The greatest moments in sports, and in life, are organically developed. They are not manufactured, mass produced. They come naturally, out of raw emotion.
The birth of the "Grit and Grind" era for the Memphis Grizzlies came during the 2010-2011 season. Moments of opportunity for the likes of Tony Allen replacing Xavier Henry as a starter, moments of adversity as a city dealt with massive floods. The moments where Zach Randolph took this team, and the city of Memphis, and put them on his 'Super Z-Bo" shoulders, carrying them past the San Antonio Spurs. The moment in the second round of those 2011 playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder where the fans in attendance, instead of waving their Growl Towels during the playing of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" held them up, almost in an act of civic defiance, the phrase "Believe Memphis" prominently displayed, a refusal to cave in faith in their team, and themselves.
Have you ever really listened to "Don't Stop Believing"? Of course, it is a challenge to have the Journey classic on and not sing along, but try to just listen to the structure and tone of the song itself.
The most poignant part of the song does not come through in merely the lyrics, or the melody. It is in the build, the slow & steady growth of drums and guitar upon the piano chords, the patiently added instruments from verse to verse. The fact that the famous, basically historic chorus is not sung until the end of the song, the final stanza, is particularly powerful. The chorus is more of a culmination than an ending, a reward for the patience of the audience. Lyrically, musically, the end of the song is the focal point made even more meaningful by the notes and words that preceded it.
For these Grizzlies, this era in their history is "Don't Stop Believing" personified. The slow and steady build of the roster via trades involving the acquisitions of Zach Randolph & Marc Gasol, the drafting of Mike Conley and the free agent signing of Tony Allen. Other pieces came and went along the way, and their additions and subtractions aided in what is without a doubt the most successful run in Memphis Grizzlies' history. So many contributed to the build that will not be a part of its culmination.
The seasons have played out along the way much like a verse or bridge of the rock classic that has helped represent what this team, and city, are; rises and falls, peaks and valleys, failures and successes. Playoff runs, followed by early exits in the seasons following them. Never being able to grab the brass ring, but still feeling that passion for the core of the team and being willing to stay invested...but not having as many be willing because of the uncertainty of the team's future in the city. In the eyes of some, a dark turn could take away this franchise to the West Coast, but with new ownership came reassurance and renewed excitement.
The build continued. Still with its share of dissonance, but the end resolution added beauty to the chaos. The roster grew, but the key, core pieces still played and continued on with their roles, growing and developing over the years. The established base was supported by others, who were added in different ways over the past two seasons; Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Kosta Koufos, Nick Calathes, and Jon Leuer via trade, Beno Udrih off of waivers, the signing of Vince Carter and the hiring of Head Coach Dave Joerger.
Then, the 2014-2015 season started, and it had a stronger tone than any from the previous seasons. It was deeper, it was more mature, it was refined, and as the games played out the sound was strong. The slow build, the journey, had finally come to its peak. The climb had, finally, reached its apex.
A crescendo is a musical direction. It is an increase in volume, sometimes abrupt and sudden, other times slow and gradual. It is used to call attention to a particular moment in a song, its power showing impact and force like a form of shading may in a work of art. These Memphis Grizzlies have been in the process of a gradual crescendo for the past four seasons. The build has meant an endearment with a fan base who appreciates the men who make up the Grizzlies for their character perhaps even more at times than their basketball skill. It has meant an opportunity to get to know and feel the core pieces that make up the baseline of the melody that is these Grizzlies. As other instruments have been added, the team has built upon itself, chemistry being the cement and continuity being the brick. Mantras, movements, motivating factors such as lack of national attention and disappointment have all added to this moment:
We are at the crescendo, the final verse of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies.
This is not to say the song must end after this season. As was discussed with Geoff Calkins on the latest episode of GBBLive, however, this era, as all others have, will indeed end. That finish may come this season if Marc Gasol departs, or next season after another year on the tires of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen alongside Mike Conley's free agency. Perhaps it is still three or so seasons away. The movie of memory may never end, but the reality is that this time of unprecedented success will, at some point, fade to black.
But not yet. The greatest, loudest, most impactful part of this story has yet to be told. The Memphis Grizzlies are at their peak, the third best team by record heading into the All-Star Break, on pace for close to 60 wins in the hellacious Western Conference. They are led by those who were there from the beginning of the era; their All-Star Marc Gasol, their greatest reclamation project Zach Randolph, their draft pick/homegrown star Mike Conley, and key role players who fit and fill where needed. The Grizzlies are 23-8 against the West this season, firmly in position to possibly win their division for the first time while having home court advantage for at least one series in the playoffs, possibly two. Barring any unforeseen issues, this Grizzlies team, the best in their history, is in position to seriously contend for an NBA championship.
The build, the journey, has made the final crescendo mean that much more. Much like the moments that started and have made up the Grit and Grind era, the final verse of the movement will have its share of ups and downs. The culmination of years of work and sacrifice will make for the most emotional of times. That is the purpose of "Don't Stop Believing", of course; you save the best for last, you wait, allowing the emotion to happen organically. Then, the crescendo reaches its peak. The end does not mean a negative; it means the culmination, the moment of ultimate satisfaction has arrived.
The song that is the Grit and Grind Grizzlies has reached its crescendo. And like the Journey classic that helped develop the most enduring image of the era, it will be the best part.