The fans of the Memphis Grizzlies have dealt with a lot of different emotions over the years.
There was apprehension as the rumors swirled that an NBA team may relocate to Memphis. Memphis fans have dealt with the expectations and disappointments of similar rumors dealing with the NBA, so people didn’t get too excited until Michael Heisley actually brought the Grizzlies to town. Even after the team arrived, there was disagreement when Duncan Ragsdale led a campaign to stop the move via denying the city the right to build the arena needed to consummate the deal Then there were doubts on how long the team would remain in a small market like Memphis.
There was optimism when Jerry West was hired as President of Basketball Operations, Hubie Brown turned the franchise around and the team started making the playoffs. Even after Hubie’s sudden departure and the hiring of Mike Fratello, the city was excited that the Grizzlies might one day go from playoff participants to championship contenders.
That dream faded however as the team was swept in 3 straight playoff appearances. Jerry West retired, Mike Fratello was fired and the team went from playoff appearances to lottery participants. Optimism turned to pessimism and depression as the Grizzlies returned to the bottom of the league just as they had been when the team moved to Memphis. Things were so bad that the local ownership group, so important in bringing the team to Memphis, surrendered their ownership instead of paying their shares of the accrued losses on the team.
Then came Zach Randolph, Grit and Grind, and playoff success under Lionel Hollins. The city made national news for their passionate fans making the NBA playoffs more like March Madness and May Marathon. Heisley asked for three years to turn things around and turned them around he did.
But never has there been more anticipation than this year in Memphis. Anticipation means expectations and right now people have high expectations for this year’s Grizzlies team. Playoffs aren’t just hoped for, they are demanded — and anything short of home court advantage in the first round would make this season seem like a disappointment. Actually winning the division is being spoken of not as a hope, but as something seriously attainable.
How do we know this? At the Tip-Off Luncheon hosted at FedEx Forum on Monday a live auction was held for two plaza level tickets to the Spurs game, a ride on the Grizzlies plane to Dallas where you stay in the team hotel and have VIP treatment to the Mavericks game that night. It was sold to not one, but 3 different people for $13,000 each! That’s nearly $40,000 raised for charity to attend to basketball games with transportation and rooms. A dinner with Chris Wallace was sold for $2,000 and nothing was mentioned about who had to pick up the tab!
Bad teams don’t get people spending money like this. Teams with high expectations get people to spend their entertainment dollars this way and Monday’s lunch showed there is a lot of excitement about this team.
And why shouldn’t there be? The Grizzlies brought back the entire core from last year’s team that finished tied for the 3rd best record on the conference despite losing Z-Bo for more than half the season and Darrell Arthur for the entire season. Sure O.J. Mayo is gone, but Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, and maybe even Josh Selby are expected to do more than just fill the gap from Mayo’s departure. Quincy Pondexter and Marreese Speights both have had a full camp to prepare for the season. Mike Conley has bulked up. Zach is back in shape and Rudy Gay seems ready to assume the mantle of superstar in the league after being one of the final cuts from this summer’s Olympic team.
So, the fans are excited, the team is focused, and the team is now owned by locals as much if not more than new owner Robert Pera. Pera is the “majority owner”, but he is rumored to own less than 50%. The rest of the ownership is a collection of locals like Pitt Hyde, Staley Cates, Edward Dobbs, Justin Timberlake, Penny Hardaway, and Duncan Williams. This is for the first time Memphis’s team in a very real sense. Local businessmen have taken notice as corporate ticket sales are way up over previous seasons.
With high expectations comes increased pressure but the Grizzlies don’t seem fazed by that at all. They want people coming to games with the real expectation that the Grizzlies will win the team. The team loves the fan support during the playoffs and would love to see that same energy during the regular season as well.
The team isn’t cocky but they do have confidence. They want the season to get started. They want their chance to avenge the playoff loss to the Clippers. They want people talking about how far this team can go. To a man the team has told everyone that was listening that this year they feel they can really make the league take notice.
Quincy Pondexter said it best at Monday’s lunch when told by a fan that he only asked for the team to beat the Clippers: “I don’t just want to win. I want to punch them out.”
Now that is something that will really get the fans expectations fired up.