Tomorrow night in Memphis. there will be a starting lineup announced, and the name “Mike Conley” will boom over the loud speakers at FedExForum, as it has hundreds of times before. Fans will roar as they see Mike run out, high fiving teammates, but it won’t quite be the same. There will be a tribute video at some point, and not many dry eyes in the house, but most strikingly Mike Conley will be standing with the Utah Jazz, not the Memphis Grizzlies.
You may or may not have heard this already, but tomorrow night one of Memphis’ favorite sons is coming home. And the best part of the homecoming is that he didn’t choose to leave - he wanted to stay, so it will be all love in Memphis for our former Captain.
But time, and necessity, wait for no one.
The Memphis Grizzlies are, of course, rebuilding. That was, and still is, the right choice, and it is leading to the very on-brand “fun but bad” basketball we were all expecting from such a young, but talented, team. Ja Morant has been electrifying, and aside from a couple of “dud” performances (like any rookie will have) has more than lived up to the hype that comes with being the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and a Rookie of the Year favorite. Jaren Jackson Jr. - who is younger than the rookie Morant - and Brandon Clarke look the part of a gruesome twosome down low and on the perimeter as modern bigs who should fit seamlessly in to the schemes of head coach Taylor Jenkins in the weeks and months to come.
Tyus Jones, Marko Guduric, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, DeAnthony Melton...the list goes on and on of young, promising talent that alongside the “big three” of Morant, Jackson Jr., and Clarke will be fun to watch learn and grow as the season progresses.
A good thing about seasons like this one, however, is that we can take one game and allow for nostalgia to take over.
When Memphis sees Mike Conley take the floor at FedExForum tomorrow night, they won’t see an opponent. Grizzlies fans will not see someone that needs to be beaten, or an enemy of the state. The Mike Conley they will see will differ from fan to fan, but the varying dimensions of perspective do not take away from their meaning.
Some will see a 20-year old rookie, the 4th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, a young kid with flaws but skill, an unseasoned player that fell multiple times before he walked. Others will see a 25 year-old defensive maestro, an underrated perimeter stopper who plays passing lanes and checks the best ball handlers in the league on a nightly basis. Still more will see Captain Clutch, a player who throughout the Grit and Grind years and even beyond seemingly made clutch shot after clutch shot, helping Memphis win even when they were not supposed to.
Most will see the man who, over the last five seasons he played in Memphis, was arguably the very best player the Grizzlies had over that time period. The guy who went toe to toe with Kawhi Leonard, the dude who, for one night, was better than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and did it with a broken freaking face. All will see a hero of the community, someone who truly made the city of Memphis better for having been here as long as he was through his admirable charity work.
Through every prism, every angle and tear that will almost certainly be shed, we will all most importantly see one of us.
A shining example of the best of us, who continues to do us proud.
So go get your tickets now, if you have not already done so. Because the moment is coming where our past will meet our present and future. Soon, Mike Conley - who will one day have his number hanging in the rafters of FedExForum alongside those of Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Marc Gasol - will face off with his successor, Ja Morant. Mike will see a lot of himself - a player fairly different in terms of playing style, but in a similar spot to the one Mike was in not so long ago. Maybe Mike will give Ja some words of wisdom - the classy Conley surely will dap up the young Morant and wish him well. It’s possible he will give him the same advice he gave Jaren Jackson Jr. last season - the same sage words those that came before Mike gave to him...
You’re going to be here forever.
For Mike, even though he has left for currently greener playoff pastures of the Utah Jazz, will always be with us in Memphis. And Jaren, Ja, and the rest of the young Grizzlies will be very fortunate if they have the same type of career that Conley did during his time in Beale Street Blue. Not necessarily in terms of victories - there were plenty of those, but not enough to add up to the championship that Conley is now chasing in Utah - the same one Marc Gasol won in Toronto this past June. Hopefully Ja and Jaren will be the cornerstones responsible for a title parade in Memphis that Conley was never able to bring.
Conley’s career with the Grizzlies didn’t result in a ring. The impact he made, both on the franchise and the city, will ring out throughout the community for years to come. And that is what these new Grizzlies should strive for most. In it’s pursuit, the scoreboard will likely take care of itself.
Because trophies tarnish and banners fade. But love, and legends, can live forever.
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