The date was November 22, 2004.
As I stepped out of the car with my father, there was only one thought running through my seven-year-old head.
This place is huge.
It was the new FedexForum, a brand new basketball arena for both the Memphis Tigers and, for this particular night, the Memphis Grizzlies. And it was both my first night in the FedexForum and my first ever Grizzlies game.
Now before that night, I really didn’t feel any personal connection to the Memphis Grizzlies. Of course, they were our hometown NBA team, but this was only the franchise’s fourth year in Memphis—I didn’t have any early memories of the team. While I had started playing church-league basketball, I also didn’t really have any particular affinity for basketball in general at that point.
That all changed after this night.
Even now as nearly 14 years have passed, I still recall nearly everything about that night. I remember the unshakable sense of dread that I felt every time the unstoppable Tim Duncan caught the ball on the low block. I remember witnessing the mesmerizing, misunderstood beauty of a Jason Williams crossover for the first time in person. I remember Bonzi Wells of all people hitting the go-ahead three with less than a minute remaining to give the Grizzlies the victory.
But most importantly, I remember that I finally realized my father and I had found something that we both truly loved and something we still bond over to this day. No matter how many years pass, he and I will still sit down together to watch any type of basketball game. All of those times together, especially this one in particular, never fail to bring me joy.
And it’s times like these where you realize that life, for all of its complexities and intricacies, can also be so simple—even as simple as the rhythmic beauty of a bouncing ball.
I can truly thank the Memphis Grizzlies for that.
Time rolls along, and yet here we are, excited once again.
Since my “religious” experience in 2004, many things are now different with the Grizzlies as they enter their 18th year in Memphis. As absurd as it may have sounded back then, the Grizzlies are now on their second Gasol brother—in what may be his final season in Memphis. The city of Memphis has witnessed the rise, fall, and possible resurrection of the greatest run of professional basketball that it has ever known. The uniforms, court and players continue to change.
However, there remains through all the change an underlying sense of identity and community, a cultural cohesion that fits the city of Memphis like a glove. Even as the Grizzlies have hit hard times, they still serve as a unifying force in a city that has been historically divided along racial and economic lines.
This unity can be best exemplified through our collective memories.
For example, we all remember the graceful jab-step jumper from Zach Randolph that gave the Grizzlies their first ever home playoff win.
We remember when Tony Allen ripped the ball right out of Klay Thompson’s hands to the raucous chants of “First-Team All-Defense” in the FedexForum.
And who could forget when Mike Conley had perhaps the most singular performance in Grizzlies’ history by leading them to a memorable playoff victory on the road against the Golden State Warriors with a broken face?
To be sure, these are the type of moments where the Memphis Grizzlies have captivated both the people of Memphis and NBA fans in general. And make no mistake: There will be plenty of more unforgettable moments like this in the future.
Yes, there is a very real possibility, which has been stated ad nauseam by yours truly at this point, that this season may not go according to plan. The uncertainty and doubts will certainly not go away regardless of what happens against the Indiana Pacers tonight. It very well could be a long time before the Grizzlies are able to find the consistent success that they found during the “Grit ‘N’ Grind” era.
But the legacy that the Grizzlies have created in Memphis cannot be broken by a few terrible seasons, and the love affair between the franchise and the city will continue on for many years to come. The Grizzlies are here to stay.
And no matter what happens this season or over the next few years, that is absolutely something worth celebrating.
So as year 18 begins in Memphis, let’s celebrate the fact that we will get to see at least one more memorable run of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Let’s celebrate the delightful contrast of the old with the new in the potentially generational stardom of Jaren Jackson Jr. Let’s celebrate the valuable heritage that basketball continues to represent in Memphis.
Most importantly, let’s celebrate the likelihood that the Memphis Grizzlies will cause another child to fall in love with the game of basketball.