It is amazing what a difference two years can make, both for you and for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The American author Herman Raucher once said-
"Life is made up of many comings and goings and for everything that we take with us, we must leave something behind."
There is plenty of truth in this statement. In my life, I have had the opportunity to live in several places and meet many different people. Those people and places have come and gone, whether by movement, growing apart, or passing away, but all have impacted me in one way or another. This is the inherent beauty of our journey through our time on this earth together- everywhere I have gone I have learned something, taken something with me that will stay throughout the rest of my days. At the same time, everywhere I have been I have left a part of me behind when the time came to depart.
I left a lot behind in Memphis. I also took a lot with me.
The progression of life dictates decisions more often than not. Marriage, starting a family, a new job opportunity...we are guided by need more so than desire more often than not. Wives and children tend to change perspective on what matters, and that is what took me out of Memphis. But the lessons that I learned from the city, its people, and their NBA team in my time there and in the two years since have stayed with me, and will continue to.
Anything is Possible
Walking down Beale Street on your way to a Grizzlies game is something that I remember like it was yesterday. The smells of the various restaurants cooking BBQ and Cajun, the bright flashing lights leading you down towards FedExForum, and sounds of the Blues that are seemingly always present wherever you are in downtown Memphis...it is a treasure trove for the senses. It sparks the imagination, bringing with it an energy that anything can happen in Memphis.
When it comes to the Memphis Grizzlies, it usually does. From improbable regular season wins...
...to iconic postseason plays.
These are just two examples of multiple times where a Grizzly made the unlikeliest on plays, or moments, happen. The names on the back of the jerseys change, but the never-say-never nature of the name on the front stays the same, year after year. Even since I left Memphis, the FedExForum has remained a place where the improbable finds a home, be it player turnarounds or game-winning plays.
As Don Poier so poignantly put it- "Only in the movies, and in Memphis." That wasn't just a catchy phrase to me. I felt it. Anything could happen in this town. A random concert from a music legend, a game-winning shot for the ages...the possibilities were endless. Even if in reality there were limits, the soul of the city seemed to push those aside, even if only for the moment. The rest of the real world waited for Memphis and the moment to pass, and that will surely carry on as the Grizzlies head to the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. Those moments are what life is all about.
Memphis showed this to me in a whole new way.
There is no denying that Memphis has its problems. Some have been more well-documented in recent days than others, but the issues persist. There is still a strong undercurrent of racism in areas of the city that hurt civic unity. There is rampant poverty that I saw first hand as a teacher and coach, struggles to provide for families in the most basic of ways. The violent crime is a massive issue, as the city's new Mayor recently told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and parts of Memphis are dilapidated and unsightly.
There are numerous problems. But lots of places have problems. The overall culture of the city, the vibe, the connection that can be made...its a beautiful thing. This is a major connecting point between Memphis and their Grizzlies, something that stood out so strongly for me and continues to even now.
The Grizzlies have numerous problems. But their overall culture, the vibe, the connection that can be made...it is a beautiful thing.
Memphis is one of the worst three-point shooting teams over the past five years in the entire NBA. They don't have the personnel to do it. This season in particular it seemed like the Grizzlies didn't have personnel, period. They failed to rise to the occasion on multiple occasions, struggling to put teams away when they had the chance to. They are one of the oldest rosters in the NBA, their core is led by players who will never be on an NBA top athletes list, they have a variety of role players playing outside of their comfort zone due to injury.
Seemingly a lot of good reasons to move on to a new NBA franchise to support, or perhaps make other plans this Spring than watch a struggling roster limp through the playoffs. But Memphis won't do it...at least not on a large scale. Why not, you may ask?
Walking out on this team is like walking out on an entire city at this point. You don't get that without genuine connection between a team and a city and a recognition of similarities in one another.
Flaws? Problems? Yes. Reasons to give up, or walk away?
The Power of Potential
You never walk away because you miss out on what can be. Where some see a crumbling city, others in Memphis see opportunity to build and improve. Where some see a team that is too old, and too lacking in key areas to succeed, others in Memphis saw and continue to see some gutsy efforts and opportunity for another great chapter in the Grit and Grind Era to be told. There are plenty of reasons that Memphis is rated as such a great place for young people to live in numerous publications- because the city is ripe for growth. It needs energy, and passion, and work ethic. A drive to be better that I identified with and was inspired by.
Even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds as they enter the NBA Playoffs, there is still that little part of you that feels potential for the Memphis Grizzlies. It isn't built in logic, or in analysis. It won't be found in the national media, who struggles at times understanding just what exactly is going on in Memphis. Who can blame them? The Grizzlies and their bond with Memphis must be experienced in those moments of connection shown above, or in the visits to St. Jude or the Tony Allen Karaoke events. In the idea that potential lies deep sometimes, especially this season and in this city, but it is indeed there.
What might be is stronger than what currently is. An eye to the future, and the promise that it holds, is what life is about. I saw that in full effect in Memphis.
Every time I go back there is something new. New buildings, new murals, new breweries or restaurants. Among old friends, new babies or life milestones. Time grinds on, much like the Grizzlies, and Memphis remains a city both struggling with its past and pressing forward with its future. In the midst of these growing pains, there will be another walk down Beale Street for me on Saturday night. Memories of previous moments will return, and the soul of the city will surely remind me of why I fell in love with Memphis in the first place. It is imperfect and improbably wonderful, a place where I learned a lot about myself just from living there and following the basketball team that they love.
Moments. Problems. Potential. This all makes up a life, and a city, and a team, and a home.
I can't wait for the next lesson. I missed you, Memphis. It's good to be back.