Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Hype Hall of Fame

The real reason why the NBA lottery matters to more than Grizzlies fans.

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Twelve stories, and not one of them hit the nail on the head.

The Commercial Appeal's two-week Grizzlies-palooza failed to identify the real reason the newspaper is so fired up about Tuesday's NBA draft lottery.

It's not, as the headline over columnist Geoff Calkins' story said, because the "Future of Griz riding on right bounce." Nor is it, as the headline over Grizzlies beat writer Ron Tillery's story said, "Why the Grizzlies NEED to win the lottery."

It's because the future of the CA is riding on the right bounce, and the CA NEEDS to win the lottery.

Daily newspapers and sportswriters are always among the big winners when a professional sports franchise comes to town, but they rarely admit it. Major-league sports is one of the few subjects that can still attract a mass audience of fans and readers. The news operations of television stations — there are five of them in Memphis — can make it on murder and mayhem and weather. A daily newspaper — there is one of them in Memphis — and good writers like Calkins and Tillery need headliners and big stories.

No Grizzlies means nothing but the Redbirds, golf, and prep sports to "fill" the space between Tiger basketball and SEC football. And that would mean further declines in a readership that is already shrinking.

So, come on, guys, go ahead and say it: Professional athletes are overpaid mercenaries but good local reporters and editors are here for the long haul. If the Grizzlies win the lottery and get one of the top two draft picks, it's good for the franchise and it's also good for the daily paper (and to a lesser extent the Flyer). I don't care if Pau and Stro stay or go, but I do care if Geoff, Ron, Mark Perrusquia, Mary Powers, Otis Sanford, and the Flyer's Chris Herrington and some others stay gainfully employed.

Whether the Grizzlies are all that important to Memphis is another question. Some pretty strong evidence runs the other way: The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series last year; the Detroit Pistons are three games away from the NBA Finals; the Detroit Red Wings are two games away from the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. But the city of Detroit is about 0-5 against the world in the 21st century, with half its population gone since the 1950s, Ford and General Motors bleeding jobs and profits, Chrysler putting its fate in the hands of private-equity investors, and Comerica Bank — the corporation that bought the naming rights to Comerica Park, the home of the Tigers — moving its headquarters to Texas. Not coincidentally, Detroit still has Mitch Albom and two daily newspapers, thanks in no small part to their healthy sports sections.

Pittsburgh has three major-league teams but is also bleeding residents and jobs. And, of course, there is New Orleans, proud home of the Saints.

If the Grizzlies help keep FedEx in Memphis, then FedExForum was worth every dollar. If FedEx were to move a substantial number of jobs, then it wouldn't matter a hoot if the Grizzlies won the NBA championship.

A case can be made that colleges, medical centers, safety, and good public schools are more important to cities than pro sports teams. Think Oxford, Tupelo, Hattiesburg, Cleveland, Mississippi, Nashville, and Murfreesboro. Then think Batesville, West Memphis, McComb, Greenville, and Memphis.

What Memphis needs is a Hype Hall of Fame. The obvious location would be The Pyramid, with plaques commemorating Sidney Shlenker, the inclinator, the Big Dig, the Hard Rock Café, and Rakapolis. The music wing should include a tribute to tributes to Elvis Week. The football wing would feature highlights from the Arena Football League, the USFL, the Mad Dogs, and the uniform and oversized shoulder pads of Albert Means, the greatest football prospect who never made all-conference in college. The basketball wing should have a place for Dajuan Wagner, Bryant Reeves, and The Commercial Appeal's breathless build-up to "Christmas in May," "the ultimate birthday party," and "the biggest thing to happen to Memphis since God invented fire and the pig," otherwise known as the NBA draft lottery.

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