A WEEK TO REMEMBER (AND BOTTLE)
Whew! It took me a week . . . but Ive managed to catch my breath. Has there ever -- ever -- been a sports week in this city like the one we had starting March 25th? Felt like I got knocked around for three rounds by the heavyweight champ, stumbled into the worlds most famous arena (and found some old friends), only to find my way back home..and in the company of major league ballplayers. Please, if theres been a bigger sports week in Memphis history, let me know.
Its official. The most notorious athlete of this generation is going to bring his misogynist, ear-chomping self to Memphis for a shot at Lennox Lewiss heavyweight championship. Whatever you think of Mike Tyson, be sure of this: his fight with Lewis on June 8th will be the biggest sporting event the Bluff City has ever seen...and arguably the biggest news out of this city (sports or otherwise) since August 16, 1977. The cheapest ticket will be $400. You wont find a hotel room between Little Rock and Jackson. Lets just cross our fingers that the only bloodshed to come of this date is the result of a Lewis right hook.
Across the country in Portland, our Grizzlies shook up the NBA landscape by erasing a 25-point second-half deficit to upset the playoff-bound Trail Blazers. So what if Blazer star Rasheed Wallace didnt suit up? I dont care if youre facing the Danny DeVito School for the Height Impaired, making up 25 points in 24 minutes of basketball is a feat. And a franchise record for the Griz.
If University of Memphis freshman Dajuan Wagner does as many think he will and declare for the NBA draft, this was the night his decision was made. Taking the floor at Madison Square Garden for an NIT semifinal against Temple, Wagner looked as comfortable as youd expect a native of
Camden, New Jersey, to be in the Big Apples rightest spotlight. He poured in 32 points -- in the process breaking Penny Hardaways single-season Tiger scoring record -- and dished to Kelly Wise for a game-winning dunk in the final minute of play. (For some gravy, our RiverKings eliminated Fort Worth in the first round of the CHL playoffs.)
A day of rest. Exhale.
With all due respect to the juggernaut of a dance team at the University of Memphis, never before this day had our flagship institution of higher learning brought home an NCAA-sanctioned national title. With 16 more points from tournament-MVP Wagner, Memphis whipped South Carolina, 72-62, for the the NIT championship. No, its not the NCAA tournament. And no, John Calipari has no interest in repeating next season. But as for consolations, this was pretty darn sweet.
Baseballs here! Our Redbirds hosted their parent club, the St. Louis Cardinals, in an exhibition game at AutoZone Park. Appearing live were former Redbirds J.D. Drew, Placido Polanco, Garrett Stephenson, and reigning National League Rookie of the Year, Albert Pujols. Worried about the Redbirds offensive punch after last-seasons soft showing? You might grab the coattails of So Taguchi. The Japanese rightfielder -- starting the year in Memphis after a rough big-league initiation in Florida -- drilled a two-run homer and made two stellar catches to boot. Appropriately enough for the family affair that it was, the Cards and Birds finished tied, 3-3, after ten innings of play.
Mother Nature crashed the party Saturday and rained out the second Cardinals-Redbirds game. You know what? Im sort of glad she did. How much can a Memphis sports-brain take? I was sitting in the press box at the Zone Friday night, shortly after the end of a 40-minute rain delay, when none other than Red Schoendienst took a seat to my right. A man who has worn a Cardinals uniform for 45 years, has nine World Series rings, and a Hall of Fame ring to boot. I introduced myself to the ol redhead and began to describe our citys week in sports. Trouble was...where to begin?