A Tough Decision 

Should Memphis bite the bullet and build a new arena for the NBA Grizzlies?

PHOTO David Sowell
Quarterback Shyrone Chatman
As my colleague John Branston said after the issue first came up: "I could give you five reasons for it and five against it."

Should Memphis make the financial commitment to obtain the NBA team now known as the Vancouver Grizzlies? Even if that means spending up to $250 million in public funds? Would Memphis support the team if they got it? What about the proverbial Tuesday night game vs. the Clippers? Would having an NBA here hurt the University of Memphis?

I'm glad I don't have to make the decision.

Back in 1992, when the NFL first let Memphis know that the Liberty Bowl expansion was not going to be enough to land the city an expansion team, there was an avalanche of sentiment against building a new football stadium. The city felt betrayed by the NFL. We had done everything they had asked us to do, including selling out meaningless exhibition games and expanding the stadium.

But that was then, this is now.

In the decade which followed, we watched Nashville build two arenas and land two big-league franchises: the NFL Titans and the NHL Predators. We have seen, first-hand, how much those franchises have meant to the Nashville image, which is now polished brighter than ever.

"But Memphis can't even air-condition all of its public schools," the argument goes. But it isn't a choice between air conditioning and a new arena. It's apples and oranges.

According to a study by Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist, economics professors at Stanford University and Smith College, respectively, U.S. cities will spend $7 billion on new sports arenas by 2006 and most of this money will come from taxpayers. The annual cost to Maryland taxpayers for Camden Yards, the Baltimore ballpark that AutoZone Park is modeled after, is $14 million.

The study paints a bleak picture of this rush to use public funds to build sports stadiums. "A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment," write the authors. "No recent facility seems to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment. No recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues. Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus."

But what of the psychological lift a big-league stadium and tenant give a city? What of the intangible benefits? Isn't that worth it?

Well, we could give you five reasons for and five reasons against. And it seems like Memphians are just as undecided as I am. In "The Buzz," The Memphis Flyer's online poll, 53 percent want the city to build a new arena for the NBA and 47 percent call it a waste of money. Of course, our poll isn't scientific, but this isn't science.

Like I said, I'm glad I don't have to make the call.

TIGER BASKETBALL RECAP

BEST GAME: January 18th. Memphis 72, Saint Louis 63 (OT).

Tigers rally late at The Pyramid, McFadgon hits a trey to tie in final minute. Tigers are brilliant in OT. All this on ESPN. Tigers move beyond .500 mark for first time in Calipari era.

BEST BREAK: Courtney Trask's suspension. No way does Shyrone Chatman emerge as the quarterback of this team without Trask's forced benching.

WORST GAME: March 3rd. Louisville 65, Memphis 56.

With C-USA's best record on the line against the school's biggest rival, Tigers are whipped in every facet of the game.

WORST BREAK: Calipari's ambitious scheduling. Had the Tigers not run that SEC gauntlet in early December (Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee), we might be analyzing the odds of Memphis reaching Minneapolis right now.

BEST INDIVIDUAL GAME: Shyrone Chatman vs. South Florida on Senior Night at The Pyramid: 17 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals in 36 minutes. Say what you will about all the Wise double-doubles, Chatman's command of the backcourt is the reason this team is playing in the postseason.

BEST COACHING MOMENT: Calipari taking the floor to present Marcus Moody the game ball after Moody scored his 1,000th point against Howard (a thaw in the "cold war" between player and coach).

WORST COACHING MOMENT: Forty minutes of passionless basketball at Louisville. Afterward the coach took full responsibility for backing off the team in practice prior to the U of L game.

TURNING POINT: Whipping Kansas State in The Pyramid on 12/30/00. Wildcats not a special team by any means, but this was the first dominant win over a major-conference opponent under Calipari. The ultimate statement game.

MOST TELLING STAT: Kelly Wise hit just 51 percent of his free throws. Imagine the offensive weapon he would be if teams couldn't foul him in the paint.

QUOTE OF THE YEAR: "I had to take them down to the level of spit on the ground. I showed them the tape. So if any player wanted to complain or whine, the other players could say, 'I saw it on the tape.' Stats indict; tape convicts." -- John Calipari on his reaction to losing at Louisville.

DAJUAN WAGNER IN

THE TIMES

From an excellent profile of high school phenom and U of M signee Dajuan Wagner in the March 4th issue of The New York Times: "If he wasn't at Camden, if he was driving his parents' car at a suburban school, would anything be said?" -- Memphis basketball administrative assistant Milt Wagner on the Cadillac SUV he says he loaned his son.

And this from Dajuan's 35-year-old mother, Lisa Paulk: "I don't need him to support me. I've got a job, a car, and a house. I told him to go to college. If the coach feels that it's right to leave early to go to the NBA, I still want him to go back to school to get his degree. I feel like he's got a lot of maturing to do."

Paulk says she plans to move to Memphis in order to watch her two "sons" play college basketball. Arthur Barclay, who is sitting out this season at the U of M, lived with Paulk and Dajuan during high school and the two consider themselves brothers.

NBA DENIES FAVORITISM

According to NBA public-relations representative Alexis Snipes, "There is an NBA Board of Governors that decides all expansions or moves." That decision will come after the Vancouver Grizzlies owner, Michael Heisley, submits an application for his choice of city on March 24th. Until then, the NBA has no official opinion as to which city, if any, the Grizzlies might move to.

This is contrary to previous reports in The Vancouver Province that the NBA supported a Memphis move.

Heisley recently received a deadline extension and is reported to be visiting Memphis and Louisville later this week.

(Frank Murtaugh and Chris Przybyszewski contributed to this column. Thanks to Jack Marshall for sending the economic study.)

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