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Saying goodbye to Grizzlies legend Mike Conley

Oh captain, my captain.

Zach Randolph was a Trail Blazer, and then he became a Grizzly.

Tony Allen was a Celtic, and then he became a Grizzly.

Marc Gasol was drafted by the Lakers, and then he became a Grizzly.

Mike Conley was just a Grizzly. Since the Memphis Grizzlies drafted Conley with the 4th overall pick in 2007, he’s never worn another jersey.

Mike Conley was never loud, but his heart and grit are what made a whole city fall in love with him. He’s one of those guys that nobody just doesn’t like. You’ll never hear another NBA fan or player say, “Yeah, Mike Conley sucks. He annoys me.” And to have people’s respect like that all across a pretty unforgiving, relentless league is a rare thing.

Mike never lied, either. He rarely complained after foul calls, and if he did, everybody in that arena - including the referee - knew that a mistake had been made. Because Mike. Conley. Doesn’t. Lie. The one time in his career that he got a technical, the NBA actually rescinded it. Tell me another franchise-star point guard who’s never once gotten a technical in his career? You can’t, because Mike Conley’s just that dude. There’s no other player out there who’s as good as he is, respects the game the way he does, and is respected by his peers the way he is.

Most importantly, though? Mike Conley never bluffed. I think everybody remembers that Trail Blazers series when Mike was poked in the eye, the contact literally breaking his face, and he left the game, his eye all bloody and scary-looking. But Mike Conley was our city’s superhero. And just like any superhero would do, he shrugged it off, put on a mask and scored 22 points in Game 2 to defeat the Warriors in Golden State in the next round. His face hadn’t healed yet, but he wanted to win for his team, city, and us, so he did.

And come game 3 at home, Mike Conley wasn’t the only one in the arena wearing that soon-to-be iconic mask. It seemed like every Grizzlies fan in the arena wore one, too, from big middle-aged men to giddy young girls. Because Mike wasn’t alone. If he wore a mask, we wore a mask. He always had our back, and we always had his.

Memphis had always seen Mike Conley as a hero, but it wasn’t until that game—that moment—that the world began to see him that way, too. He wasn’t just everybody’s favorite “underrated point guard” anymore. He was a legend. He was never an All-Star here, but before we knew it, Grizzlies fans weren’t the only ones pushing for him to receive that honor. @WorldWideWob, one of the most popular and respected NBA writers on Twitter, literally started a hashtag to get Mike into the All-Star Game (#OneTimeForOneOne). For the first time, people were starting to get something that Memphis had known all along: Mike Conley was an All-Star.

Maybe he never made the game because of how stacked the Western Conference is with talented, flashy point guards, but that doesn’t make him any less of an All-Star. Mike played humbly, and though he never did any big-time moves aimed at making the SportsCenter Top 10, he played the game extraordinarily with a type of calmness that made everything he did look easy.

Something beautiful to come out of Mike Conley’s Grizzlies career was the friendships and bonds that he crafted. Everybody just loves Mike Conley. Any time you hear a guy he’s played with talk about him, the player can’t help but smile as he speaks nothing but praise for #11.

A Grizzlies love story like no other is the friendship between Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. A 6’1” Indy-raised point guard and a 7’1” Spanish center created one of the greatest bonds a basketball team has ever seen. They were perfect together, on and off the court, because they loved each other like brothers. Marc once said that his dream was to win a championship in Memphis with Mike Conley. Marc is now an NBA champion, and he did it on a team without Mike Conley.

But Marc is good on his word. He wanted to win with Mike Conley, and though he didn’t get to do quite that, Gasol FaceTimed Conley immediately after winning an NBA Championship with the Raptors. According to Michael Lee, Senior Writer for The Athletic NBA -

Marc wanted to win with Mike, so Gasol, caught up in the greatest moment of his life, chose to share it with Mike Conley, his best friend.

I’ll miss a lot about Mike Conley. I’ll miss the way he simply saluted after making a big play. I’ll miss his dad jokes that would play on the Jumbotron during timeouts. I’ll miss his clutch three-pointers at the end of tight games (#ClutchConley). Weirdly enough, I’ll miss this the most: “Game day focus.”

Every game, injured or healthy, we could always count on Mike Conley to tweet out those three words. The next time he tweets “Game day focus,” it may be for another team. Or maybe he just won’t do it anymore. Either way, we took him for granted in a sense, because he was always just a Grizzly, no questions asked. Until recently, the idea of trading him had never quite felt real; the idea of letting go of Mike Conley, the first of the Core Four to come, and the last to leave. Letting go of Mike Conley is officially parting from the last piece of the most legendary era Grizzlies basketball has ever seen. And it’s sad. There’s really no other way to put it.

But just because Tony, ZBO, Marc, and now Mike are gone does not mean that Mount Grizzmore will ever be knocked over. Mike may go elsewhere, but he will always be a Grizzly in our hearts. We will retire his jersey, and hopefully at the end of the road when he’s ready to quit basketball, he’ll come back home and do it with us, one last time. He started here, and it only feels right after everything that he ends here, too.

Thank you, Mike. For everything. We love you, and we’ll see you soon.

Follow @sbngrizzlies