A feeling that one has heard or seen something before...something overly familiar
It’s the most cliche’ story in sports — David vs Goliath, the underdogs. For the Memphis Grizzlies and their fans, it’s an all too familiar story. Even throughout their seven year run in the postseason, which was second only to the San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis franchise was commonly placed on the chopping block as the team to send to Seattle.
Blue collar Memphians embrace it. The most beloved players in franchise history have embodied it. Zach Randolph, the troubled All-Star shipped to a small market at relatively no price — supposedly sentenced to the NBA’s death penalty. Marc Gasol, the pudgy little brother of the former franchise cornerstone, a perceived trade toss in. Mike Conley, the small point guard overshadowed by his Goliath like teammate Greg Oden.
Three pillars of the best team in franchise history.
Motivation is perhaps one of the most relative terms in the English language. Anyone can use anything at any time to motivate them. For Memphis, it seems as if it was predestined to have the terms “underdog” and “overlooked” as permanent motivation.
What will it take for the Grizzlies to shake this label?
The 2010-2011 season was a monumental journey for the Grizzlies in Memphis. A new core was in place — Mike Conley, Tony Allen, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — and they made their first trek into the Western Conference Playoff gauntlet, facing none other than Goliath themselves, the San Antonio Spurs.
This Spurs core had won 3 titles already and posted their second best regular season record. The Grizzlies, as the eight seed, were coming in never winning a GAME in the postseason in franchise history.
That team did not let the media, the standings, nor the fans tell them they did not belong. The belief was in each other. The chemistry —outside of Tony Allen and OJ Mayo — was top notch. While the majority of the team were fresh to the playoffs, they were not afraid of the moment.
The 2010-11 Grizzlies would have been seen as progress in the franchise simply winning one playoff game. That's it. One game. They did that in the first round, against Goliath, but they did not stop there. They went on to pull the rare 8-1 upset to advance to the second round.
Talk about “started from the bottom, now we here”
Then there is this kid “from the mud” who “doesn’t need a silver spoon”, who yelled out “tell that mother ________ about me” to one of the top 10 players in the association. Ja Morant embodies “started from the bottom, now we here” and he has announced his presence with authority.
He should be the unanimous Rookie of the Year as he has led his rebuilding franchise to a potential berth in the playoffs. Yet, he is often overlooked and tossed to the side in favor of fellow rookie Zion Williamson.
As we await the return to play in a few short days, there is that sense of deja vu.
The point guard who is overshadowed by a former teammate. Dillon Brooks, a 4 year college player taken in the second round playing big minutes much like Sam Young. Jonas Valanciunas, the man in the middle, tossed in a trade for the previous franchise cornerstone for salary purposes and position overload. Kyle Anderson, the young veteran defensive specialist by way of a championship organization in the massive shadow of Tony Allen. Josh Jackson, the talented but troubled young player shipped out as a reclamation project in the mold of Zach Randolph. Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton and Gorgui Dieng were all traded away, undervalued by their former teams. Don’t forget Brandon Clarke, a top-5 talent in this year’s draft dropping late into the first round of the NBA draft.
A new core is in place. They are headed into what is essentially their first playoff journey together. They would face a juggernaut of an opponent if they survive their gauntlet of seeding games...
This should seem familiar to Memphis. A roster full of overlooked underdogs. A collection of players with outstanding chemistry defeating the odds —yes, the Vegas odds too. This team wants to hear nothing about how they don’t belong here, because they ARE here.
The motivation is there for each of these players individually, to prove they belong or to continue the grind it took to get from the bottom to the best league in the world. Overlook this team at your own peril. They may not be ready to shock the world and defeat LeBron James, Anthony Davis and their Los Angeles Lakers in a 7 game series, but don’t be stunned if this band of overlooked young men make it tough and steal a game or two.
We have seen this before.