“Only in the movies & Memphis” is a quote that OG Grizzlies fans will always tie to late Grizzlies announcer Don Poier. That quote has kept a relevant place in the lore of the Memphis Grizzlies because - to an extent - it’s true. One of the best tropes of movies and the entertainment industry is the redemption arc.
Magneto. Loki. Negan. Theon Greyjoy and Jaime Lannister. Anakin Skywalker. The impact of these characters and the pull they have over fans long after their arcs end is due in part to the complexity of the characters. While it is easy for roles within the industry to be “larger than life,” the humanizing aspect of these characters evolving from past mistakes to become cult favorites makes for some of the best entertainment. The Grizzlies have had their share of these “redemption arcs” in the past — Hi, Z-Bo — but throughout the 2021 season a new arc has emerged.
That is the one of former Duke Blue Devil Grayson Allen as he has gone from public enemy #1 to a “hooper” that Grizzlies fans have come to love.
For the fans, and the haters that will inevitably hate read this, this is the Grayson Allen redemption arc.
Let’s take a trip down to Jacksonville, FL. Providence Day School to be exact.
While Grayson Allen wasn’t the face of the 2014 recruiting class, he was far from a scrub. Allen was a four or five-star recruit out of high school depending on the service — ranking ~#26 in his class. His high school coach Jim Martin denies any tripping incidents during his high school days, but when asked, he explains that throughout his prep career Allen was an “intense competitor.” His intense form of play paid off, as he would be a state champion his junior year and a McDonald’s All-American his senior year that also saw him win the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest by jumping over future teammates Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor. As a future Duke Blue Devil all eyes were on Allen as part of yet another top billed Coach K recruiting class.
Public Enemy #1
Christian Laettner and JJ Redick had storied careers in Durham before varying degrees of success in the league. When they were at Duke though? These two guys were the show and the after-party. These two guys for all of their success on the floor were some of the most hated men in the country during their college careers, experiencing a level of vitriol no college age kid should honestly be subjected to. That hate — as JJ Redick has touched on on his podcast “Old Man and the Three”— carried over into the NBA and still hears it over 10+ years later.
Although he was a minimal contributor his freshman season, to say that Allen lived up to the legacy of previous Duke “villains” in his three collegiate would be an understatement. “Thug,” “Brat,” and “dirty player” are the nicest phrases used by college basketball fans and media to describe the intense college guard. As well as he played on the floor, it was overshadowed by his antics on and off of it — whether it be tripping opposing players, throwing tantrums on the bench, etc. This earned him a reputation that drastically differed from how his high school coaches remembered him. It also led to disdain — and even motivation — for opposing players who intentionally went at the Duke guard with the intention to provoke him.
In his three tumultuous seasons at Duke, he was a primary reason for Duke’s win in the 2015 NCAA national championship game scoring 16 points. His final two seasons, he was lauded as one of the best players in the ACC, and the honors followed as he added Second and Third-team All-American honors and First and Third team All-ACC honors to his resume before declaring for the NBA draft after his junior season.
Redemption - Just a Hooper
Grayson Allen was drafted 21st overall in the 2018 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz. His stay there would be brief but not completely uneventful. He would spend most of his sole season with Utah in the G-League, but he showed flashes in his 38 games with the Jazz including a career high 40 points against the Los Angeles Clippers in one of the final games of the 2019 season.
The following offseason, Allen was a part of the trade that would send Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz. Allen’s arrival was met with a lot of vitriol from Grizzlies fans familiar with the Allen they had witnessed at Duke. During his time in Utah, he remained out of the lime light as a role player but his time in Memphis started with some familiar fireworks. Allen was ejected from a July Summer League game for committing back to back flagrant fouls that were deemed “cheap shots.” This validated those who were concerned with his arrival. Allen did not have much of a chance to redeem himself and change the narrative surrounding him during his first season in Memphis, as he only played 38 games due to being sidelined with a hip injury.
After a stellar performance in the NBA bubble to finish last season, the 2020-21 NBA season has been a breakout season for Grayson Allen. He has become a regular not only within the Grizzlies rotation but the starting lineup, playing some of the best basketball of his career. In the month of April alone, Allen is averaging 15 points per game while shooting 42% from deep. Allen has lived up to everything that those that focused on his play on the floor in college believed he could be: a capable defender that is a perimeter sniper on offense. Much like Redick before him, his reputation has followed him around causing every move he makes to be under the microscope. While every move has been closely monitored, Allen has been a model player throughout his stint in Memphis with no incidents to speak of outside of a few over blown moments. The Allen that is a “dirty player” still in a lot of minds is more like us than was previously let on. Call of Duty, his dog, and being a part of the team he’s deemed “just a bunch of hoopers” is the Grayson Allen Grizzlies fans have been able to enjoy and cheer on, and as the intense competitor that his high school coaches remember as instead of the villain that most propose him to be.
This article won’t stop the jeers thrown his way. To be honest, that wasn’t really the point of this article. People change. Many of the characters that we enjoy on our TV screens on a daily basis have an emotional evolution to make us appreciate them that much more. For Memphis, this season of #GrzNxtGen has allowed us to appreciate Grayson Allen for all of his contributions to the team as an exciting, young player as he redeemed himself — from villain to Beale Street Hero.