As Pau Gasol steps out of the tunnel, he likely feels an old familiar pressure beginning to mount. After leading the Grizzlies to no playoff wins despite three postseason appearances, the questions of his leadership and toughness have never been more persistent. It certainly doesn’t help matters much that the Grizzlies went 22-60 the prior season in which he had missed significant time. This may be his last chance to prove himself as one of the league’s best big men in Memphis.
But as he walks onto the court, all of the questions and pressure seems to fade away as something—or rather someone—catches his eye. There is a young boy sitting on the front row with his dad, and he is practically screaming for “Mr. Gasol” to come over there. To be sure, there’s nothing significant about him—his Germantown Baptist Church basketball t-shirt would have been considered dorky in most settings, and he looked like he was the most stereotypical privileged white kid that you had ever seen in your life.
However, Gasol still comes over to the energetic, if obliviously annoying kid. He signs his t-shirt, and he takes a picture with him as well. He even goes as far to tell the kid how to become a great basketball player since the kid’s dream was to one day make it to the NBA.
And as quickly as Gasol came, he left. Of course, the rest is history. Gasol would go on to win multiple championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and probably never thought about such an innocuous, insignificant encounter ever again.
But the kid never forgot that special moment that he received from one of his heroes. It became one of those special moments that remind him why he fell in love with the game of basketball—and why he is on the path he is on today.
As I reflect on some of my oldest memories of basketball and the Memphis Grizzlies, I can’t help but think of the future. Nostalgia is the fuel of imagination in that the precious memories of the past encourage us to look for similar joys and pleasures in the future.
With the second pick in hand for this year’s draft, the Grizzlies will have a chance to add another building block in an attempt to return to basketball excellence. However, while that is the desired outcome, the greatness of the Memphis Grizzlies was never necessarily found in their on-court product. Rather, it was the personalities and relationships that made the team a unifying force while also creating incredible and timeless memories about which we will tell the next generation of Memphis fans.
A living legacy, you could say.
Because at the end of the day, a legacy is not what you leave behind, but it is what you pass on to the next generation. And over the last nearly 20 years, the Memphis Grizzlies from both their early years through the “Grit ‘N’ Grind” era have created a legacy that now lives on in a generation of Memphis basketball fans that they created. My story with Pau Gasol is just one of many in which the Grizzlies had a significant impact on someone my age.
And now, there is a new era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball dawning — a new day that will hopefully have a lasting impact on a new generation of basketball fans in the city of Memphis. It’s not enough to hoard amazing memories to yourself; you also wish to share them with others as well.
Maybe in 10 years, it will be my son that yells from the first row of FedexForum in a desperate attempt to grab “Mr. Morant”’s attention. And maybe, he will receive a memory that lasts a lifetime, a memory that will cause him to fall in love with the game of basketball like his father. He could be a part of that same legacy in which his father among thousands of others get to share.
This is what makes the Memphis Grizzlies so special to the city of Memphis. It’s about far more than just trivial basketball games or mere sporting events. While the city’s athletic culture and basketball heritage can be traced back to the Memphis Tigers, the Grizzlies now serve as the full culmination of that heritage, a dynamic force that unifies people of all age groups, religions, races, and social classes. The Grizzlies invoke celebration of the past and now exquisite hope for the future.
And they give the opportunity for more life-changing moments.