Here’s a crazy idea.
Imagine you’re a fan of a franchise that went to the playoffs seven straight seasons. A couple seasons, you made it past the first round, and in four seasons you lost in the first round, but one year things broke right for you and you made it to the Western Conference Finals. Over four of those seven seasons you had a win percentage of 61% or higher, with two different head coaches, and you were the perennial “no one wants to play that team” squad. You were the bad guys who were going to kick their ass and they knew it, and they may win but they were going to earn it.
Would you take that as a fan? Probably.
Then add on the emotion of a team that truly became one with their city. All that “one heart” stuff that people say, it sounds good in public relations meetings. But imagine that this team truly made you FEEL it. It’s something that is extremely hard to explain to people, but it’s there: genuine, raw, imperfect emotion that encapsulated everything beautiful and flawed about the community of which they were a part. When they won? You FELT it. When they lost? You FELT it.
You watched with tears in your eyes as broken players became heroes, and those tossed aside as not good enough kicked the hell out of the NBA’s elite. You roared with them, you screamed, you celebrated as if you had made the game-winning shot. You left a game exhausted for having been so invested. You cared, and believed, and loved, that much.
Would you take that? As a fan, would you accept all that, while noticing in this description that no championships were won, no banners would be hung in the rafters?
Every single damn time you would. And if you say you wouldn’t, you’re either a liar or you’ve never experienced what Memphis...what I...experienced.
There’s no shame in that. Not every professional fan base gets what Memphis did. It takes a perfect storm of opportunity, that proverbial “lightning in a bottle”. For the Grizzlies it took an eccentric wing defender and a journeyman big that folks feared, a son of Memphis by way of Spain and a boy from Ohio State who became a captain. It takes a city that hurts...that yearned for an escape from their issues, be they man-made or brought about by mother nature. And it takes all of that coming together to do what most say cannot be done.
Beat the #1 seed Spurs.
Push Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden to a Game 7.
Make the playoffs while playing 28 different players.
Beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland with P.J. Hairston and Ryan Hollins in your starting lineup.
Have your point guard, the Captain mentioned above, break his freaking face and then come back 10 days later and outplay Stephen Curry.
At their end, their last playoff series together, playing their asses off, pushing the mighty San Antonio Spurs further than most thought they could as they raged against the dying of the light.
You may not remember those moments, and the others too many to list in this space. But I do. And the fan base of the Memphis Grizzlies does.
And they won’t forget.
The Memphis Grizzlies are awful this season. Obviously. They’re the worst team in the league, and their record reflects that. Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are gone. And the front office made some poor choices trying to keep alive an era that was fading, trying to hold on to this special thing that grew so organically. They’re paying for those sins now. Their best young prospect is Dillon Brooks, a 2nd round pick. That is far from ideal.
They’re capped out for the foreseeable future thanks to signing a broken Chandler Parsons and extending Marc Gasol, the Spanish Memphian, and Conley, the tough leader of this team. A key part of their off-season plans is to hope that a talented player who has had a great bounce back season, Tyreke Evans, doesn’t get a good offer on the open market. They could very well be very bad for a very long time.
But I would not trade any of the past seven seasons to get out of the crap that is this one, or the murky future that awaits this franchise.
This team made me fall back in love with the game of basketball. They helped me fall in love with Memphis, a place I still consider a 2nd home. They were there with me as I strengthened relationships, made friends, and they led me to Grizzly Bear Blues. Without the Memphis Grizzlies, I am not who I am today.
So when people say they should move to a new city, or should be “contracted”, I take it personally.
Because they don’t get it. And probably never will get it.
My daughter will get it. Any future children I have will get it. Because I will share with them how much that time of my life in Memphis and that team shaped me. How winning doesn’t always involve winning a trophy or ring. How a group of people from all walks of life can unite, even for the briefest of moments, in love for a team that was the physical manifestation of a city. I have left Memphis, but Memphis has never left me. It never will.
That is in large part because of the Memphis Grizzlies.
So bring on the tank. Send in the barbs and the jokes. Call them the Seattle Grizzlies, or the Nashville Grizzlies, or say they should play the Hustle’s schedule the rest of the season. Show you don’t watch the games.
Because when I watch this team, as I do every game they play, I see Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green playing their asses off. And the under-manned roster behind them doing the same. These players don’t quit. They show grit, and they grind day in and day out, despite the adversity they face, the same way those that came before them did.
Is it good enough to win right now? No, and in professional sports, moral victories do not exist. People will pay for the failures of this season. But in a disastrous campaign, those flashes are signs that what once was there still matters, that the past could still shape the future. That hope and belief could still be rewarded somewhere down the road. It isn’t likely...but neither was Grit and Grind.
Yet here I, and others, are because of it.