VOL. 126 | NO. 245 | Friday, December 16, 2011
The Press Box
Grizzlies Hope to Reward City With Parade
By DON WADE
If you can’t be a little naïve and overly optimistic before the season starts, then when can you?
Yes, the NBA lockout delayed the start of the season – to Dec. 26 in San Antonio for the Grizzlies – and shortened the schedule to 66 games.
And yes, as training camp opened the rest of the league was again waging the small market vs. big market fight; the trade of Chris Paul from New Orleans was in limbo and Commissioner David Stern was looking like both puppet and dictator.
The NBA was still a mess.
But not in Memphis. In Memphis, the glow from last season’s playoff run had returned and players were speaking of Memphis as though this was NBA Camelot.
“When you’re producing,” said Rudy Gay, “it’s the best city in the league to play for.”
Anyone hear Chris Paul say that about New Orleans?
“Games were so loud last year,” Darrell Arthur said of the atmosphere at FedExForum during the playoffs, “it was like every game was the finals.”
Anyone hear Dwight Howard say that about Orlando?
Mike Conley said it was nice to be back in Ohio during the summer, but upon returning to Memphis, “I felt like this is where I belong.”
As for Zach Randolph being miffed the NBA bypassed Memphis for a Christmas Day game? Well, it’s almost sweet.
Look, we all understand player loyalty – and team commitment to a given player – is flexible. But for now, Memphis is Happy Town. Now that the Grizzlies have re-signed center Marc Gasol the team picture is complete. The players are still touched by the way fans showed up at the airport when the team returned from Oklahoma City after losing Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Seemed like half the city,” Conley said. “Cheering, music playing ... that support, I’d never experienced anything like that in my life.”
The huge dare-to-dream-it, not-afraid-to-say-it, goal going forward? A bigger celebration, a victory parade.
“Beale Street one day,” Gay said, “somehow, some way.”
Even O.J. Mayo, whom the Grizzlies traded to Indiana last season only for the deal to fall through, was all smiles and civic pride.
“Like water under a bridge,” Mayo said. “I’m happy here in Memphis.”
Yes, in Memphis, where players actually believe they can compete for a championship and where we see no harm in humoring them.
Let the chase begin.
Don Wade is a native of Kansas City and a former feature writer for The Kansas City Star and sports reporter for The Commercial Appeal. His column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.