself summed up his views on being an NBA player in the same article -
"I'm honored and obviously it's a great achievement. It says a lot about what you do for the team, the community and how the players respect you around the league."
"..."I'm just professional and care about the team, care about the city, care about the league"
That's an impressive way to view things from a guy who was being shipped out of town by so many. The media also sometimes can get a bad rap with athletes. Ask the Washington Redskins about poor relations with the local reporters; it can get ugly, especially when trade rumors are floated around. Not for Mike Conley.
Taking time out to do the little things can make all the difference. Mike Conley gets that, both in basketball and in life.
What's cooler than being cool? ICE COLD.
The coolest thing about Mike Conley though, and the thing that we all can learn from, is belief in yourself and belief in the process. Things take time; delayed gratification is hard! But the next time any of us wish to look to the next big thing, let's think of Mike Conley and take a breath. Remember the stunning clutch plays, the satisfaction in watching a home grown Grizzly become a man of character, a role model for the children of Grizz Nation and beyond to look up to. A growing star in the NBA galaxy that is truly a product of Memphis' NBA franchise.
A superstar to be proud of off and on the court. That's pretty cool.