There was a part of him that wanted it to last forever, a part of him that knew he had to say goodbye, and a part of him that wishes he could do it all over again. Quincy Pondexter has played for four NBA teams in his professional career, but it’s his time in Memphis playing alongside Grit & Grind that sticks out to him, for many reasons.
“It was so special,” Pondexter says. “From on the court to off the court, it was just special. Like, we knew each other in and out.”
On December 24, 2011, one day before the start of the 2011-12 NBA season, the Memphis Grizzlies traded Greivis Vásquez to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Quincy Pondexter. The Grizzlies were fresh off of their first ever playoff run. The GNG era was beginning. Excitement was in the air.
“We grew up together in a short span. On the court, it was such a special chemistry,” explains Pondexter. “You know, someone from Spain is bonding with Z-Bo from Marion. And then Tony is his whole different personality. Me and Mike were different. Like, we were all different but something on the floor helped us bond.”
Throughout some of the greatest times in Grizzlies history, Quincy was there. Watching, smiling, playing. He watched his teammates get girlfriends who turned into wives. He watched them become fathers.
He was there for the Grizzlies only appearance in the Western Conference Finals; even leading the team in scoring despite being swept. He was there for the infamous playoff battles against Blake Griffin and the Clippers.
In fact, Quincy can’t help but smile when the subject of Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin’s feud comes up. He shares that he used to train with Blake Griffin, and the two developed a friendship.
In the middle of a Grizzlies/Clippers series, Griffin turned to Pondexter and said, “Q, why does this guy hate me so much?”
“As soon as he said that I was like, oh, yeah, Zach really has him mentally,” Pondexter says with a smile. “He’s telling me this in the middle of the game. And I was like, oh man, Z-Bo really got it from him.”
And apparently Zach did get it from him, because the Grizzlies came back and won that series after an 0-2 start.
However, not every battle against the Clippers was a success. After the Grizzlies lost to the Clippers in Game 7 in 2012, Quincy shares that Z-Bo was nearly ready to go fight Blake Griffin post-game.
“Z-Bo just took it so personally,” Pondexter reflects. “This dude stayed in his gear after the game. And we’re like, ‘Z-Bo, what you ‘bout to do?’ and he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m about to see Blake.’ Everybody was like, ‘Come on, bro. Season’s over.’ He’s like, ’No, I gotta go finish this.’”
Quincy still can’t suppress his smile as he shares these memories of his old teammate.
“Man, I love Z-Bo to death. I love him,” Pondexter grins. “The memories that we made—you know, Z-Bo tackling Blake Griffin and I’m just sitting there staring at it—like, the things that happened. The ‘Whoop That Trick’ going on in the arena, or ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’ There are so many things that are so nostalgic for me, and I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
When the Grizzlies were giving Quincy his first contract, he even took a pay-cut because of how much he wanted to be with this team.
“I was like, ‘I don’t care about the money. I’m gonna be here forever.’”
But the highs can never last forever, and unforeseen circumstances are known to create challenges with time.
Quincy never could have imagined that in just a few short years, he would be calling Grizzlies owner Robert Pera and asking for a trade.
“I said, ‘I’m staying in Memphis forever.’ It went from that to...” Pondexter’s voice trails off. “You know, things with Joerger were different. Our culture started shifting. We weren’t a loving family anymore as much as we were. Something wasn’t keeping us together. And, um, it was sad to see it go down that way.”
Every Grizzlies fan remembers the infamous Stare Game between Quincy and former Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger. Well, at least their own version of it. Quincy had never fully shared his perspective on what went down that night, until now.
“Second half I get in, down 20, and he just randomly tosses me into the game (at the) middle of the 3rd,” Pondexter says. “So I’m in. Joe Johnson had been killing us in that game, and I was like, trying to get his attention, like, ‘Coach, what do we do, like, to guard him? What should we change?’ And he wouldn’t look at me.”
Throughout the rest of the game, according to Pondexter, it kept happening. Quincy would try to ask Joerger a question, and the coach would refuse to acknowledge him. To this day, Quincy does not feel as if his reaction was unwarranted.
“He’s not trying to help me. I’m trying to get some help out here,” Quincy explains. “I got hot and made some shots and I would just come down and I would just stare at him because he wouldn’t look at me. I feel strongly about it. I stared at him; the whole Staring Game, which was hilarious. The truth is, I never cussed him out. I never said a word to him.”
So when Joerger turned to Quincy in the locker room post game and said, “That’s the most disrespectful display of basketball I’ve ever seen,” Pondexter was thrown off-guard.
But according to Quincy, things hadn’t been right with Joerger long before the Stare Game. Tensions dated back to when the Grizzlies fired Coach Lionel Hollins after their WCF playoff run and replaced him with Joeger, who was an assistant at the time.
“Someone like Lionel controlled our team so much, especially mentally,” Quincy explains. “He was different. He would cuss you out and you respected him. That level of respect...I think it started to erode. I know Marc respected Lionel so much. Z-Bo, of course, did. You know, Mike loves everybody. But, that level of toughness is what we needed to make the next step. For it to be broken up...People felt like it was broken up internally. An assistant taking the head job is kinda weird sometimes.”
Quincy’s seasons under Joerger were filled with empty promises. Joerger would consistently assure Quincy that they planned to start him next week, or next season, and continued to push it off. He would substitute him into games he’d previously told him he wouldn’t be playing in so Quincy was tired or unprepared, and then not play him in games he’d promised that he would. He’d put him with 3rd or 4th-string lineups in training camp while simultaneously telling him his plans to start him had not changed.
According to Pondexter, this pattern went on for years leading up to the infamous Stare Game, which Pondexter describes as a “breaking point.”
“I’m just like, oh my God, what do I have to do?” says Quincy, visibly frustrated at the memory. “At this point, he wouldn’t look at me. He wouldn’t talk to me. I was just like, I don’t know what I did to this guy. I was like, I know I can play.”
So when trade rumors started swirling around about the Grizzlies possibly being interested in acquiring Jeff Green, Quincy called Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, who he had developed a close relationship with, and asked to be thrown into the trade.
“I asked for a trade,” admits Pondexter. “I called Robert and was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. Not with this guy. It’s making everyone look bad, and it’s not comfortable.’”
So Pondexter was traded to the Pelicans in a three-team trade with the Boston Celtics, where he ended up playing the best basketball of his NBA career. With Pondexter’s help, the Pelicans even secured the 8 seed that year, their first playoff appearance since 2011.
“It was bittersweet, because I wanted to be there with my brothers,” Pondexter shares. “You know, in Memphis.”
As for now, Quincy is residing in his hometown of Fresno, California, training his body daily in hopes of an NBA comeback after stacked injuries forced him to sit out a year. He discloses that this is the first time he’s spoken so candidly about his experiences in Memphis.
“I kind of feel responsible for, like, breaking it up,” Quincy confesses on the subject of Grit & Grind. “Me and Tayshaun were the first pieces to leave. We went to the Western Conference Finals, and then there’s all these changes. You know, if we stick together how San Antonio did, we could’ve came back that next year and won the championship. I really believe that.”
So was it worth it for Pondexter? All of the ups and downs he faced during his tenure at Memphis?
The short answer is yes. Quincy smiles and says, “I wish we could do it all over again.”