Three years ago today, I received an early morning phone call. My mom was on the other line, imploring me to get home as quickly as I could. My grandmother’s long battle with dementia was finally winding down. It was time to say goodbye.
A few days later, after we’d held the funeral and I had gone back home, I had some time alone to sit and think about the memories I had of her, the times that we’d spent together. But what stuck with me more than all those memories were the opportunities I’d missed, the times when I’d been too busy with real life to stop and see her.
That, more than anything, was what stuck with me: all those times that I’d never get back.
In the grand scheme of things, sports are stupid, little more than grown men, many of whom are paid tens of millions of dollars, chasing around a ball in arenas that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. When taken at face value, if we’re being completely honest, sports are dumb.
But the value of sports isn’t found in the rules or the lingo. It’s in the games’ human element. More than the wins and the losses, it’s the shared experience that matters. Sports, especially for fans, hold their greatest value in the bonds we build with those we watch the games with, and the connections we form with the players we watch.
Tony Allen turns 35 today, and at the end of the year, his contract with the Memphis Grizzlies will expire. This means that there’s a chance, if slim, that this is Allen’s last year in Beale Street Blue. Given his ability to still contribute, along with the salary cap rules, it seems unlikely, but even if this season doesn’t mark the end, that moment is still steadily approaching. The Grindfather is being worn down by Father Time, and no one, even someone as tenacious as TA, wins that battle.
It gets talked about over and over again: Memphis’ situation is quite unique. Nowhere else in the NBA would a defensive specialist with a knack for egregiously missing layups be anything other than a role player. In the Bluff City however, Allen is a star, the poster child for Grit ‘n’ Grind, the creator of a slogan that’s grown into a full-blown brand, complete with Twitter hashtag and media branch. The Grindhouse is Allen’s home, a place he helped build and where he’s revered by fans like some sort of basketball demigod.
In spite of that love, Allen still catches a lot of flack for the deficiencies in his game, the groan-inducing offensive miscues and the easy putbacks that often go awry. In a game where big-time scorers usually get the spotlight, Allen’s warts and shortcomings stand out like a sore thumb, glaringly obvious.
Those issues, coupled with the fact that Allen’s contract is up after this season, have drawn plenty of recent discussion. Grit ‘n’ Grind appears, by all accounts, to be fading. So what does that mean for the man who gave Memphis its mantra? There’s no denying that Allen is closer to the end of his time with the Grizzlies than the beginning, and at times, it’s impossible to avoid the noise, the trade speculation and planning for the future.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. As sports fans, it’s only natural to want to peek into the crystal ball to hunt for omens of what’s to come. But it’s also worth enjoying what TA — and this Grizzlies team — is doing right now. The season to this point has been a joy to watch. And while Marc Gasol has been the one who’s carried his team, Allen has done his fair share of heavy lifting.
That sort of performance is worth savoring. Life gets busy, and sometimes we lose sight of the scenery flying by because we’re too busy trying to see what’s around the next corner. Sometimes it’s still worth stopping to smell the roses, even if that means getting pricked by a couple of thorns. For the Grindfather, that means appreciating all the treats, even if that means putting up with a “trick” from time to time.
The night before my grandmother’s funeral, my family gathered at my uncle’s house. Between games of dominoes, we ate from the dishes provided by loving neighbors, flipped through old photo albums, and shared our favorite memories of the woman we’d lost. Deep into the early hours of the morning, we reminisced. We laughed, we cried, and many times all at once.
The day is coming when Tony Allen will no longer wear Beale Street Blue, but until that time comes, whether it’s this season or further down the road, remember to enjoy the Grindfather for what he is, what he’s given to the team, and the memories he’s provided. When Tony Allen leaves the Grizzlies, it will be as a folk hero, an icon of the city and the franchise. Fans who’ve bonded over the team that Grit built will retell their favorite TA tall tales, embellished just a touch for dramatic effect, just the way TA would have wanted. The way a true legend should be retold.
Until then, do what you can to avoid getting lost in the noise and enjoy what Mr. First Team is, because you won’t always have that chance. The future will get here soon enough. For now, just enjoy the ride.
Happy birthday, Grindfather.