Lebron James could teach Memphians a few things about big announcements and press conferences. Such as . . . it helps to be a genuine star, have real news, buzz, and play up the suspense. Bonus points if someone gets unusually candid or pissed off. Such occasions are few and far between in Memphis, where the term "news conference" has been badly devalued by everyone from Willie Herenton, who has had too many of them, to Rudy Gay, whose $82 million deal was formally announced a week after it happened, to Allen Iverson, who never should have bothered.
To all those whining about too much hype and self indulgence: May you spend a year covering school board members, political also-rans, and official spokesmen who say "I am not at liberty to discuss that."
Here are the Top Five Memphis news conferences of the last ten years.
May 26, 2005: Operation Tennessee Waltz breaks. At a press conference at the Federal building, U.S. Attorney Terry Harris unveiled the indictments of John Ford, Roscoe Dixon, and others. This one had it all — a catchy phrase, total surprise, big names, details of an undercover sting, and the money quote from Harris, "Government is not for sale."
July 1, 2001. The Vancouver Grizzlies have been approved by the NBA to move to Memphis. The news had come a couple months earlier when both the Grizzlies and the Charlotte Hornets applied to move to Memphis, but the formal announcement came at nearly new AutoZone Park in front of a who's who of local business leaders and politicians. The Grizzlies would play in to-be-constructed FedEx Forum as part of the deal. It was the high point of an extended run of high hopes for Memphis.
May 3, 2002. Jerry West coming to Memphis to run the front office for the Grizzlies. West was introduced at Peabody Place, where he stood behind a microphone and said in his West Virginia accent, "Let's have some darn goals around here that are a little more lofty." The man known as "the logo" turned out to be more cranky and less in love with Memphis than we hoped, but his coming validated the Grizzlies and Memphis as big-league, and his decisions helped the team make the playoffs in 2004 and 2005.
March 11, 2000. John Calipari is coming to Memphis. Some have star appeal, some don't. Calipari does. It was obvious from the day of his first press conference in The Pyramid that the University of Memphis basketball program was going places, whatever it might take to get there. "This is a different kind of challenge," he said. "There are a lot of things here that are already in place." He held forth for more than an hour and then went off to meet with a group of 1,000 fans.
June 26, 2008. Willie Herenton officially unresigns. "It wasn't really a resignation letter," he explained, as it were, in a one-hour give and take with the media at City Hall. The mayor could still draw a crowd. Sure fooled everyone, though. He didn't really quit the first time or the second time either. But that was exactly the point. Nothing was so revealing of our former mayor as the way he left office.