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In October of 2010, Forbes magazine came out with an article labeling Memphis as the most dangerous city in the United States. Detroit was no longer that city, it had become Memphis. Riddled with gang warfare, inner city strife and a dwindling urban economy, Memphis needed a hero, in the worst way.

If you were to take a drive around the inner city neighborhoods, you’d see broken concrete basketball courts in parks. Visit a high school gym and you’d find 3,000 locals packed inside a hot and cramped gymnasium. Drive through downtown Memphis and you’d find multiple restaurants and businesses trying their hand at winning locals over, yet struggling mightily in the absence of a bustling 191 Beale.

Forbes magazine wasn’t the only thing collapsing on Memphis. The New York Times ran a story in May of 2010 documenting the predatory lending of banks on Blacks in Memphis. Police Women of Memphis was a nationwide hit and spotlighted the not so nice things about Memphis. In addition, a new TV show Memphis came out on network television, that to many Memphians dismay, wasn’t even filmed in Memphis. The bad sentiments and bad news kept piling on.

Enter: Basketball

With the start of the 2010 NBA season, the Grizzlies were coming off a 40-42 season, their first full one under coach Lionel Hollins. The team had just acquired Tony Allen from Boston. Remind you this was all before the birth of “All Heart. Grit. Grind.” There was no #believememphis hashtag to rally fans through the tough times. While still being a #hoopcity, Memphis had not truly realized its identity. We were still awaiting our hero to rise and grip our desperate hearts.

The Memphis Tigers had always pulled at the hearts of the citizens, but too often they missed the mark (Free-throw?) when it counted and left the city wanting still. In March of 2011, The Tigers, armed with a young coach and young players, came up short in the NCAA tournament against Derrick Williams and Arizona. All attention turned to the Grizzlies.

Not since the 2005-2006 season had the Grizzlies made the playoffs. In the four seasons spanning 2006-2010, the Grizzlies record was an abysmal, 108-220, or .329 win percentage. In attendance each season, the Grizzlies came in last, next to last, last, and second to last. For 4 years, Memphians forgot the Grizzlies existed. A weekend date night at FedexForum (even before #grindhouse existed) was not on the radar for many couples.

However, in April 2011, that all changed. The Memphis Grizzlies won 9 of their final 13 games to grab the 8th seed in the Western Conference and secure a spot in the NBA playoffs. It was finally here again! The Grizzlies made the playoffs and we would get to see some extra basketball.  People began scrambling to buy tickets. Nevermind the fact we were facing the daunting behemoth, San Antonio Spurs. This was a time to celebrate and enjoy good basketball, most thought. But it was so much more.

As we all know, the Grizzlies knocked off the #1 seeded Spurs in six games, with Rudy Gay injured and out of the lineup. Then, they went on to force 7 games against the Oklahoma City Thunder who eventually took the series 4-3. It was a defining moment in modern Memphis history. A foundational and correctional shift in the frame work of this blue collar city was produced and the Grizzlies stepped in to assume their heroic role.

The hero called out to its citizens
All Heart. Grit. Grind.
Believe Memphis.
Blue Collar Player for a Blue Collar Town.

and the citizens grabbed hold tightly, forever changing the cognitive and emotional paths on which they would rest.

It is a script too perfect for even Hollywood.

Throughout the past four seasons, the Grizzlies, and likewise the city, have fought hard to become “greater.” Backs to the wall, doubters piling on, the two have risen hand in hand. We don’t compare ourselves with others around us, because they aren’t us and we aren’t them. In the past, we have been the only thing in our way, our own worst enemy. But with the Grizzlies as our hero and guiding light, we unite, fight and overcome our villains, many within our own heads.

Tonight, the Grizzlies look to overcome another foe, a common one too, one that many in the national spotlight claimed as impossible to overcome. Yet the Grizzlies keep fighting, fueling the drive to overcome any obstacles in our way. We may not win every battle, but we come out on top, because we prove to ourselves that we can be victorious.

If you’re new here, and watching this phenomenon, it may be difficult for you to understand. As the growl towels wave and the loud roar of a raucous crowd elevates, have no doubt. This isn’t just another basketball game. It’s the rallying cry of a city for its hero.

#GNG Memphis!

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2 Responses to Memphis Grizzlies: A Bountiful Hero for a City in Need

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