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VOL. 129 | NO. 81 | Friday, April 25, 2014
Don Wade

Don Wade

Grizz Nation Rallies Around Entire Team

By Don Wade

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It was a natural enough question, but if you’re a Grizzlies fan you had to love the answer.

On Wednesday, April 23, a day before Game 3 of the Grizzlies’ first-round series with Oklahoma City, a visiting reporter asked Tony Allen (who played at Oklahoma State) if he was finding extra motivation from playing the Thunder.

“Right now,” Allen said, “I’m just grinding with the Grizzlies.”

Perfect reply, wasn’t it?

Memphis – and for that matter, Oklahoma – may be flyover country and the Grizzlies, as Mike Conley said near season’s end, may “float under the radar” for 82 games. But the NBA Playoffs remind all that the Grizzlies are here and that Memphis matters when the games most matter.

And let’s be honest, sometimes it does feel like we need to remind the rest of the world that we are more than the launching pad for a million bad Elvis impersonators in white jumpsuits.

That said, Memphis is not L.A. – nor Miami or Boston.

Guard Courtney Lee was traded here from Boston in January. The Celtics’ season already had been reduced to a “rebuilding” year as local fans basked in the glow of another Red Sox World Series triumph, anticipated a possible Super Bowl for the Patriots and debated how far the Bruins might go.

When Lee was out and about he got used to seeing fans fly the colors of all the other Boston teams. Not that they weren’t Celtics fans, too, but it was like the NBA team was on the short end of a fan-share.

“Here,” Lee said, “it’s all Grizzlies, everywhere.”

Mike Miller, who is on his second tour of duty with the Grizzlies, won two NBA titles in Miami. Great times. But even the Heat, though dominant in the market as the Dolphins and Marlins swim against the tide of losing, are not the only pro game in town.

“We’re all in it together,” Miller said of, well, Greater Memphis.

“We feel like a big part of the community,” Conley said. “I have been here for seven years. We’re proud to represent the city and the people here. Just hope we do well for them.”

Sound a little corny? Sure. But it’s no less true.

And fans have been part of this season’s journey. The Grizzlies started 10-15, even struggled to beat bad teams at home and here and there a few boos bounced around FedExForum. After all, the Grizzlies are no longer a novelty and fans no longer will be happy with just having more wins than losses.

“We gave them not much of a reason to come out and be the normal Grindhouse type atmosphere with the way we started,” Conley said. “But I think they’ve warmed up to us as the year went on as we got warmed up (a 14-game home winning streak going into Game 3). We have some of the best fans in the league.”

And here comes one of those fans now: Gwen Barr, 56. She was a fan before the Grizzlies ever won a playoff game and decided that when she turned 50 she was going to be a part of things at The Grindhouse.

So, for a couple of years she was on the Grizzlies Grannies and Grandpas dance team and she still wears the T-shirt with pride. Now, she gets to about a dozen games a season. Ask her to name her favorite player and she says, “I like them all.”

Probably not the response one would even get in small-market Oklahoma City, not with superstar Kevin Durant and near-superstar Russell Westbrook on the team.

But in Memphis if you love Z-Bo (Zach Randolph), how can you not also love Marc Gasol? If you love Tony’s defense, how can you not love the way Conley leads the offense or Miller or Lee spots up and knocks down the open three?

“One is not better than another,” Barr said. “I’m ex-Army, so it’s all about team.”

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.

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