Here is a little interesting quirk about me: I have always liked school. I may be a tad unique in this regard, but there’s always been something so satisfying about gaining knowledge that I never had before.
But there was one subject in high school that I absolutely despised—AP English. To put it as politely as I can, the mind-numbing boredom that I experienced in that class nearly killed me. I felt like Andy Dufresne while he was in solitary confinement in Shawshank Redemption.
However, my AP English teacher did find a way to get through to me. And as it should be no surprise to anyone who knows me, it was through basketball.
I still remember the day that he brought up Christopher Marlowe, an English playwright in the 1500s. Now there’s a reason why you probably haven’t heard of him. That reason is William Shakespeare.
My teacher told me that Marlowe was the Clyde Drexler to Skakespeare’s Michael Jordan. Marlowe was certainly excellent and formidable in his own right and created countless plays, but he never received the proper recognition and fame that he so rightfully deserved because of his more famous, accomplished peers. Similarly, the casual NBA fan rarely ever thinks of Clyde Drexler as one of the greatest players of the 1990s when Michael Jordan is almost omnipresent.
It was not fair. Marlowe was arguably as talented and nearly as prolific as some of his more famous peers. Yet he was destined to be lost to the annals of history, with no one except for a select few artsy literary professors recognizing his true greatness.
Clyde Drexler could empathize with his struggle. And for the modern age, no one could understand that pain better than Mike Conley.
However, I find myself tired of talking about Mike Conley.
I am tired of talking about how underrated he is.
I am tired of talking about how he’s arguably the best player in NBA history to never make an all-star team, as if that is some sort of badge of honor.
I am tired of talking about how hard it is to make the all-star team with so many incredible guards in the Western Conference.
I am just sick and tired of it all. Enough is enough. And it’s time to make this right.
i want this Mike Conley Jr. game sent to every single human with an all-star vote. this man cannot be snubbed again. he is carrying a city on his shoulders.— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) December 1, 2018
Here are a few facts about Mike Conley: He is currently in the middle of the most prolific season of his career, averaging 21.1 points and 6.5 assists per game, even though his shooting percentages are somewhat down as he continues to look for consistency after missing most of last season. His scoring could continue to rise as his shooting percentages continue their steady rise to their normal levels.
Speaking of last season, the Memphis Grizzlies went 15-55 without Conley on the court. After 23 games this season, the Grizzlies are currently 14-9 with Conley back in the driver’s seat, sitting just 2.5 games out of the first seed in the Western Conference.
If the MVP was given strictly by the definition of the name alone, Mike Conley would receive the award, and frankly, it wouldn’t even really be close. There is no one more essential or impactful to their team’s success in the NBA than him. The Memphis Grizzlies go as he goes.
But it all doesn’t really seem to matter at the end of the day. The name Conley might as well be a synonym for “overlooked”.
He just doesn’t fit the mold of what many people want in an elite point guard. He isn’t a destroyer of worlds like Stephen Curry. He isn’t relentless rage incarnate like Russell Westbrook. He doesn’t have a signature characteristic like “Dame Time”. Or the mesmerizing handles of Kyrie Irving.
Mike Conley is just simply excellent, with no real weaknesses or holes in his games. And on occasion, as he did against the San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard in 2017, he can be transcendent. But it’s the boring kind of excellence and transcendence, the kind that is easily overlooked when there something more interesting in the room.
He’s like that girl that you want to bring to a date party in college because she’s got it all: She’s pretty, kind, and really smart. However, she also dresses really conservatively, and she’s just a little bit boring. So you decide to take the other pretty girl that you find more interesting, telling yourself that you’ll take that girl to a date party eventually.
But here’s the painful truth: There are only so many more date parties, and the clock is ticking.
This very well may be Mike Conley’s best and final chance to make it into the party that he’s wanted to be apart of for his entire career—the Western Conference All-Star team. Even with a generational talent in Jaren Jackson Jr. to build around, the future of the Memphis Grizzlies is uncertain, and for a player who is now in his 12th season and has a checkered injury history, it is for Conley as well.
And make no mistake, he definitely wants the distinction.
“At some point, you know the game will have to end for you,” Conley told Michael Lee of the Athletic. “Hopefully, it’s seven, eight years from now, but at the end of the day, when I look back on it, and all that I’ve accomplished in my career and you think about all those things and there are so many missed opportunities for recognition, in different ways. And that’s been eating at me for awhile.”
Mike Conley does not deserve to be the NBA’s Christopher Marlowe. As a player who is one of the best at his position and has served as one of the Grizzlies’ anchors for many years, he deserves to finally have the recognition and validation that has only been elusive to him because of geography.
Sometimes, greatness can be found when you realize that your final effort may not be particularly memorable, but you still choose to be excellent anyway. Although he has never received the proper recognition that he deserves, Mike Conley has continued to be excellent throughout his career.
However, though it may not always happen, a time sometimes comes when faithful excellence is rewarded. And that time has come for Mike Conley.
This is his peak. This is his moment. And this is his time.
As Rob Perez has coined it, just #OneTimeForOneOne. That is all it will take for Mike Conley to leave a lasting legacy not only within the hearts of Memphians, but also in the NBA as a whole.
Get those hashtags ready.