Fear is a very natural human emotion. A tall building or height that could be fallen off of. A first date. The first day of school. The first few weeks at a new job. For most people, we struggle in situations where newness and the unknown are prevalent. We’re unsure of ourselves and naturally question who, and what, we are involved in.
Did we make the right decision? Is this person really “the one”? Will I ever feel comfortable? What happends if I fall? Worries are part of what keep us safe, and guard us from harm. But it can also limit just how quickly you transition in to your new role or relationship. Or how far you can leap when worried about what happens if you tumble.
None of this seems to apply to Ja Morant, whose legend is already building and because of his lack of regard for the fears of mere mortals. We have seen that with his highlight dunk attempts and his ferocious attacks at the rim against people almost twice his size. His leaps through the air and landings - which could be softer - are nowhere near reasons to not make the attempts. His aggression and style fit his new home city - he looks to finish every movement he makes, be it a pass or at the basket, and do so in a manner fitting of Memphis.
He showed last night, especially, that showdowns with the greats of the modern game get the same treatment.
Matchups with former MVPs do not shake Morant. Against one of the top-5 players in the NBA, James Harden, Ja played arguably his very best game of his young career. He dominated the flow of the contest, creating for his teammates as well as himself. He was a force of nature, a controlled sort of violence on both ends of the floor, actively seeking out conflict and opportunity to squash any preconceived notions of what rookies “should do”, or what he “could do” as a player.
“Tell that motherf***er about me.”- Ja Morant— NBA RETWEET (@RTNBA) January 15, 2020
When Harden gave him space from the 3 point line pic.twitter.com/vRqpU7ExkC
One of the “knocks” on Morant coming out of Murray State was a supposed lack of a perimeter game. While it may appear that concern was not as warranted as originally thought - Ja is shooting 40.7% from three, but on just 2.3 attempts per game - there’s no denying Morant is a better dribble-drive player at this stage of his career. His athleticism and court vision are elite - so that’s not a cut in to Ja as much as it is him acknowledging his greatest strengths.
Ja, again, is not afraid to acknowledge those slights and make them a part of what he is as he starts out what has the makings to be a tremendous NBA career.
For someone who famously said leading up to the 2019 NBA Draft that his father was his original “hater”, latching on to criticism and making it a driving factor in his motivation shouldn’t be surprising. But the fearlessness that Morant plays the game with is still refreshing to see. He is what he is, and his comfort level with himself shines through in his play.
That isn’t widely accepted, or universally beloved, just yet.
Love Ja Morant. But you just can’t disrespect an MVP like that. When you’ve played 34 games. I won’t accept it.— Chris Martin Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) January 15, 2020
You treat future HOFers with respect. Respect your elders and those that came before you who have done what you hope to do. Anything else is unacceptable.— Chris Martin Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) January 15, 2020
It isn’t just Palmer. Others, likely from an older time in the NBA, will share this view. Morant actively sought out James Harden in terms of proving a point. He’s not just a rookie, he is THE rookie. He’s not just the future, he is the present. The Grizzlies aren’t just fun, they’re good. And even if the proverbial bottom falls out and this young Memphis team cools, nothing will take away the way that Ja Morant and his team took Harden and his Rockets to task.
That may not make many friends outside of Memphis and NBA Twitter/social media. But if Ja was the point guard in Houston, or for almost any of the other 29 NBA franchises, chances are his energy and emotion would be loved there like it already is by the Grizzlies fan base. He is a player that, for the next decade, foes will hate to play against and teammates will love to play with.
For while Ja was actively trying to embarrass the Rockets, he was pursuing creation for his teammates before himself. After the game, when everyone wanted to talk about his exploits, Morant mentioned the play of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Solomon Hill. Ja actively seeks out others around him and tries to bring them up confidence wise as the games go on, because he understands that he needs them to achieve as a team.
But he also knows that when the time comes to win, the burden will fall on him. And he wants it.
Audacity can often have a negative connotation. Part of the second definition of the word according to Merriam-Webster backs that up- “...bold or arrogant disregard of normal restraints.” Is there a boldness to Ja’s game and actions? Absolutely. Could it be interpreted as arrogance? Potentially, if you do not take in the complete picture of the person in question.
But the more appropriate use of the word, and of “bold” with regard to Morant, comes with the first definition.
Ja Morant cares not for your, or my, timelines and processes for him or his teammates. He is the true meaning of an adventurer for the Memphis Grizzlies and their fans. Memphis has never experienced the journey that Ja and his young, fun squad are taking them on. That mentality of being unwilling to bow to other’s perceptions and focus on what truly matters - them and their growth - will serve this team well as they continue to learn and develop this new culture of the Grizzlies together. It will permeate throughout the team and set the standard for what it means to play for Memphis for years to come. All players, young and old, that join the franchise will know exactly what a Grizzlies player is expected to be. That starts now with Ja Morant.
As they embark on the pursuit of the next great era of Grizzlies basketball, they may well stumble and fall. But their blatant disregard for what others expect from them is what makes them so fun to watch. It’s what makes this current run of winning so special for all that are enjoying it.
It’s unexpected. It’s daring. It’s in your face, whether you like it or not. The Memphis Grizzlies are a force to be reckoned with right now, with the audacious Ja Morant leading the way.