As the foremost trailblazer for the Civil Rights movement in the world of professional baseball, Jackie Robinson was certainly never a stranger to controversy. Because of the color of his skin as well as his prodigious skill, many people around the league often thought of him as a troublemaker, a player that needed to tame his “tenacious temper”. Robinson, on the other hand, had a different idea outside of his skin color for why he was treated differently.
He once said, “It kills me to lose. If I’m a troublemaker, and I don’t think that my temper makes me one, then it’s because I can’t stand losing. That’s the way I am about winning, all I ever wanted to do was finish first.”
All I ever wanted to do was finish first.
There has never been a single championship parade in the city of Memphis.
Of course, the city has come agonizingly close to a few over the decades. The Memphis Tigers basketball team lost to UCLA in the national title game back in 1973 and then was a few seconds away from finally winning it against Kansas back in 2008. There was even a time not so long ago when it seemed like the Memphis Grizzlies would finally break through to an NBA Finals appearance (many including myself will always believe that there would have been a parade on Beale Street if Mike Conley and Tony Allen were not hurt in 2015).
Yet close only ever seems to count in hand grenades, horseshoes, and nuclear weapons. No matter how magical the run or how incredible the team was, the sting of defeat always leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said it best in the moments after their loss to Duke in the NCAA tournament: “We end in tears...that’s because we’ve invested so much in each other.”
Although Dawkins was referring to his team and players, his adage holds true for most fans as well in the world of sports. Fans invest their time, energy, and money into their teams, and they experience the same sorrow and emptiness that their teams do when they lose. They also feel the same rapturous jubilation that their team does when they win.
Unfortunately, Memphis sports fans are far more acquainted with the former rather than the latter.
That’s not to say that the Memphis Grizzlies in particular haven’t brought joy and incredible memories to the people of Memphis. From the Grizzlies upsetting the San Antonio Spurs and winning their first playoff series in 2011 to making their first conference finals appearance in 2013, Memphians have had the opportunity to appreciate excellence.
They’ve been able to taste the appetizers of greatness if you will. But they’ve unfortunately never been able to be fully satisfied.
And for the most part, that is what fans of the Memphis Grizzlies have accepted. Of course, the Grizzlies won’t win a championship, especially in a league where the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James exist. As long as they “make some noise” as former general manager Chris Wallace said, then all is generally well.
Who knows? They might even push one of the league’s elite teams to six games in a playoff series.
This always has been the destiny of the Memphis Grizzlies—enjoying the journey because the destination will inevitably always be the same. Embracing reality because the dream has never truly been a possibility.
However, a day may soon be coming when the dream of an NBA championship will become reality in Memphis. And that dream seems more hopeful than it has in a very long time.
On the night of the NBA draft lottery after the Grizzlies received the second pick, team president Jason Wexler accurately articulated what it takes to achieve greatness in the NBA. He said, “I’ve always told folks that you need to be both lucky and smart, and we’re going to work hard and be as smart as we possibly can be. But you need some luck sometimes. You need a lot of luck sometimes.”
For one of the few times in the history of the franchise, the Memphis Grizzlies got lucky. They are lucky in the sense that they now have a chance to hopefully draft yet another franchise cornerstone in Ja Morant to pair with last year’s selection Jaren Jackson Jr.
With a superbly athletic do-it-all point guard in Morant and a potentially transcendent big man in Jackson, they now have an opportunity to develop two potential superstars, which is the bare minimum needed to win an NBA title.
Of course, the Grizzlies may appear to have the “luck” part as Wexler put it down, but hard intelligent work will be required over the next few years for the Grizzlies to become true contenders. Zach Kleiman among others in the front office will have to find the correct pieces to surround these two phenoms as they continue to grow and improve. To be sure, it’s far from a certainty that Memphis will ever become an elite team over the next few years.
However, what is a certainty is that hope has returned for fans of the Memphis Grizzlies—a hope to attain the supposedly unattainable glory that they have desperately desired for so long. Just a few weeks ago, the Grizzlies’ destiny seemed to be that of hopeless mediocrity with no clear vision for how to return to relevance. But now, the dream to expect greater in Memphis has been given new life.
The dream to finally bring a championship parade to Beale Street. And the dream for the incredible people of Memphis to finally finish first.
Five seconds remaining.
Ja Morant grins with glee as he sees the clock continue to tick away. The Memphis Grizzlies lead by double digits in game six of the 2025 NBA Finals, and they are about to win their first championship in franchise history.
He throws the ball in the air in triumph, relishing the moment that he—and the city of Memphis—has dreamed of for so long. It was only fitting that the zero-star underdog would become the leader who would guide such a blue-collar city to glory.
As the ball hangs in the air, Jaren Jackson, the other leading man in Memphis, is the first to mob him among his other teammates. It’s only fitting since they had been through so many wars together over the last five years.
As Jackson and Morant hug each other with tears in their eyes, the scene echoes an earlier time, a different era of Memphis basketball.
But in that moment, all distinctions and past heartbreaks fade away. They were nothing more than a painful memory covered by a glorious triumph.