Back in October of 2018, ESPN posted a photo of Kevin Durant as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics during his rookie season. The post contained a quote from Durant in which he stated that he believed that NBA basketball would find its way back to Seattle sooner rather than later. In the comment section of that post, there was one from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that stood out from the rest: “It’s been time. Have the Grizzlies move to Seattle—a phenomenal sports town.”
Move the Memphis Grizzlies to Seattle? Those same Grizzlies who were one of the NBA’s best teams during the last decade, totaling seven consecutive playoff appearances before a combination of injuries and bad luck in 2018 prevented them from continuing that streak? Those same Grizzlies who already inhabit a phenomenal sports town of their own in Memphis?
But I guess none of that really matters at the end of the day. It’s just little ole Memphis, right? If the NBA were to take their team and move it into a large market like Seattle, who would really even care?
Memphis cares, about its team and about its own. However, I do think I speak for every other Memphian when I say that I’m done caring in the slightest about what those outside of Memphis think of us. The Stephen A. Smith’s of the world simply don’t get it, and they have no desire to do so.
And to their credit, the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies led by Jason Wexler and Zachary Kleiman has embraced this so inherently “Memphis” mentality in their dealings with the Andre Iguodala situation. They do not care about meaningless optics or external pressure to buy him out, only seeking to maximize an asset that they received this summer to their own benefit.
Because why should the Memphis Grizzlies care about anything other than their own self-interest and success?
It’s certainly not to appease those same disingenuous national media members who will cry “what about respect?!” for a veteran like Iguodala while also barely concealing their glee when the possibility of a team from a small market like Memphis moving to a larger market like Seattle arises.
It’s certainly not to benefit Andre Iguodala himself, who is apparently such a respected veteran and incredible role player that the Golden State Warriors attached him to a first round pick in a trade just to clear cap space. Ever since he initially refused to report to training camp after his initial trade to Memphis (a fact that Stephen A. Smith among others seem to ignore) he has been nothing short of an unprofessional, a ridiculous mockery of what “player empowerment” is supposed to be. The Grizzlies and Iguodala may have agreed to this “arrangement”, but the Grizzlies only did so after he made it clear he wasn’t interested in participating in the rebuilding process in Memphis.
Sources: Memphis wants three-time champion Andre Iguodala to report to training camp and is refusing right now to engage in buyout, which would prevent Iguodala from finishing a Hall of Fame career on his terms because this may be his final NBA season.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 9, 2019
To be sure, Iguodala—a 36-year-old man who averaged 5.7 points per game last year—believed and still believes that he’s too good to play for Memphis. Even in a vacuum, this level of condescending arrogance from a man who hasn’t been any better than the fifth best player on a championship team in recent years is almost comically absurd (hell, it’s even laughable that he won Finals MVP in 2015 for holding LeBron James to a meager 35.8 points and 8.8 assists per game). But for a player of his age and already apparent regression, he should have more self-awareness to realize that he’s not Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Andre Iguodala anymore, or even Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
He could have been a fantastic mentor and role player for the Grizzlies until they found him a path to an actual contender before the trade deadline. Instead, he decided to hold out—much to the chagrin of Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant—while the Grizzlies have become a steady playoff contender without him.
Maybe Iguodala’s persistent refusal to have anything to do with the Grizzlies should have never been a surprise in the first place. Because in the eyes of the national media, there is hardly a more egregious waste of a player’s career—especially an older one—than to spend it in one of the NBA’s small markets like Memphis.
Take the Milwaukee Bucks, for example. After a win against the New Orleans Pelicans last night, they are currently 43-7 which puts them on pace for one of the best regular season records in NBA history. They are an incredibly fun team that bombs away threes at a frenetic pace and boasts one of the greatest athletes of this generation in Giannis Antetokounmpo. And yet the national media appears to be far more interested in speculating which big market franchise will Giannis leave Milwaukee for when he enters unrestricted free agency in 2021.
This was a discussion that took place on ESPN seven months ago.
Six months ago:
If you want to go back even further, the San Antonio Spurs never received the fanfare and adoration that they deserved at the peak of their dynasty, regularly residing in the bottom-10 of national television appearances throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Truly, the only time in recent years that the national media has given consistent, adequate coverage to a small-market franchise was when the combined star-power of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made it entirely too difficult for them to ignore Oklahoma City.
However, with the explosive arrival of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, the Memphis Grizzlies are already finding themselves an increasing topic of national conversation and could soon very well capture the national sports consciousness in a similar way to how the Oklahoma City Thunder did at the beginning of the last decade (the Zion Williamson-led New Orleans Pelicans have this opportunity as well). And they should absolutely revel in this opportunity.
Because while the city of Memphis may not quite have the glitz and glamour of a New York or Los Angeles, they do arguably have the NBA’s most exciting young team that is already knocking at the door of the playoffs with a compelling message that is nearly 20 years in the making: The Memphis Grizzlies will not be bullied or forgotten, and they certainly won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in this game to conquer every big market and leave no stone unturned. And that is something that the rest of the NBA’s smaller markets should celebrate.