VOL. 129 | NO. 130 | Friday, July 4, 2014
The Press Box
A Wise Sports Fan Appreciates the Journey
By Don Wade
So what does Team USA’s soccer experience and the Memphis Grizzlies experience have in common?
You know, besides the obvious – playing against a bunch of floppers/whiners, be they from Portugal or Lob City?
Team USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said before the World Cup ever started that the reality was the United States wasn’t going to win. Some people didn’t like this statement, even though there was no evidence that it was anything other than a clear declaration of sobriety.
Klinsmann’s comment exactly: “We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament.”
The Grizzlies, despite the way controlling owner Robert Pera and interim general manager Chris Wallace throw around the word “championship” – as in, pursuit of – pretty much face the same reality as Team USA did in World Cup.
Or at least they do until they can pull an upset in the free-agent market and bring in a true difference-maker.
For all the Grizzlies’ success in recent years, never have they been able to persuade a name free agent that still has game – and no, Allen Iverson doesn’t count – to come to Memphis.
I say this not to blame the Grizzlies, not to blame the free agents, and not even to pile on Memphis. We all know what our city’s problems are but the truth is Ray Allen didn’t pick Miami over Memphis because we rank high in poverty, obesity and crime or because we were late to the bike lane race.
The stars simply aren’t going to pick Memphis when Miami, L.A., New York, Chicago, Boston and Dallas are available. Or even Phoenix and Golden State.
The Grizzlies reportedly have reached out to Paul Pierce, but the list of suitors is long. As for the Le Brons and Carmelos of the world, well, you can’t even pretend it’s possible.
It’s great that Zach Randolph is back in the fold and that the team has center Marc Gasol for another year and point guard Mike Conley for two more years. And it’s possible the Grizzlies could deal for a helpful player or two; re-signing veteran Mike Miller would be a nice start.
Let’s be honest, which is all Klinsmann was doing before the World Cup. The competitive deck is stacked. Pera may make some fans feel better when he boldly talks of winning a championship. And I understand that when a man is a billionaire before he’s old enough to be President of the United States it’s easy to believe you can do anything.
But the modern-day North American pro sports league and the TV networks and advertisers it is in bed with does not make its money off creating a level playing field for Memphis or Jacksonville. San Antonio is an outlier and the grand – almost impossible – dream to which every other small market team can aspire.
Watching Team USA in the World Cup captured our country’s imagination precisely because the odds of winning it all were so long. On the international soccer stage, we are comfortable in our underdog jerseys hoping against hope for an echo to the 1980 Miracle on Ice in the Olympics.
The Grizzlies winning an NBA title would be no less a miracle than what that young hockey team accomplished. And yes, they would have to play the game of their lives at least seven times in order to win 16 postseason games.
So “Believe Memphis” remains the right slogan. And fans should believe, despite the odds. That’s all the fun.
But it might take a little more effort to believe when Pierce and Carmelo Anthony and other free agents land in places not named Memphis and perhaps with teams that stand between the Grizzlies and the NBA Finals.
Coach Dave Joerger needn’t channel Klinsmann and make a we-can’t-win-it-all statement, but maybe Grizz Nation should pretend that he has.
Understand the remoteness of the ultimate destination a little better, enjoy the journey as far as it goes a little more.
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.