It all started with an interview.
Ask any Memphian about their favorite Tony Allen moment and you will likely get a variety of responses. He has, after all, kicked Chris Paul in the face and made Michael Jordan laugh out loud at his offensive exploits. Chances are, though, you will hear this answer more often than not-
“He’s all-heart, Grit, Grind.”
That makes sense. He coined the entire idea, of course. The tall tale of Tony Allen began that night years ago, with the tremendous energy and effort to defend Kevin Durant when Memphis needed him most. It has taken twists and turns, with highs and lows hinging on every Tony Allen trick or treat. It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Tony- he is about as imperfect a starting NBA player as you will ever find.
But as the Memphis Grizzlies grind along in another injury-riddled season, once again Tony Allen finds himself being depended on by his teammates. And once again, he is delivering on his credo, building upon a legend that may well result in a jersey in the rafters and a statue outside of FedExForum one day.
Tony Allen the basketball player was made before Memphis. But Tony Allen the legend? It all started with an interview.
Scan through opposing NBA game plans for the Memphis Grizzlies and chances are there are little to no details on the offensive game of Tony Allen.
His game on that end of the floor leaves a lot to be desired. The old “shooting guard who cannot shoot” joke- how much do you have to scheme for the living offensive Island of Misfit Toys? In the past, not much- leaving him completely open and collapsing in the paint has had a hand in ending Memphis’ season more times than the Grizzlies and their fans care to admit. There is visual evidence to prove it is a sound strategy-
Now? That would be a bit more of a mistake.
Tony is no offensive dynamo, but the wrinkles that David Fizdale has brought to the Memphis offense as head coach have made Tony Allen a player that has to be accounted for. According to basketballreference.com, his usage rate (18.8%) is as high now as it has been in three seasons as TA is being asked to help initiate offense. He is setting screens, he is cutting and driving to the rim now that Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green are more perimeter oriented. He is taking advantage of these opportunities...
He is on pace to take more shots per game (8.5) than he ever has in his career (probably not sustainable as Memphis gets healthy), and he is shooting well above his career average of 56.7% at the rim with a 61.4% performance.
He is doing good Tony Allen things in transition-
Tony "Hustle" Allen.— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 9, 2016
No seriously, it's his middle name look it up. pic.twitter.com/yGQdYY8lH0
He has also been rebounding better than he ever has, especially on the offensive glass as he averages over two offensive boards per game. Effort has never been a question for Tony Allen. Execution on offense has. Both are a part of his legend. But with TA actually being utilized as an actual tool of offensive efficiency, he at least must be planned for now. That only adds to his value to Memphis.
His defense is still legit.
He has lost a step, of course. That is to be expected- he is 35 years old, and Father Time is undefeated. But his intensity and energy, what makes him so worthy of Memphis icon status in the eyes of many, is as strong as ever.
In fact, he is having quite the bounce back season on the defensive end to this point after an uncharacteristically poor year, at least by defensive efficiency standards.
- 2014-2015 (63 games): Defensive Efficiency- 98
- 2015-2016 (64 games): Defensive Efficiency- 105
- 2016-2017 (18 games): Defensive Efficiency- 100
Allen’s career average defensive efficiency is 101, so TA is back to being a defensive asset compared to the lofty standard he has set throughout his now 13 seasons in the NBA. The Memphis Grizzlies have also returned to being a top defense in the Association, currently rated 1st in the NBA with a 99.5 defensive rating. They just held Golden State to 89 points while forcing 23 turnovers. That elite-level performance of course was a team effort, and Marc Gasol continues to shine once again on defense himself- he is currently 22nd in the NBA in Defensive Real Plus-Minus according to ESPN among players who average over 25 minutes per game at +1.95.
But Tony Allen? 29th in the NBA in players averaging over 25 minutes per game, and first among shooting guards, at +1.62.
It is early in the season. But the legend of “First Team All-Defense” is still very much alive in Memphis.
As with most beloved Memphis Grizzlies, it isn’t just Allen’s on-court prowess that has made him beloved.
He remains a dang good interview, for example.
Tony Allen after Grizzlies win over Warriors: "I only had one steal tonight, that kind of hurt my feelings." All hail TA. pic.twitter.com/z8v9gYXjIP— Jessica Benson (@Local24Jessica) December 12, 2016
He is a tremendous leader in a Grizzlies locker room that got considerably younger over the course of this past off-season. His new head coach knows the value in a mentally tough player who has won a championship- Fizdale coached several of them during his time in Miami.
Tony Allen flexes his muscle and vocal cords as a team leader. David Fizdale can't get enough of The Grindfather's no nonsense leadership. pic.twitter.com/VCmcFwN2ah— glenn carver (@GCarver_WREG3) December 12, 2016
He also remains a major factor in the Memphis community, doing well for himself as a spokesman for the Memphis International Airport as well as doing well for others in the Bluff City who are less fortunate than he is.
In Memphis, basketball matters. It is king in the Bluff City, where football usually reigns supreme. Memphians view their basketball heroes through a different lens than most others for this reason. They are more than just another professional athlete in a major metropolitan area to be blogged about and discussed on sports radio and podcasts. They are civic leaders. They are local icons. They have the potential to make real, measurable, recognizable change in the day to day lives of the people who cheer them on in the stands and in their homes. It goes beyond the court. Tony Allen’s tall tale is not just a basketball story, or a Grizzlies story.
It is a Memphis story.
“What does that mean, Grandpa?”
A granddaughter looks up at her grandfather, standing outside of FedExFourm, pointing to a plaque at the feet of four bronzed basketball heroes outside of the now old arena that reads “all heart, grit, grind.”
It is the year 2046. Memphis has changed a good bit, as the world at large has a tendency to do, but the Grizzlies are still a force in the region. The rumors and concerns of the franchise moving were just that- the work of the Grizzlies organization some thirty years ago planted roots in fans that has carried down generations. They have gone through countless players and several coaches, but outside of the FedExForum there remains a timeless testament to the remarkable efforts to make the Grizzlies and Memphis one all those years ago.
The grandfather over the years has walked past these statues many times on his way to dinner or a drink with friends and family on Beale Street. They take him back to times when the bond was new, being forged in the fire of passion and overcoming odds that went beyond an athletic competition. It was a Memphis thing- you couldn’t explain it, you just had to live it, to feel it.
But as he looked down at his granddaughter, sporting her brand new Grizzlies jersey, he knew he had to try to tell the story of some of the greatest legends in Memphis sports lore. Where to possibly begin telling such a tall tale?
“It all started with an interview.”