If you have ever lived in Memphis for any stretch of time, then you are aware that it’s a city that runs on basketball. Basketball is to Memphis in a lot of ways as what oxygen is to life. The people of Memphis breathe it. They need it.
Needless to say, people do not affectionately call Memphis “Hoop City” for nothing. There is nothing else like it throughout the rest of the country. You see that in the NBA and college basketball ratings when they come out, and Memphis is consistently a top-5 market in terms of ratings share.
Unfortunately, if basketball is truly like oxygen to this city, then Memphis has slowly suffocated over the last year. The tradition of excellence that belonged to the Memphis Tigers became a relic of the past under Josh Pastner towards the end of his tenure, and especially under Tubby Smith, as attendance dropped to a nearly 50-year low. And the Memphis Grizzlies, well, their season was an absolute nightmare to say the least.
FedExForum, once home to the best basketball played in the Mid-South, became a mausoleum of sadness. And as the tough times came, the questions of despair began to form.
Will the Memphis Tigers ever be nationally relevant again?
Will the Grizzlies move from Memphis to Seattle?
Perhaps the light of hope in Memphis basketball was extinguished forever. Maybe Memphis had forever lost one of the main things that made it unique.
However, hitting rock bottom is sometimes what it takes for something to rise once more. And Memphis basketball, after a season in hell, is once again on the rise .
All signs point to a return to national prominence for the Memphis Tigers. In less than a month on the job, Penny Hardaway has gotten the Tigers a top 30 recruiting class for 2018, an unprecedented feat for a coach who has been on the job for so little time. Fan and booster support has risen to the levels of the John Calipari years. Even though Hardaway’s Tigers haven’t played a game, there is hope that they can become a national power once more.
But the Tigers make up only half of the resurgence of Memphis basketball. The Grizzlies also have a real chance to become relevant again next year.
Now imagine Marc Gasol and Mike Conley—two players that have always made the playoffs when they’ve shared the court together for nearly the last decade—leading the team again.
Imagine the continued development of Dillon Brooks into a player that will compete for 6th man of the year.
Imagine a Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton helping the Grizzlies not only in the present, but also leading them into the future.
Imagine Ivan Rabb and Wayne Selden Jr. completing their development into quality role players.
Finally, I want you to imagine the Grizzlies back in the playoffs once more. I want you to visualize the waving yellow towels, the screams of both jubilation and despair, the chants of “Ref you suck!”, the falling confetti, the grit, the grind—all of it.
I want you to breathe it all in. Feel it. And believe it.
That is the gift that basketball gives to Memphis. It gives the people of Memphis something in which to believe. In truth, basketball is more than a game in Memphis: it is an expression of urban and cultural identity. And when that identity starts to become lost, it’s like someone has ripped the breath straight out of the lungs of the city.
But the people of Memphis can now breathe easy. Basketball is a part of the social fabric in Memphis, and it will take more than just a collective bad year to change that. Be thankful for the past memories that the Grizzlies and Tigers have created.
And be ready for even more incredible memories in the future.