ItÕs hours before tip-off on the night of the GrizzliesÕ season opener and the Pyramid is buzzing. Everyone is antsy, excited, and sporting Christmas day grins. Security guards straighten their tuxedos, vendors lay out their wares, and NBA Commissioner David Stern holds a press conference, setting out his wishes for the evening s events.
ÒNo injuries, no fights, and please donÕt let it be decided at the last minute on some referee s call that some people might find questionable - that s the commissionerÕs trinity,Ó says Stern.
On the floor of the gym the dancers warm up. But when one of the male dancers springs into a back handspring his footing slips and he lands on his elbow, grotesquely dislocating it and causing him to be taken to the Med.
ItÕs the nightÕs first injury and hopefully itÕs not an omen.
On one end of the court, Jake and Isaac Ford - brothers of Harold, Jr. - arrive early to scope out the crowd, on the other end City Council Chairman E.C. Jones beams and stares at the court like a proud papa.
ÒWe worked so hard for this, I m so excited,Ó says Councilwoman Tajuan Stout Mitchell. Ò She goes on to say that she heard that all of the hotel rooms downtown had been booked for the night. Maybe, just maybe - her statements seem to imply - this is all going to work.
As the Pyramid begins to fill, the excitement becomes intoxicating. A program vendor dances in his booth while selling programs, a huge group of Spaniards chant ÒPau Gasol!, Pau Gasol!Ó before the venue is even half-filled. Families wait in line at the CorkyÕs Barbecue stand, a clown walks around the perimeter juggling basketballs, and everyone is handed a small American flag as they enter.
The crowd thunders as the team is announced and positively erupts over Shane Battier and Lorenzen Wright. Isaac Hayes delivers the sexiest ÒGod Bless AmericaÓ ever and Mr. Britney Spears garners hearty applause from even boy-band weary adults.
Finally, itÕs time for the tip-off and the roar of the crowd is absolutely deafening. A few minutes later Michael Henderson scores the Memphis GrizzlyÕs first official basket - a three pointer from outside - and the the thrill of the moment reverberates all the way to the top point of the Pyramid.
Less than five minutes into the game, jersey vendors say theyÕve already sold out of Wright and Battier jerseys, ÒBut Jason Williams is selling good too.Ó
Despite all the fanfare, in between the fouls, jump shots, missed and made passes the crowd grows quiet. Only stunts like the ÒSmooch CamÓ or a kiddie dance contest elicit much response. ItÕs as if Memphis isnÕt quite sure how to act. A landed shot collects a respectable shout, but other moments stay awkwardly still.
By halftime the crowd has begun to warm up some - Memphis, it seems, is finding its rhythm. People begin to stand to cheer well-executed maneuvers, but only do so hesitantly. WeÕre shy, maybe. Maybe weÕre just not sure how we should act.
Going into the last quarter itÕs a two point game. Memphis might just pull this one off, seems to be the collective thought. Lots of people are standing now, jumping, fists pumping in the air, ÒDefense! Defense!Ó is the cheer of choice. All hopes are hanging - but by a rope, not a thread.
Then the clock winds further down.
With six minutes showing the Grizzlies are only down by three. Battier is on the bench, but Williams and Wright are in. The tension is hanging like fog - throughout the Pyramid teeth are gritting, everyone is braced - these are the moments that make sports worthwhile. This game can easily go either way and so Memphians start -leaving.
Picking up jackets and purses, they make their way out of the stands and down to the floor, waving goodbye to friends, walking past the ongoing game as they make their ways to the exits. Eager to get out and beat the traffic rush, it seems they ve already decided how this still-tight game will end.
About that time the momentum that the Grizzlies had been gaining just a sports minute earlier faded into squealing sneakers and the distant echo of a dribbling ball. Like SampsonÕs haircut, just as we began to give up on our team, their energy and skills began to dwindle.
With about three minutes left many fans had already written the team off, though the Grizzlies only trailed by eight points.
ÒThey tried, IÕm not disappointed,Ó one fan says to another.
ÒMaybe next time,Ó the other replies.
But the gameÕs not over - far from it. Particularly in basketball, the PistonsÕ lead is slim and certainly not a death sentence. But Williams has stopped taking shots. The life seems drained from the team. Unspectacular and lethargic our boys trot up and down the court - waiting for the last buzzer to sound so that they too may abandon this spectacle. With a final score of 90-80, the Pistons defeat the Grizzlies.