You can almost feel it in the air, can’t you?
When a new NBA season arrives, there is a sense of optimism, a feeling of anticipation. And in a city that loves basketball as much as Memphis does, it has a different meaning. In Memphis, basketball is a civic religion, a cultural identity that definitely never goes out of style.
However, it certainly hasn’t felt that way lately, especially when it comes to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Instead of remaining a stable source of unity in Memphis, the Grizzlies were an exercise in embarrassment and division last year. From the constant struggle between the “pro-tank” and “anti-tank” crowd to a humiliating 60+ point loss against the Charlotte Hornets, the Grizzlies almost made us forget why the city of Memphis fell in love with them in the first place.
Where was the heart? Where was the passion? Or, if you want to be cliche, where was the “Grit ‘N’ Grind?”
To be sure, all good things do eventually come to an end. Yet for the Grizzlies, it felt like more than just the end of the third longest active playoff streak in the NBA. In reality, it was almost like a death in the family, a realization that something you once cherished may never return.
And yes, it has been said ad nauseam at this point, especially from yours truly, that the Grizzlies may not return to relevance again, at least for the foreseeable future. While optimism may be high, this team still has too many question marks, and the Western Conference has rarely been so exceptionally deep.
But at least for the moment, it really doesn’t seem to matter.
In Memphis, there is more than just an anticipation of the basketball that’s to come; there is a profound sense of joy. There is a joy in watching Mike Conley and Marc Gasol on the floor together once again, even if it’s just a mere preseason game. There is a joy in witnessing the hopeful rise of a budding star in Jaren Jackson Jr., even if it means watching him get baptized in fire by James Harden and Chris Paul. To put it simply, there is a joy in watching the Memphis Grizzlies play basketball once again.
Now make no mistake: There will be plenty of time in the coming months for analysis, criticism, and controversial opinions about what will be an uncertain season for the Grizzlies. To paraphrase the great Dr. Strange, there seems to be nearly over 14 million outcomes for how this season can go. Many do not end favorably for the Grizzlies.
However, the underdog status is absolutely nothing new for the Grizzlies. And in a city that thrives on its own blue-collar identity, perhaps it should never be any other way. The intrinsic link between the Grizzlies and Memphis formed nearly a decade ago and likely will never end, regardless of whether the Grizzlies can find success over the next several years.
So let’s enjoy the persistently overlooked status of the Grizzlies. Let’s enjoy the unappreciated beauty of a Mike Conley-Marc Gasol pick-and-roll. Let’s enjoy the possible rise of a generational star in Jaren Jackson Jr. Let’s enjoy the consistent, if unspectacular, play of Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and JaMychal Green.
And let’s believe in the Memphis Grizzlies once again.