As much as I love the Grizzlies, there are certain things in life that are far more serious than the game of basketball. Things like being told you have cancer, or that a loved one is very ill. Basketball cannot take this pain away or even come close to matching in importance. But even still, I’ve heard countless stories of how basketball has helped give hope to people who are hurting. It may seem silly, but if you are the one that is hurting, it’s far from it. Rising above challenges, persevering and never giving up are all common themes in sports. So it’s not entirely crazy to think people find hope and encouragement through something as simple as basketball. This is a story of how the Memphis Grizzlies brought hope to someone’s very personal situation.
I wasn’t sure if I liked Twitter when I first signed up, but after finding “#GrizzNation” on Twitter, I never looked back. My favorite part of Twitter has been meeting Grizzlies fans from Memphis and all over the world. I happened to meet and start following a nice lady named Monique who was a Memphis school teacher and also a big Grizz fan*. We connected and shared fan stories. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that Monique mentioned how she came to be a Grizzlies fan. Her story was so moving that I asked her to share it with other Grizzlies fans.
Monique admits she was the furthest thing from a Grizzlies fan until 2010. “I am by nature the academic, artistic type who was always proud to stick my nose up in disdain over sports, especially professional ones. My perception of the NBA was a bunch of egotistical, overpaid troublemakers who my students aspired to emulate. I could think of no worse role models.” However, in 2010 her views would completely change.
Monique began having excruciating back pains that she chalked up to the stress of a busy school year. A year that included a lot of changes for teachers. “I took more Aleve, slept on a heating pad, and tried to go on with my life. By April, however, I was sick all the time, and a new insurance provider was refusing to pay for my Nexium, which forced me to head to a specialist who discovered a grapefruit sized tumor on my right ovary. Ironically, an insurance company probably saved my life.”
Monique had to begin chemotherapy which drained her of all of her energy. “My life became a blur of surgery, chemotherapy, and the side effects of chemo, the worst of which was neuropathy.” Determined to work, Monique spent the first semester of school alternating between chemotherapy and teaching. “Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.”
One day while reading the local newspaper, Monique learned that the Grizzlies had a new player on the roster. A player with a history of being a trouble maker. His name was Zach Randolph. “Randolph only confirmed my suspicions about the players because, upon his arrival, most of the commentary on the local newspaper’s site was overwhelmingly negative.” But over time, Monique, who had always believed in second chances for her students, also began to have a change of heart towards Zach Randolph. “Zach was on TV more often. He was always personable and never willing to give up. He also involved himself deeply in local charity. I found him inspiring.”
It was during that difficult time in her life that Monique began to take an interest in the Grizzlies. “During the same period, the Grizzlies began winning games and started to become more than just a brief mention after the Memphis Tigers on the sports section of the news. Tony Allen had joined the team, and Memphis connected with him in the same way it had now embraced Zbo.”
In the spring of 2011, the Memphis Grizzlies had made the playoffs for the first time in several years. Monique remembers it being a special moment in her journey to becoming a Grizz fan.
“Tony Allen had coined the “All Heart, Grit and Grind” saying that would not only become the team’s mantra, but, more importantly, define a city.”
Monique followed the Grizzlies during their playoff run while she recovered. “Their winning attitude, even in the face of cynicism and adversity inspired me to keep going myself.”
The Memphis Grizzlies had inspired Monique during some of her darkest hours, and she wanted to do something to show the team her gratitude. She decided to attend her first Grizzlies game in November of 2011. “As a kind of thank you.” she says, to a team who had inspired her through the dark times.
“It’s funny to think about it now, but I actually had a friend go with me because the newness of the experience was so daunting. I had seen many high school games over the years as a teacher and had grown up watching sports on TV during family get togethers, so I thought I knew what a sporting event was like. Boy, was I wrong! Nothing could prepare me for the excitement of a Grizzlies game: the music, spectacle, and action were intoxicating.”
Monique, who is now a season ticket holder, says she will forever be a part of GrizzNation.
“The camaraderie of the fans has created a family that truly represents the diversity of Memphis. I could tell a hundred stories on the kindness of everyone – from fans, FedEx Forum and Grizzlies employees, to the parking lot attendants.”
In a world of cynicism, Monique’s story is an example of the positive side of basketball. One that inspires, encourages and gives hope to fans who are struggling with difficult situations in their lives.
Monique says it best: ”After a year and a half of pain and feeling close to death, I felt alive again.”
Talk about heart, grit and grind.
*You can follow Monique on Twitter here.