Basketball is an escape from real life, whether you’re playing it or watching it. For me at least, a swishing 3-pointer, a sweet dribble move, or a gorgeous dime that leads to a bucket erases the thought of whatever problem I’m going through — whether it’s anxiety from school, worry about my future, friend drama, or simply just a rough time.
In the 8th grade, I was dealing with all the lows of being “the new kid.” I just couldn’t find the right group of friends, my coaches rolled with the guys they knew at the beginning of the season, and I was honestly feeling down for the first time in my life. Ironically enough, that school ball season was probably the best basketball of my life. I had the confidence that everything I shot was going in, because it sure felt like it. I was playing the best defense I ever had, and the team was clicking and winning games. Every look of the ball going through that hoop, any steal, and the wins temporarily washed away those lows I was dealing with.
For all my life, watching the Memphis Grizzlies was my escape from reality and my happy place. I fell in love with the Grizzlies as a 7-year old kid who came into the game cheering for the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs. From that time on, I was hooked on the Memphis Grizzlies. The first-ever playoff series in the Pyramid, Pau Gasol’s first All-Star bid, Mike Miller’s 3-point brilliance, and Jason Williams’ AND1-worthy assists had me captivated with basketball. Even at a young age, I was spewing stats left and right — points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, field goal percentage, all that basic jazz. Even when the Grizzlies were terrible, I still enjoyed simply going to the games, knowing that it’ll all be better soon.
The Grit ’n’ Grind Grizzlies ushered in even more great memories. The first-ever playoff series win, the triple overtime game against Oklahoma City, the rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers, the masked Mike Conley series, and Conley’s awesome 2017 series against San Antonio will all go down as some iconic moments in Memphis history. Marc Gasol’s nifty post plays and goofy celebrations, Mike Conley’s clutch shots, Rudy Gay’s dunks, Tony Allen’s “First-Team All Defense” plays, and all the times Zach Randolph turned helpless defenders into Barbecue chicken with his jab-step — those all helped us escape from the realities of life and gave us many fun memories we’ll cherish forever.
Basketball is fun, and so are the Memphis Grizzlies.
This past year though, things changed. I was borderline emotionless about games.
In last season’s tank-fest, I was largely indifferent, and the games just sucked the life out of me. Sure, I was “rooting” for losses, but I didn’t have that winning thrill when they lost. I was more emotionless than anything, regardless of the outcome of the game.
Then, this season was almost worse, as the Grizzlies were trying to win games, and it still wasn’t clicking.
I watched a game with Nathan Chester where the Grizzlies were playing the Sacramento Kings, and after halftime, I said “if the Kings go on a small run to start the quarter, they’ll win this game.” Sure enough, they did.
When the Grizzlies jumped out to a big double-digit lead on the Boston Celtics at home, I leaned over to my dad and said “Brad Stevens is about to coach circles around J.B. Bickerstaff, and the Celtics will win this game.” Yep, that happened.
I was watching the Grizzlies-Nuggets game over a month ago at school, and regardless of the 25-point lead, I didn’t have a good feeling about it. Blown lead, again.
I wasn’t even happy watching my Memphis Grizzlies anymore, because I just knew the outcome: big lead, blown lead, loss. I felt my fandom slowly start to drift away, and at first, I thought it was just from writing objective pieces on the team for a few years, or from my newfound affinity for the league as a whole. I just didn’t feel that fiery fandom I once possessed.
However, after the trade deadline, things started changing for the better.
I was having fun watching the Grizzlies again.
It first hit when I was watching the Grizzlies and Lakers play. I was so hyped for a resurgent Joakim Noah, Mike Conley’s offensive explosion, Avery Bradley’s killer crossover on Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valanciunas’ bully-ball inside.
Last week’s game against Portland, I felt it a little more watching Conley look genuinely excited for the first time in months.
I can’t really remember the last time I was super pumped about a game more than last Friday’s against Utah. For starters, as a basketball connoisseur, you probably enjoyed the rare offensive explosion on both ends. I jumped out of my seat for Jonas Valanciunas’ JAM on Rudy Gobert, Chandler Parsons’ bank-shot 3 at the buzzer, and Joakim Noah hitting the “finger guns” after a mid-range jumper. For a few hours, I was in my happy place, feeling distant from the realities of life.
The joy from watching the games, the care for the result of the game, and my optimism about the team are all back, and it’s all because of this hodgepodge of players looking to prove themselves and taking advantage of the opportunity with Memphis.
Some people on social media have bickered about the trade return and the limitations of these players. Many people are just done with this season now that Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jaren Jackson Jr. are all likely out for the year. If you’re caught up in that, you’re missing the beautiful chaos and the wonderful chemistry from this cast of misfits.
You’ll be missing out on the resurgent play of veterans that were previously in bad fits — Joakim Noah and Avery Bradley.
You’ll be missing out on Noah’s absolute craziness.
You’ll be missing out on the overall solid play and beautiful finishing ability of Delon Wright.
You’ll be missing out on the growth of Ivan Rabb and Jevon Carter.
You’ll be missing out on Jonas Valanciunas’ highly-efficient bully-ball — and the fact that you’re guaranteed a 20-10 almost every night.
More importantly, you’ll be missing out on Mike Conley’s brilliance, who is one of the league’s best point guards and could be playing his last stretch of basketball as a Memphis Grizzly.
I know this is a lost season. The prized cornerstone is probably out for the season, other young players are hurt too, and the team’s main objective is to convey a draft pick. It doesn’t sound fun at all. Don’t let it suck the life out of you though.
The Memphis Grizzlies are fun again. Try to enjoy it.