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VOL. 11 | NO. 20 | Saturday, May 19, 2018

Editorial: Hardaway Takes Game Off The Court, Into the City

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While we have pondered and called meetings and probably hired consultants to help us get our arms around young Memphians who leave the city to seek their future and never return, something has been happening. And it has been happening around the city’s dominant sport – basketball.

Several former University of Memphis Tigers players are at work in their city well past their playing days, some after leaving to play elsewhere. The same is true of some Grizzlies players and coaches whose time on the court here was brief.

The cynical view is these basketball-based efforts are a harvesting of sorts of the city’s immense basketball talent.

The truth is this ability to use the knowledge that only someone who has grown up in Memphis and struggled here – and watched others struggle – is part and parcel of the city’s basketball culture. You can’t separate it from the game. You can’t limit it to just the game.

If you want to put it on a timeline, the start probably would be when Larry Finch decided to buck conventional wisdom and attend Memphis State University out of Melrose High School, then went on to play for the ABA Memphis franchise at the same Mid-South Coliseum where he had played college ball.

We’ve warned in this space before about the dangers of relying too much on what happens within the lines of a basketball court to gauge our movement and progress as a city.

That warning still holds. But what is happening with Penny Hardaway’s return to the University of Memphis as head basketball coach is bigger than FedExForum.

He’s not building a program as much as he is building a beacon that adult Memphians and expatriate Memphians who snapped a photo with Hardaway as a player in the ’90s or proudly display a Li’l Penny action figure on a nearby shelf can connect to today’s city and its possibilities. The sense of possibility then, and the difficulty getting to it, are still with us today.

The spillover from Hardaway’s efforts runs right through the work that Elliot Perry, Andre Turner, Detric Golden, Ken Moody, the late Lorenzen Wright and numerous other Tigers basketball alumni – including Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane and musician John Kilzer – have spread across a broad spectrum of this city for years.

It isn’t always about basketball, but it’s always about knowing that these are people who know the Memphis we all live in as children, as adults, as those who struggle, and those whose struggle encourages others.

At the outset this looks a lot like grit and grind. The comparisons are understandable.

What sets this off is that a Memphian with an intimate and innate knowledge of the city – its physical and mental dimensions – is running the show.

No learning curve, no thinking this could be Anyplace USA, and no settling.

No boundaries separating players from the fans when it comes to taking the momentum off the court and into the real city.

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