Monday, November 21, 2016

Giving Thanks for Sporting Events of 2016

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 9:28 AM

This is my favorite column of the year, a chance for me to fill that mocking space on my screen with the sports-related subjects I’m most grateful to have in my club car on this train called life.

Gratitude. Give it a chance.

• I’m grateful for Year Seven of the Memphis Grizzlies’ “core four.” I wish we could come up with a more distinctive tag for our “fab four”: Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph. They’ve earned that much, sticking together in one of the NBA’s smallest markets in an age when as many as five years with a franchise — for a single player, let alone a quartet — is considered lengthy. For some perspective, the Lakers’ great foursome of the Eighties — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Michael Cooper — played exactly seven seasons together. More recently in San Antonio, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Bruce Bowen broke up the band after seven years. Four years with one super-teammate (Dwyane Wade) was enough for LeBron James, and they won a pair of titles together. We won’t see another foursome like this at FedExForum.

click to enlarge Tubby Smith
  • Tubby Smith

• I’m grateful for Georgia Tech hiring Josh Pastner . . . and Memphis hiring Tubby Smith. Exhale. Last winter was excruciatingly uncomfortable for anyone in proximity to Pastner and the multiplying empty seats on game nights at FEF. And that contract(!) that made it all but impossible for the U of M to dismiss him. Thankfully, these kinds of divorces seem to unfold as they should. A good man is in a happier place. And a good program can aim to be great again under the wise watch of a man aiming to take a sixth program to the NCAA tournament.

• I’m grateful for an early look at Alex Reyes. The big righty appears to be on his way to stardom with the St. Louis Cardinals. It was nice to watch a few Reyes outings at AutoZone Park, the latest Redbirds coming attraction.

• I’m grateful for George Lapides and Phil Cannon and all they gave the Memphis sports community. Like days of the week, a sports community — its teams, its fans, its sponsors, its venues, its media personalities — has a “feel.” George and Phil brought a warmth — and distinct passion — to sports in Memphis. They live on in every one of us who attends a ball game now and then.

• I’m grateful for Mike Norvell’s energy and confidence. He’s the first Memphis Tiger football coach in generations to face an imposing task in filling his predecessor’s shoes. He has graciously saluted Justin Fuente’s achievements in building the program . . . while emphasizing it’s not where he and his staff want it be. Not yet. His prematurely gray hair gives Norvell the appearance of a man beyond his 35 years. So does his attention to detail and single-minded focus in making Memphis a premium program. It’s the hardest sports job in town.

• I’m grateful for my daughters’ continued commitment to team sports. One will play her senior high school softball season as an All-Metro outfielder, while the other played her first varsity soccer season as merely a freshman. They are bright, skilled, beautiful young ladies. And they know well the values that make a good teammate. Such is necessary in the wide world that awaits them.

• I’m grateful to be following in the footsteps — literally, and rapidly — of my 5K-running wife. Her commitment to not just running, but competing, is a healthy rebuke of any middle-age ceiling on athleticism. I’m especially grateful for her waiting for me at the finish line, one race after another.

• I’m grateful for you. And every one of the Flyer readers who give us a platform to share news, views, and analysis of the people and events that make Memphis such an extraordinary town. I appreciate your counterpoints, value your applause, and listen to your criticism. You give my job redeeming value.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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