I take my Elvis Week song dedications very seriously. No throwaways here, and you get one of the King’s tunes attached to your name only by earning it. The old-fashioned way, as the saying goes. This year’s dedications are distinctly Beale Street Blue, which, if you think about it, would have made a great Elvis song.
To Zach Randolph: “Teddy Bear” — You gotta admit Z-Bo has some teddy-bear qualities to him, particularly when he’s handing out turkeys on Thanksgiving or rescuing injured dogs. The ever-present headband on game day lends itself to the image, as does Randolph’s megawatt smile. Now, when he’s slinging 250 pounds inside for another put-back, or jogging upcourt alongside the likes of Steven Adams, Z-Bo’s claws come out and the teddy bear becomes decidedly, well, grizzly.
To Mike Conley: “The Wonder of You” — “You’re always there to lend a hand / In everything I do.” No one has played in more games as a Grizzly than the undersized (that’s what I thought) point guard from Ohio State. He’s been the pulse of four playoff teams now but has yet to get an All-Star nod. He won’t stuff a stat sheet (career scoring average: 13.1), but will be on the court for the decisive moment, one fourth quarter (or overtime) after another. These athletes tend to carry the same wondrous tag: winner.
To Tony Allen: “Blue Suede Shoes” — I like envisioning the Grindfather’s reaction if an opponent chose to knock him down, or step on his face. (Ask Chris Paul.) Allen has become as Memphis as dry rub, as distinctly Bluff City as Beale Street. Somewhere there exists a marketing campaign with Allen walking down Beale, a half-chewed rib in hand . . . and blue suede shoes on his feet. “Now go, cat, go.”
To Marc Gasol: “A Big Hunk O’ Love” — Big and hunk. That’s Gasol, his game, his impact on the Grizzlies franchise over the last six seasons. Memphis sagged (10-13 record) six weeks last winter as Gasol nursed an injury, then surged (33-13) over the season’s final three months to secure a fourth straight playoff berth. Gasol’s contract status will be the most talked-about variable next season, and could be the tipping point for this group of Grizzlies as title contenders. If Griz owner Robert Pera shows Gasol the same love the team’s fan base has, Big Marc should be around a long time.
To Dave Joerger: “Stuck on You” — That spring tango with the Minnesota Timberwolves made for an uncomfortable 24 hours, but the young coach came to his senses and returned to his current home, signing a contract extension that should stabilize what appeared to be a rapidly spinning operation when CEO Jason Levien was abruptly dismissed in May. And why shouldn’t Joerger be stuck on Memphis? Handed a roster dripping with playoff experience, he guided a second-half surge during his rookie season as a head coach to reach 50 wins, the benchmark for NBA contenders. “Squeeze you tighter than a grizzly bear . . . .”
To Robert Pera: “Big Boss Man” — For two seasons, there was an Oz quality to the Grizzlies’ principal owner (“don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain”). Levien seemed to have the wheel of the franchise, steering by his own compass, evaluating players (and coaches) with his own value structure. No more. In firing Levien and bringing Chris Wallace back as general manager, Pera asserted his position as the man in the corner office. Ideas are welcome. Creativity is encouraged. But no freelancing on the company dime.