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The Memphis Grizzlies: The NBA’s Greek Tragedy

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Every hero has a fatal flaw. The Achilles Heel at times for the Memphis Grizzlies involves the Achilles Heel.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Conley was writhing on the floor in pain.

He was slow to get up, and once he did you could just tell that something was off. His Memphis Grizzlies teammates looked on from afar, those who have played with Mike and in Memphis for a while having seen similar scenes play out before their eyes before. The literal and figurative scars from last season are nowhere near healed. After seeing Chandler Parsons, and James Ennis, and Brandan Wright go down...it’s hard to not think “here we go again.”

It’s like a recurring nightmare, one where there is a cheesy beginning like The Twilight Zone that lets you know it is coming but you can’t wake yourself up to avoid it. You fall in to an abyss, looking upon yourself hopelessly tumbling, unsure of what was coming but knowing it would terrify you, stick with you, never leave no matter how hard you try.

Mike Conley was writhing on the floor in pain. And the free fall feeling returned.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In ancient Greece, storytellers such as Homer would spread the “history” of the Greeks through epic poetry. Whether it be the story of Odysseus’ trip home to Ithica in The Odyssey or the battle for Troy that is the setting for The Iliad, people loved the mix of myth and reality, god and mortal. The tall tales that doubled as history lessons were both educational and entertaining, and helped to explain the unexplainable. It told why things were the way they were.

In a lot of these Greek myths, the heroes had some sort of fatal flaw or grave misfortune that brought tragedy upon them. Sometimes it was hubris, or excessive pride. Achilles had his heel. Oedipus went through a series of unfortunate events on his way to marrying his own mother and killing his own father, unbeknownst to him. These heroic figures in these stories had something hovering over them all along. Even when things were going well and they seemed poised to overcome adversity to live happily ever after, their doom was always just a step behind them. There was nothing they could do. It was destined to end tragically.

It was predetermined to end with pain.


What’s not to love about the Memphis Grizzlies? They have become an NBA folk song, a League Pass darling for all the wrong reasons. Their “in the mud” style and “all-heart” effort makes them easy to both hate and love at the same time.

They’re a blast. Marc Gasol throws passes like this-

and this-

And what is better than a Marc Gasol dance after a game-clinching three?

Damn near heroic.

The shot above was during a happier time, a time when health was not a major concern for Memphis. But since five- yes, five- Grizzlies have gone down with some physical ailment that forced the to miss at least two games in the past two weeks, Marc Gasol has had to be a constant source of offensive and defensive consistency. Without Gasol’s passing, his ability to create for himself, his understanding of opposing offenses, Memphis would be lost. Add in the fact that Zach Randolph has been away on bereavement the past few games, and it has become clearer than ever that Memphis will only go as far as Gasol will take them.

The concern here is that it is not like Gasol himself is a picture of perfect health. Marc of course is coming off a broken foot, and heading in to the season he was supposed to be on some form of a minute restriction to ensure a full recovery stays that way. But in the past 14 games for the Grizzlies Gasol has played over 32 minutes in 12 of them, and he leads the team overall in total minutes played.

So much for a minutes restriction. It feels as if fate is being tempted as we speak.


There are silver linings in these dark clouds, of course. Young players will continue to develop in the absence of veterans, something that hasn’t happened in Memphis in a while. That will eventually pay off down the road.

Zach Randolph (when he is ready, as it should be) will return. Chandler Parsons (fingers crossed) and James Ennis (more realistic) should be back within the next week or two. Vince Carter’s ailment is more of a day-to-day thing, whereas Mike Conley and Brandan Wright are month-to-month. A relatively healthy roster is not too far away.

But will it last? Recent trends tend to point toward that being unlikely. The Grizzlies were obliterated by injury just a year ago, and ever since the last time Mike Conley was writhing on the floor in pain for an extended period of time...

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

...it feels like the Grizzlies definitive weakness has been their overall ability to stay on the floor healthy. It once was their inability to shoot three-point shots, but the arrival of David Fizdale as head coach seems to have alleviated that somewhat. What Fizdale does not have schematic control over, however, is the bodies that will or won’t make up the active roster on any given night.

New or old, it doesn’t matter it seems. The injury bug continues to suck the life out of the Memphis Grizzlies.


At the absolute worst of last season, when Jordan Farmar and Chris Andersen played meaningful minutes and Lance Stephenson was the best player at times on the Grizzlies, you could see Mike Conley walking around with a boot on on the sidelines. He had been playing through various ailments all season long, but this was the last straw- especially since so many others like Gasol were also out.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It was Conley’s Achilles tendon that was the culprit, that robbed him of another month or so of his on-court career. And in the aftermath, the Grizzlies fell in to a downward spiral, finishing the season 3-18 including the playoffs, a sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. This was the depths of despair, where all everyone wanted was to awaken from the nightmare that the season had become.

The time has come to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, that these Grizzlies may be the NBA’s Achilles or Oedipus. A modern day Greek tragedy in the arena of professional basketball, where the fatal flaw of our heroes is something they cannot avoid. They control their effort and attitude admirably...but in the end, it may not matter because of knees, or tendons, or flexors. Their new Achilles heel.

Conley gingerly walked in to the locker room and the off-season. And the free fall feeling returned.

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