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City Sports

"I will promise you that I will work my fanny off." That quote from Jerry West was his way of introducing himself to the horde of media and VIP types gathered at The Peabody to welcome him as president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies. You have to like a guy who earns a multimillion-dollar salary and can use the word "fanny" in a sentence.

West quickly proved true to his word when he hopped on a jet for Chicago some 18 hours later to evaluate the talent at the NBA pre-draft workout.

When denied a private look-see at the highly touted 7'5" Chinese center Yao Ming, West appeared ready to tackle the Chinese officials by wondering aloud if they were trying to steer their human currency to cities with large Chinese populations. Of course, that would mean bigger endorsements and a bigger payday for the Chinese, because they collect almost half of everything Ming earns. West was clear that if he felt Ming could help the Grizzlies and if he is still available at draft time, he would call his name, saying he didn't think a team should be blackmailed.

It's no wonder NBA insiders are now looking at the Grizzlies as though they are a real basketball team. West said he was not the messiah, and he isn't. But he is respected and feared by those who compete against him.

Fox Sports Net NBA analyst Jack Haley told SportsPlus 790 WMC, "No disrespect to Memphis, but before Jerry West, the Grizzlies weren't a factor." He added, "Today, you have to respect them and expect that they have now become a factor."

It's possible the Chinese government will learn just how big a factor and how much respect West deserves next month when NBA commissioner David Stern says, "The Memphis Grizzlies are on the clock."

Flyers A source close to the bidding process to bring the TSSAA Spring Fling to Memphis is telling the Flyer the deal is done, despite the fact no one is confirming it. Tiffany Brown of the Memphis Sports Authority would only say she felt confident their proposal was more than adequate to beat Chattanooga, Jackson, and Nashville.

TSSAA director Ronnie Carter denied that any city had an advantage over the other but did say Memphis' offer was attractive. Carter said his staff has only reached the venue-evaluation stage and nothing would be final until the bids were presented June 3rd through 5th. The Spring Fling features an estimated 5,000 high school athletes and as many as 30,000 fans during the annual event.

Brown said the event "would surpass the SEC and the C-USA tournaments as far as economic benefits are concerned." Memphis' offer is worth $125,000. Chattanooga paid $50,000 last year.

Ramblings If the U of M's Antonio Burks and Chris Massie are guilty of violating the NCAA extra-benefits rule, who is to blame? The media for bringing the matter up or the players for committing the violation?

U of M signee Rodney Carney was named The Indianapolis Star's Player of the Year as a 6'6" small forward. He averaged 21.5 points per game and 13.5 rebounds. He was quite the track star as well, with a high-jump record of 6'10".

If Memphis fans think John Calipari has problems with the media, they should see what his pal Rick Pitino is going through in Louisville. Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story called the University of Louisville the "U of P," or the "University of Pitino," in a recent story.

Judy Stanley has been named president of the AXA Liberty Bowl for 2002/2003, which means, along with Tiffany Brown, Memphis now has two women in prominent sports positions. We've come a long way.

Memphis can now also boast two of the finest minor-league facilities in the nation, AutoZone Park and the stadium at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex, home of the Memphis Mercury and Express. Jim Riggs, general manager of the CHL champion Memphis RiverKings, is watching his contract expire. "After winning the title, I would like to have a chance to build on it," Riggs said the morning after.

Question: Does the owner of the 'Kings realize Riggs is Memphis hockey? Sign him. n

Mull and Void

Should the Grizzlies build a Ming dynasty?

By Chris Przybyszewski

As the playoffs mature and things start getting serious for NBA 2002, the Grizzlies' front office is just getting warmed up. Actually, "warmed up" is too early a phrase, since team president Jerry West doesn't know the team's June 26th draft position.

Instead, the Grizzlies are going through mental preps, like Shaq sitting in an easy chair and imagining himself shooting 1,000 free throws. (Of course, he does.) The Grizzlies are officially mulling. That's right, mulling. Not to be confused with mullets, which are also popular in these parts.

One of the Grizzlies' biggest objects of mullification is Yao Ming, the 7'5" center from China you might have heard about. By all accounts, Ming has the goods. The big man can work with either hand, has excellent near-the-basket footwork, can knock down shots from all over the floor, exhibits a Tim Duncanesque bank shot, has some passing ability, and is very, very tall. West, in a widely noted quote, said, "For a guy this size, he can shoot the ball. He has a wonderful feel for the game. This is not a kid without talent."

Fair enough. If you overlook Ming's relative lack of weight, his abysmal defensive skills, and his unknown durability and mental toughness, the 21-year-old looks to have the abilities to justify going one or two in the upcoming draft. And the Grizzlies -- if they own that first or second pick -- have every right to pick him.

But, at the risk of sounding like a contrarian, ignore for a moment that Ming could perhaps be a future All-Star or MVP. The truth is that the Grizzlies don't need Ming to turn the franchise into a winner.

Ming is not his own player. The Chinese government has made clear that whichever team takes him will have significant obligations to the player and must allow near-unheard-of latitude.

The Chinese government -- at any time -- reserves the right to pull their kid from the bench. China has already said that Ming must miss some preseason and rookie camps because he will be training and playing for the Chinese national team.

So let's say the Grizzlies have 20 games left in the season and must win 12 or so to make the playoffs. Ming, unfortunately, has to go and train with his brethren for the upcoming world basketball trials. What happens if the Grizzlies are in the playoffs during the 2008 Olympic Games (which are in Beijing)? Will he be in teal and black during the Grizzlies' best-of-five with Dallas? Of course, no one talks of these ridiculous-sounding scenarios, but the possibility is there.

These complications pale in comparison to Ming's financial obligations. The Chinese government gets half his salary. His Chinese team -- the Shanghai Sharks -- gets a piece of the remaining 50 percent, and then Ming would have to pay U.S. taxes. Ming won't have enough money left for a decent haircut (and we all know where that leads: mullet city).

Money becomes important because Ming will have to play without being compensated nearly as much as other players of his stature. Can West inspire Ming to play for 80-plus games a year if he has to go home to an apartment he shares with three Chinese government assistants?

And, really, the Grizzlies don't need Ming. His game resembles Pau Gasol's in that both rely on a combination of inside and outside scoring moves and both play matador defense. Having both on the defensive end of the floor would be a liability against the Western Conference and its cadre of excellent big men like Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Shaquille O'Neal. The Grizzlies need a legitimate center (no offense, Lorenzen Wright, but you need to add four inches and 60 pounds to keep the job).

But the Grizzlies have no salary-cap room and already have an abundance of too-young talent and dead-weight players. West no doubt appreciates Ming's abilities, but he must consider his team's immediate needs. Using the first or second pick to get a maybe star and his governmental baggage is a risky move.

I say to Jerry West -- like he needs my advice -- grab one of those primo guards like Duke's Jason Williams or Memphis transient Dajuan Wagner and then trade some of our own deadwood for serviceable big men who can get the job done.

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