Around this time last year the Memphis Grizzlies had the best record in the NBA, bearing to the nation the "grit and grind" mentality that has seeped deep into the DNA of this great city. This season the wins and losses are different, but the story of the Memphis Grizzlies is still the story of their fans and of their city. This Grizzlies squad has stuck with us and we must stick with them.
I teach in South Memphis, home to some of the most impoverished zip codes in the country. Plastered all over my classroom's wall are giant cutouts of Tony Allen's head. A poster on the wall brags our classroom goal: "Grit and Grind ‘til you Shine," a slogan that is painted on an entire external wall of a nearby community development center. Students in my classroom write shout outs to each other for things like tenacity on small cutouts of Grizzlies players to be posted on the "Grindhouse." Excellent student work is posted on the "Grit" wall. My school has a strictly enforced uniform policy, but if you show good behavior throughout the week, Friday you can wear your Grizz gear. Believing in this team is a part of believing in Memphis. It is believing that with enough heart we can prevail no matter where we currently stand.
Teaching at a Title 1 Public School I was shocked to discover Coach Dave Joerger's children in our enrollment. Private prep schools were bypassed to have his children integrated into the socioeconomically diverse community in which they live. I talked with Coach Joerger at 5th grade dances and recitals. I came to him as an avid Grizz fan, accustomed to nose bleed tickets, jabbering my novice post game analyses. Nonetheless, Coach Joerger always wielded passion and candor in our conversations. For our city, Coach Joerger, and the Grizzlies, the power is in the connection, common identity, and common goals – status is irrelevant. Whatever the win-loss count, we are connected in this journey.
Like the first decade of Memphis Grizzlies basketball the city of Memphis has had a record of loss. Late in the 19th century the Yellow Fever nearly wiped out the city on its way to prominence. April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis polarizing its citizens and stunting its development. "White flight" disinvested wealth from Memphis' urban education system. NBA.com writes, "Memphis, [is] perhaps the most underappreciated team in the NBA..." Our city, like the Grizzlies, stained with a tumultuous history, has often been overlooked in its revitalization. And today, in a season fraught with steep losses people near and far are counting out and overlooking the potential of this Grizzlies team.
Well, the style of play that granted the Grizzlies success has messaged to our city that everyone must fill his or her role with passion, grit, and cohesion. Joerger leads a Grizzlies team whose success is not found in a franchise player or the petty foul calls associated with one. What is making a greater Memphis and made the Grizzlies a winning team is the diversity of strengths and weaknesses coexisting in a poetic chaos, fueled by a fire to do whatever it takes. "All heart. Grit. Grind." Is how Tony Allen put it.
So, here we are, amidst a disappointing season. It has been a December of surprisingly fair-weather temperatures and fandom. But, just like our blue-collar city, rooted in grit and passion, we cannot count this Grizzlies team out. Memphis has never moved forward pandering to the critics but marching on to the beat of our own drum.
On the day before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. he stated with anticipation, "Something is happening in Memphis." This legacy, too often forgotten, still marches on in our city and in this basketball team. We are a city of grit, a team that unsuspectingly gave the greatest scare of any to the Warriors' championship squad. To stay grounded with our team now, in a hard time, is in our DNA. It is essential to our identity; lest we forget that "something [still] is happening in Memphis."