I’ve run a Grizzlies fan account on Twitter since 2013.
Everything I’ve witnessed as a fan in these nine seasons, I’ve witnessed alongside thousands of others. I mean, I experienced the peak of GNG with these people—some of the greatest times of my life, really. I’ve seen this fanbase feel all the types and shades of excitement.
But nothing’s ever felt quite like this.
I’m not saying that a seven game regular season win streak is more exciting than the epic playoff runs the GNG Grizzlies had. I’m just saying that it feels different. Because, well, it is different.
I’m writing this while the adrenaline from the latest Grizzlies win courses through my veins. It’s their seventh in a row. Twitter is campaigning for Ja Morant to be an All-Star in just his second year in the league.
One thing that’s starting to become evident is that it’s not just the intensity of the Grizzlies rise to success that feels so startling and different; it’s the speed.
Every time this team has succeeded in the past, it has happened slowly. It took the Memphis Grizzlies 11 years to even win a playoff game; to finally compile a team that had what it took to push them over that hump.
Acknowledging the inconceivableness of what this Grizzlies team is currently doing is not in any way undermining or discrediting the teams of the past. But when it takes a franchise 11 years to get a playoff win, fan expectations for how long it takes to realistically gain success are going to change.
Even after drafting Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke the year after drafting Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies fans were prepared to suffer a few bad seasons before ultimate success. But somehow, even when shorthanded, this Grizzlies team is continuing to stun fans.
For starters, Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman has crafted a roster so stacked that there are literally no players to put in at the end of a blowout game who aren’t making significant contributions to the team. They’re finishing off games with guys who are putting up double digits. Tonight, in a game that was deemed over minutes before the final buzzer, the Grizzlies closed with John Konchar, Desmond Bane, Gorgui Dieng, De’Anthony Melton, and Tyus Jones. Four of the five scored double digits, and the one player who didn’t (Konchar) made several key momentum-shifting plays throughout the game.
Then there’s the biggest, most prominent difference from some of the older days of Grizzlies basketball: Drafting players who will be able to instantly come in and make an impact. This can be attributed to Zach Kleiman as well. In the two drafts since Kleiman was hired as GM, the Grizzlies have acquired four guys who were able to immediately and effortlessly be placed into lineups. After years of drafting players who sat at the end of the bench until they were eventually traded or just faded into oblivion, this is a remarkable upgrade. Kleiman’s shown a trend of selecting the more “obvious” players instead of the risky, high-upside guys, and it’s paid off. Adding Bane and Tillman in a year the Grizzlies weren’t even in the lottery is already proving to be an unbelievable steal.
Additionally, the Grizzlies and their fans have been able to pull from one of their favorite themes from the GNG era while simultaneously embracing a shift in play-style. Thanks to the NBA’s refusal to put the Grizzlies on National TV, the team and its fans can continue to enjoy the underdog mentality that has energized this franchise since the GNG days while simultaneously making the flashy, Sportscenter Top 10 plays that former players rarely did.
And you really cannot emphasize the team’s impact on Memphis basketball fans without a separate conversation about Ja Morant. The team simply could not have drafted a better center-point to build the franchise around.
He’s the flashy star, but he’s also every teammate’s biggest cheerleader. Morant bridges a gap between older and younger generations of Grizzlies fans by embracing the heart of the city while bringing his own fresh, authentic coolness to it. One minute, he’s quoting Moneybagg Yo on Twitter and the next he’s “booping” a giraffe at the local zoo.
And you can feel that freshness and authenticity on the court. Ja Morant plays basketball in a way that makes those who watch him fall in love with the game all over again. The way he coasts past defenders who tower over him. The way he makes that pass so absurd that makes you squint and go, Did he even mean to do that?
It’s not just that Grizzlies fans have never seen another player quite like him. It’s that basketball fans have never seen another player quite like him.
It’s become increasingly clear that fans likely won’t have to wait the originally projected two or three years for this young Grizzlies team to reach the playoffs after all. Sure, this team will not reach its ceiling in the next couple of years, but that’s what makes its current success feel so foreign and electrifying.
If the Grizzlies are already playing this well with a limited roster, what will they look like months from now when they’re fully healthy?
And as they continue to grow and improve, what will they look like years from now?
With the GNG era, fans knew there was only a certain window of time and that an actual ring was unlikely. But now, with a team this young and promising, there is no shortage of time - or possibilities.