And Marc Gasol stays a Grizzly. Grizz Nation rejoices, and exhales, all at once.
We all have hopes and dreams for ourselves and families. Sometimes they take us away from places and people we love and you choose another city or part of the country to chase those dreams. And nowhere is this more possible than the NBA; we often forget that these players we say are "great" or "awful", worthy of trading of signing long-term, are men. Fathers. Husbands. Sons. Depended on to provide, not just for themselves and their immediate families but for those around them in their extended circle.
The pressure to "do what's best for everyone" and do it as quickly as possible must be immense.
Marc took his time to make this choice. A source told ESPN's Marc Stein that Marc is "methodical", which most folks already knew about the First Team All-NBA Center and Western Conference All-Star starting Center. Perhaps Marc wanted to take advantage of his time with the undivided attention of multi-billionaire majority owner of the Grizzlies Robert Pera. Maybe he wanted to make clear his vision for the future of the franchise and make sure his thoughts aligned with those of Pera and the front office a la LeBron James. He also could have been making the biggest decision of his life, and simply wanted time to discuss it with family and friends.
Whatever the case, it is done now. Marc is choosing Memphis.
Memphis, of course, has its warts. Poverty, crime. Dilapidated buildings and racial tensions that date back to a time that many of us only know from videos and books but are still very prevalent to this day. While there is a lot to be proud of in Memphis (after having lived there for three years myself I know it to be true), there are issues as well. Lots of cities have problems. Memphis has PROBLEMS.
Then, there are the Memphis Grizzlies.
A source of good in the community that has been recognized by ESPN for its sustained excellence. A franchise who for all its draft-day criticisms and botched trade attempts has had a run of recent success that makes even the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks blush. The FedExForum is one of the best arenas in the NBA with one of the best in-game crews in the business. They are the very best of a city who worried for so long that they may not stay, who has come of age at a time where Memphis needs them more than they need Memphis.
The strides show in the civic pride that is on display at a playoff game. Over 17,000 people, black and white, rich and poor, holding up a yellow towel in belief. They show in investment of time, talent and treasure around town in education, in infrastructure, in the long-term solutions necessary to break cycles of hate and hopelessness. All of these acts built around the work of men who so often have other opportunities, who could go elsewhere and "do what is best for everyone" according to everyone else. Better weather, better marketing, better cities in general.
And yet, they're staying.
Marc Gasol stayed, but as Craig Brewer's awesome video showed last week he is from Memphis, one of their own. His leaving would have sent shock waves through not just the franchise, but the community at large.
But he chose to stay.
Zach Randolph has become a civic icon in his own right, helping kids get ready for school and helping families in need stay cool in the Summer by helping with their electric bills. He has led this renaissance in Memphis, relinquishing the reigns to Marc Gasol this past season but make no mistake, he helped start it all.
He chose to stay.
Tony Allen, "The Grindfather" himself, helped define an era of basketball in Memphis that will be beloved for a very long time. His tenacity and emotion is Memphis through and through. Mr. "First Team All-Defense" had an opportunity to walk...
He chose to stay.
Beno Udrih experienced a rediscovery of his value when Memphis picked him up off of waivers, was a savior of sorts once Nick Calathes was suspended for the start of the 2014 playoffs. He likely had chances elsewhere to achieve more opportunity, or even money...
He chose to stay.
Several men, from different areas of not just the country but the globe. Indiana, Illinois, Slovenia, Spain. Different walks of life, different priorities, different hopes and dreams.
They all chose to stay.
Howard Beck of Bleacher Report recently tweeted out a blurb from a story he did on Marc Gasol a while back that did not make the final cut. Here is a Gasol quote from his piece-
...:but the really important things in life are still the same things that we had going back, the family staying together, the un-material things...
In all of the free agent hustle and bustle that occurs, a model of life itself acts out. Prioritizing visits and meetings, "what matters most to you?" Some want to be recruited, some want to make as much money as they can, working the system to their benefit. And they are right to; as long as you can look at yourself and say you did what you felt what was best for you and yours, godspeed. Life is short, and the window of time for earning millions of dollars to play a child's game is even shorter.
Gasol's focus on what really matters, family being together, the things in life that cannot be bought, is wise beyond his years and a lesson for all of us. He being just the latest Grizzly to choose to stay in Memphis shows another trend, however; Memphis becoming a place worthy of staying in, these Grizzlies truly becoming more like a band of brothers than simply teammates. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are great friends, and Conley was quoted as saying that Marc "belonged here." As Fox 13 Memphis' Peter Fleischer put it on Twitter, this bodes well for Conley's impending free agency. Grizzlies fans can be confident with regard to retaining his services as well...
Good-to-great players, choosing to stay in Memphis. It shows that their time in the Mid-South is not just for a chapter in life, or a vacation, a place to eat or drink your fill while visiting Graceland and the Zoo.
It is where babies are being born and families are being raised, where memories are being made and real tangible growth is happening right before the eyes of Memphians. Revitalization is occurring and is all around you throughout the city, young people are buying property in the immediate metro area and settling in the area. New stories are being told by new generations of Memphians that slowly but surely are pushing the problems and issues into the history books. The spirit of a city is strengthening, and its body is recovering.
Is it all because of a basketball player choosing to stay? Of course not. It is because of the public servants, the teachers and the nurses, the business people and investors. It is because of the hard work of the day-to-day person on the ground living and loving in the Bluff City.
And those people as the years go on are loving the Memphis Grizzlies more and more. A symbol of achievement, of obtainable excellence. A growing measuring stick for all that is good in the city. A reason to believe that through the combined efforts of many that becoming something greater truly is possible...
And it makes for one hell of a reason to choose to stay.