First, congratulations on your Memphis Grizzlies jersey retirement ceremony tonight. It’s fitting that of the four Core Four members your #50 gets hung from the rafters first. After all, it is your arrival in Memphis that essentially started it all for the greatest era of Grizzlies basketball so far. The #50ForDaCity documentary reminded all of us of that reality - there is no Tony Allen, no Marc Gasol, no Mike Conley (at least as we knew them as key cogs of the Grit and Grind machine) without the attitude and ability you brought with you to the Bluff City. You unquestionably deserve this honor.
The night is for you, to be sure. But no disrespect, it’s not just your night. And while I do not know you personally, I feel like you’d agree that it’s not just about you. That’s the story of any of our lives when we find any small (or large, in your case) amount of success. You outline in the documentary so many that have inspired your life - your mother, the people you’ve helped out along the way in Memphis, your teammates. Up and down your days on this Earth you’ve been inspired to help and grow and become better by many. You took that desire and made it results. You’ve lived a life of purpose...of impact. You’ve made yourself better, and in the process made your family and community better.
So it is a night for all those people, plus the entire Memphis Grizzlies community. And it’s a night for a lowly blogger like me...who would never have started in this line of work if it wasn’t for you.
When I made the life-altering decision to come to Memphis in the spring of 2011, I immersed myself in the culture of the city I was moving to. My life is sports, so the fact that the Grizzlies were in the playoffs was perfect. I could follow along from afar and learn about the city through the coverage of the series. Memphis was a big underdog against the San Antonio Spurs, but I figured that I would see enough sights and hear enough sounds to get a somewhat better vibe for the team and their place in the city.
Sometimes, timing works out perfectly. My introduction to the Memphis Grizzlies was one of those times.
I fell in love with the team, and the city, from afar. And once we arrived in Memphis, my love only grew. The way the team played was my style of basketball. My father and grandfather, who taught me the game, always told me that basketball was a contact sport. It was meant to be played physically, with an edge. That was the Grizzlies with you at the forefront, Zach. Almost every night was like watching a street fight where you wanted to put a ball in a basket for some reason. There was skill, of course. But whether it was physical or mental, there were competitively violent moments in every game.
And I loved watching it.
The energy throughout my time in Memphis once we moved there was remarkable. I attended so many games, most as a fan, some as a media member, and the rise in tension/excitement as tipoff approached was palpable. And the anticipation whenever you got the ball in the post was remarkable, and usually reserved for high-flying dunkers on the run toward the rim. But not in your arena...no, in FedExForum jab steps were far more satisfying. At least when you were the one delivering them.
Some of my best memories from the three years I lived in Memphis, Tennessee involve the Memphis Grizzlies. As I left, I knew the city would never leave me. And it hasn’t - I still do what I do with GBB because of Memphis and their Grizzlies...how they made a new place home for me. I can never repay you for your role in that.
But what I can do - in large part because of the culture and era that you led - is teach my kids to be Grizzlies fans. Teach them what matters more than anything is how you treat people...more than money, more than fame, the relationships you make and the way you make the world around you better is what is most important. You’re a human being with flaws that has made mistakes. But you’ve also shown that when one is given a second chance and takes advantage of it, truly amazing things can happen.
I’ll watch from afar tonight, Zach, and it made me feel better yesterday when I read that you said that you may shed a tear. I know I will. It wasn’t the longest time I have spent in a city in my life, but it was the most personally impactful. And you were one of the main characters in the overall arc of that story, Zach. From fandom to Site Manager of GBB, this team has been a focus of my life for over a decade now. It is, to this day, a connection to a time where I felt myself experiencing a different kind of happiness. One where sport and the outside world interact - where problems aren’t solved, but for a moment they are set aside in appreciation of something (or someone) seemingly capable of doing more for those experiencing such special moments than they really can.
That influence is so powerful. You get that. And in your time in Memphis, you have used it to make good and change the lives of so many for good both on and off the floor.
Enjoy tonight, Z-Bo. Literally no one that has ever worn the uniform deserves this more than you. Thank you for the memories - and for faith rewarded in people, in second chances, and the good that can be found in all of us if you just give folks an opportunity to show it.
Grit and Grind Forever.