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Brother Bears: Growing up Grizzlies

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

If you have ever been around teenagers, or college students, you know pretty well there is a universal truth surrounding just about all of them.

They’re “dumb”.

“Dumb” does not necessarily mean that they lack intelligence, and it isn’t even really a bad thing. There are plenty of brilliant young minds out there that should give our world hope for a better tomorrow. The “dumb” references maturity - on a daily basis, whether it is in a YouTuber they like, or on TikTok or Snapchat, or just in a general conversation, young people show their lack of experience on this mortal coil we experience on Earth. It shines through in every Tide Pod challenge, every random GIF or act. Younger people, since the beginning of time, have done dumb things or find dumb things funny. The kinds of goofy activities, and the scope of them, have changed through the years.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In Memphis, the fans of the Grizzlies are beginning a new stage in the story of their beloved franchise. Gone are those that they have loved for almost a decade, and in their places are a relative bunch of new faces and young players looking to make the most of the opportunity ahead of them. But with that youthful exuberance comes...well, dumb, funny moments. Stuff that most youngsters and far less older folks would find funny, and those of us that have “aged out” don’t perhaps fully understand.

Exhibit A.

See? “Dumb”...and fun.

This energy is one of the main reasons that the fans of the Grizzlies are excited for a season that, at least in terms of wins and losses, will almost certainly end poorly for Memphis. It’s fresh. It’s different from what has been the norm around FedExForum for years, and considering how poorly the last two seasons have gone most people could use a little “different”. Change can be hard, but in this case it is welcome.

Why? Because of belief in the journey, and faith in the end game.

In the beginning of this new cycle for the Grizzlies, there will be growing pains. Ja Morant will undoubtedly struggle at times - most undersized guards without dominant perimeter games often do early in their careers. Brandon Clarke will not dominate the way that he did at the Las Vegas Summer League - his game is still limited offensively, and the step up in competition will of course be impactful.

Jaren Jackson Jr. cannot realistically be expected to be the near-elite player that Memphis needs him to be entering his 2nd season with the Grizzlies in order for them to be postseason contenders. De’Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen, Marko Guduric, Dillon Brooks, Josh Jackson, Tyus Jones...the list goes on and on. These are names that are all young, are all inexperienced to varying degrees (especially compared to the roles they will eventually be asked to fill), and are all capable of both under, and over, achieving.

Expecting the unexpected is probably the best expectation for a group that has one player on the active roster (Andre Iguodala doesn’t count) over the age of 30.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the noted veteran leader that is Miles Plumlee.

So much of the immediate future for the Grizzlies will come from a group of players whose idea of a good time probably involves Fortnite, listening to music that Miles Plumlee probably has not ever heard of, and in the case of Jaren and Ja not going out drinking on Beale Street after home games because they are not of age.

That will bring on some serious adversity, because of their lack of experience both in basketball and in life. But it will also present plenty of opportunity for growth, both individually as players and as a group of basketball brothers.

What made the Grit and Grind Grizzlies so special and unique was not just the style of play, but the way they played through and for each other. In moments of great triumph and personal tragedy, they were together and had each other’s backs all the same. That idea of a shared brotherhood is especially rare to find in professional sports, and understandably so - it is a business, and players must maximize their earning potential while they have the opportunity. That more often than not outweighs emotional connection.

When you’re able to set up your franchise for keeping a core together, however, as the Grizzlies have, investment of time and patience in young players eventually leads to monetary investment as they come of basketball age.

And patience is key, as it is with any young person. Regardless of remarkable athleticism or millions of dollars in endorsements and rookie contract money, they’re still kids. They will stumble and fall. They will say things that don’t make sense, make plays that will make you want to pull your hair out, and eventually they will do something that won’t be “funny dumb”, but just dumb.

As we all did, when we were young.

The fun in all of this is the realization of the mistake and the (hopeful) application of the lesson learned. Just like a baby’s first steps or words, or a four year old’s first day of preschool, there will be many milestones and achievements. There will be earth shattering, at least in their worlds, times of clarity that only come with life experience, as well as playing time. Those “light bulb” moments are what will help us fall in love with this new era even more - the investment of time and patience leads to emotional connection.

In Memphis, that connection matters. But it needs to be organic. And that comes from struggle, as well as success.

The first upset of a team that’s supposed to blow you out...and has multiple times leading up to that game.

The first triple double for Morant after weeks of poor shooting and passing mishaps...and the first time Ja shares a personal tragedy with his teammates and the community, or as he opens up about the relationships in his life more and more.

The first time the team plays Clarke and Jackson Jr. and it shows just how dominant it can be defensively...without sacrificing rebounding, and despite sacrificing sleep as they start their families as the years go on.

Together, this young group of Grizzlies enters a season free of team expectations but not free from the burden of goals and growth. Some have more to prove than others. Some have more time to display their worth as players, while others have more of a burden to bear. Thankfully through it all they can bond in that shared struggle, both in sport and in living, as teammates and fans across classifications and generations have done throughout history. For in the strife is where you find kinship.

A common purpose.

A shared human experience.

A promising beginning, no matter how “dumb”.

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