Disappointments past can set up unmitigated joy in the present. At its best, that’s how this whole sports fandom thing works.
You invest yourself emotionally (yes, perhaps financially, too) and if you hold the stock (your loyalty) long enough, there’s a nice payoff.
The exception that repeatedly proves this rule: the Chicago Cubs, the team and the fan base that time forgot.
So, as the Grizzlies seek a series-clinching victory in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, May 3, at FedExForum, redemption hangs in the air. The growl-towel waving masses were crushed by the Griz blowing a huge lead here in Game 1 last year and then crushed again when they couldn’t win Game 7 on their home court.
But how sweet would it be to win Game 6 over the hated Clippers this time? Especially knowing that, this time, there might actually be a navigable path to the NBA Finals?
Yes, that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. But we are not coaches and players, so we’re permitted. Truth is, as much as it looked like the Grizzlies squandered an opportunity a year ago, the opportunity before them now is so much better. Russell Westbrook was healthy a year ago. Zach Randolph was not very healthy a year ago. The Grizzlies were never going to beat the Thunder, who of course lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
This time, the winners of the Clippers-Grizzlies series likely catches an OKC team that is trying to ride on Kevin Durant’s back; however, at this writing, the Houston Rockets were not going quietly and the Thunder had to go back to Houston for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead that almost felt shaky.
In any case, if the Grizzlies can finish off the Clippers (and Blake Griffin is compromised by an ankle injury and Chris Paul really could use alter ago Cliff when the double-teams come) they have a legitimate shot to win another round. And if the Grizzlies can do that and reach the Western Conference Finals, it’s generally assumed they would meet a San Antonio team that’s only slightly younger than The Alamo; and no, Golden State and Denver aren’t sure the Spurs get that far.
What is sure is that such opportunities don’t come around every year. Sometimes, not even every decade. Just months after Robert Pera became the Grizzlies’ controlling owner and a new regime moved into the executive offices, the Grizzlies have the best chance in franchise history to go deep in the postseason.
Even Steve Kerr of TNT (@SteveKerrTNT) tweeted: “Memphis is no joke. 2 dominant post players, 1 of the best point guards in the league, a great coach and solid D. Legit Finals contender.”
Now, Pera, Jason Levien and John Hollinger may yet bring substantial change to the Grizzlies no matter how the rest of the postseason plays out. A couple of weeks ago Levien, the team’s CEO, called postseason performance a “critical part” of the equation, “but not the only part.”
Beating the Clippers and advancing does not ensure everybody from coach Lionel Hollins on down comes back next season. Those decisions will be made absent a fan’s emotions. But the farther the Grizzlies go the stronger the narrative of this season’s team becomes, and the more the Grizzlies brain trust has to consider the chemistry of this team under Hollins, and the power of resolve that runs through Hollins, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
Those, after all, are the key cast members. They are the reason FedExForum is known as “The Grindhouse.” If the Grizzlies advance from this series, they have a real chance to make lasting memories. To create a season that will stand as the season against which all future Grizzlies seasons will be judged, to maybe even hang a conference championship banner.
Of course, IF is also the biggest two-letter word in pro sports.
So soak it up, Memphis, wave those towels and be the best sixth man you can be. It’s your team, your time and maybe, just maybe, the season Memphis will never forget.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.