It was April 2007 and it was my birthday. The Grizzlies were atrocious. Mike Fratello was fired 30 games into the season and Tony Barone was at the helm in the interim. The roster consisted of Mike Miller, Pau Gasol, a rookie Rudy Gay, rookie Kyle Lowry and the infamous Brian Cardinal.
Every game that was broadcast on Fox SportSouth had trivia questions that viewers could text in the answer. The cool part was that if you got the question correct, someone from FedExForum would call you to GIVE AWAY two tickets for your right answer.
This one particular time, they had already called me and gave me two tickets and I was not crossed off their list. I got called again for two more tickets. Of course, being a man of the cloth, I was honest and told them they already gave me two tickets. I also made sure to add in that it was my birthday, so the guy was like oh well here have all four!
You would assume that most giveaway tickets would be nosebleeds right. Not these.
The Grizzlies were so bad and hurting for butts in seats even worse, that the tickets I got were behind the basket 7 rows from the floor. Everyone knows that if you get a butt in the seat, they will most likely spend money on concessions. It was all a ploy to generate income of some kind in a very lost season.
But it was in that lost season that something meaningful happened. I fell in love with basketball. I grew up a baseball player and played some backyard basketball, but the love was not there. That first Memphis Grizzlies game, in a lost season, meant something.
It’s also natural for a fan of a team to find a favorite player. It was at that game, I became a fan of Mike Miller. The first jersey I ever owned as an NBA fan was a Memphis Pros throwback Mike Miller jersey. While Marc Gasol grew to be my next favorite player, Mike Miller in my mind was always the OG 33.
I say all that to say this — sometimes a season without a playoff run matters. Sometimes a “lost” season is really a season when things are discovered
This upcoming season is a unique opportunity in the history of the Memphis Grizzlies. With Dillon Brooks, heading into his third season, being the longest tenured Grizz, it signifies the dawn of a new age. Grit N’ Grind and the Core Four are officially over, which in turn means that many fans’ favorite player has moved on.
While this season will not be one tied to playoff expectation as every season beginning with the core of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol did, this season will provide fans the opportunity to start fresh — to pick their new favorite player or perhaps to rekindle their love for the franchise.
Jaren Jackson Jr. became a crowd favorite early in his rookie campaign after many fans were underwhelmed by his fourth overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. He quickly proved to be the second best player in his draft class and his charm won the hearts of Beale Street.
Now with the addition of Ja Morant with the second pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Grizzly fans immediately have two incredible selections of young (hopefully) future stars to not replace Mike or Marc in their hearts, but to ease the pain of moving on — if not eliminate the immediate sting all together.
Many will fall in love with the hard nose play of Jonas Valanciunas or the leadership and two way play of Tyus Jones, but ultimately the FedEx Forum will be full of #2 and #13 Memphis jerseys for years to come.
With the many new players on roster next season and a new coach in Taylor Jenkins, a new style of play is inevitable. For years the league has been moving towards a faster pace of play and the stubborn Grizzlies wanted to slow it down and force their will. Ultimately, it didn't lead to a championship and now Memphis will be looking to speed things up.
A new style of up tempo pick and roll basketball led by Ja and Jaren is headed to the Forum and while it may not produce a significant number of wins this next season, it will generate an excitement from the crowd that maybe hasn't been seen in 3-4 seasons.
The Grizzlies aren't “back”, but the future of this franchise is the brightest it has ever been. Call this season what you want, but it won’t be lost. If you are looking, you will find excitement, joy and certainly hope. If you are looking, you won’t walk away lost.