After every Memphis Grizzlies game, my brother-in-law is fond of getting online and posting, "I am a Grizzlies maniac," with several exclamation points, depending on the closeness of the game. As of this writing, the opening series of the NBA playoffs is still undecided, but win or lose, how exciting has this been for Memphis?
It's a wondrous thing to see this city come together and rally around a common cause. Just think, if we could only get the City Council to do the same.
For this community, the Grizzlies mean so much more than basketball. They are a focal point around which all Memphians can unite, and those occasions have proven so rare, it's worthy that we celebrate when it happens. My only problem is, with three overtime games in a row, the Griz are fixing to throw me into cardiac arrhythmia. Thank God for Obamacare.
I now understand how, once you know a player's background and watch his attitude on the court, you become more invested in the games and individual performances. Your spirits rise and fall throughout the season until the storyline plays out. Judging from the past couple of games at FedEx Forum, Grizzlies fans' spirits are pretty damn high. My wife has attended several games this season, while I am content to watch from the couch. It's tinnitus. My ears just can't take it anymore. But the entire Forum nearly burst right through the flat screen the other night. It's no wonder the Grizzlies were named "best overall professional sports franchise" by ESPN The Magazine. And that includes baseball, football, and hockey.
The city's adopting of this team and these players is nearly as heartwarming as all the work these guys seem to so happily do for the community. This group has a workmanlike ethic for a blue-collar town and the fit seems just right. The league needs a team like this precisely because they play as a team. I just hope the new owners don't screw it up and try to turn the Griz into the run-and-gun Lakers. Why mess with a good thing?
How can you help but admire these guys, especially the Grindfather himself, Tony Allen? This guy is everywhere. Statistics can't begin to show what he adds to this team. I am hesitant to admire him too much, however, for fear that they'll trade him. His defensive play is an art, and speaking of the same, I'd like to add a word about defense. When you speak of, say, the secretary of defense, or say a game was a "defensive struggle," the accent is always on the second syllable. So why does a sports crowd always scream "DEE-fense?"
Because Memphis is supposed to be different, I'd like to urge our citizens to be the only fans in all of sports to shout, "de-FENSE!" That will mess with the other teams' minds. That aside, the past two games, the Forum was rocking with chants of "Z-Bo," and I thought I saw paint chips falling from the ceiling after Mike Miller went on a three-point tear. Even before we learned the name, Beno Udrih, Melody and I were screaming, "Way to go, new guy!" at the television screen. What's better than watching Mike Conley's calm under pressure? And we definitely got the right Gasol.
A year ago, I wrote a column that said the Grizzlies were great, but the music sucked. Since then, I've heard Willie Mitchell, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, and James Brown over the arena's speakers. So, all praises to the tune selector, and I hope my rant helped. Now, if I could just make a couple more suggestions. If a player on the opposing team travels, play a snippet of Rufus Thomas singing, "Justa, justa, justa walkin'." When our big men block an opponent's shot, Elvis' "Return to Sender" would be appropriate. And when one of our guys hits a three-pointer, play Jerry Lee Lewis singing, "Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire." Also, the Bar-Kays' "Soulfinger" needs to be the team's fight song, only the crowd can scream, "Go Grizzlies," where they shout "Soulfinger," in the original recording. One more thing. Why must they play that same inane chant in every arena right before tip-off? Let's chant "Na, Nas" with Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances." While we're at it, "We Will Rock You" is one of the worst grooves in popular music and is awkward for Memphis folks used to clapping on the two-and-four. And were you aware that every time that heavy, guitar-drenched song where everyone yells, "Hey!" is played, you are profiting Gary Glitter, a sexual deviate so depraved that they kicked him out of Thailand?
Keep it simple, fellas. It might be enjoyable to watch an entire arena full of crazed fans doing the "Funky Chicken." Even more fun to be there doing it.
Randy Haspel writes the "Born-Again Hippies" blog, where a version of this column first appeared.