All heart. Grit. Grind.
Those four simple words started a fire in Memphis, and the city and its Grizzlies will never be the same.
This isn’t a think piece about race relations and how the Grizzlies bring a city together. This isn’t a detailed analysis of just how good the Grizzlies were with Tony Allen and Zach Randolph on the court. It is an acknowledgement of a simple, undeniable truth:
There is an entire generation of Memphis Grizzlies fans that exists because these two men were a part of this community and organization.
Before their arrival, the Grizzlies were at best a blip on the radar in the minds of most NBA folks. Memphis was a playoff team that had never won a postseason game, a franchise whose star players wanted out for brighter markets and bigger stages to shine on alongside other stars. They could never build a team because no one wanted to come to Memphis, much less stay.
But Zach Randolph chose to stay after he was traded to the Grizzlies and his contract eventually expired. Tony Allen chose to come here as a free agent and re-sign with the organization. Along this seven-year stretch of playoff appearances and memory after memory being made, these two players overcame their own flaws and helped to build a team that was to be respected, and in some cases even feared, for their style of play.
And goodness, was that style of play hard to watch sometimes. Missed lay-ups and questionable (putting it nicely) shot selection would at times lead to a head shaking, Twitter-rant heavy reaction. An offense “in the mud” is going to be dirty, but it felt like the filth was on the fans as much as it was the players...
But more often than not, it worked. And people bought in to this “ugly” brand of basketball because they bought in to Zach and Tony. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were the better players, and those two took the reigns of this franchise years ago now, but the character and will of these Grizzlies was forged in the muck and mire with Tony Allen and Zach Randolph.
That’s not to say that these two are perfect. There’s a reason they’re no longer Memphis Grizzlies - it was time to move on in the eyes of the organization, and now more than ever before, the fan base seems ready to be OK with that. Both players have lost a step; both were fatally flawed even before the years took their toll. Zach Randolph can still be a post scorer in the NBA, and the Sacramento Kings valued that financially more than Memphis at this stage. Tony Allen can still be a defensive stopper, and the New Orleans Pelicans wanted the Grindfather and his chaos more than the Grizzlies at this stage of his career.
That in no way, shape, or form devalues who they are to the city and who they were to this franchise.
Without TA and Z-Bo, there likely would never have been a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Without #Feed50, there would be hundreds upon hundreds of people whose power may have been cut off, or kids who wouldn’t have had supplies for school. Without the Grindfather, there would be far less karaoke events benefiting juveniles as they try to break away from criminal behavior. Without these two men, there would not be large groups of young people lining the streets of Beale Street before playoff games chanting, wearing Beale Street Blue.
I know that because I was, and am, one of them.
I am of the Grit and Grind Generation, who came to know this team thanks in part to the efforts of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph. Both players are flawed, but so what? So is Memphis. Both players are real and genuine, and so is Memphis. Both players are driven by doubters, and so is Memphis. That resonates, and that identity and the success that came with it brought in a group of fans who are passionate and love this team.
That exists because of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen.
A little more than a month from now, I and other Grizzlies fans will be sitting down to watch opening night as Memphis welcomes Tony Allen and the New Orleans Pelicans to FedExForum. It will be so strange to see TA in that opposing jersey, and the same goes for Zach later in the season. The Grizzlies and their fans, some of whom are there because of Allen and Randolph, will surely give him a rousing and well-deserved standing ovation.
Sitting next to me will be a little girl, two-years old, in a Memphis Grizzlies t-shirt. She will likely be clapping, because others on TV are clapping, and she will likely say “Go Grizzlies”.
And that, more than anything else, is the legacy of this era and these players.
The fact that the development of generational fandom for this still young franchise is more solid than ever before. The fact that my daughter and I are not unique, as other parents and their children will be doing the same thing as me, either at FedExForum itself or at home. Eras end, lights fade, and Grit and Grind is no different. But those who experienced it know it was real, that it was special. We want to share those memories, moments, and the team who was fortunate enough to have them with those who mean the most to us.
Thirty years from now, when our children pass that on to their children...that is a hell of a legacy to leave behind.
Thank you Zach. Thank you Tony. Good luck and Godspeed.