February 8, 2011 is often thought of as the day Grit and Grind was born. To many a game, that occurred in the middle of the dog days of the NBA Season, ended up altering the entire course of not just an NBA franchise but city as a whole. The game is simply now known as the “Tony Allen Game”. The Memphis Grizzlies, a franchise that at the time had never even won a single playoff game, had an identity crisis. Coach Lionel Hollins was entering into his 2nd full season with the team and the Grizzlies had just selected Hasheem Thabeet with the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. The Grizzlies were entering their second season with a front line of Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley was entering into his 3rd season as the starting point guard. In truth there was still an argument as to whether the team made the right choice of selecting Mike over future NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry.
In short the team was in flux. They had finished the 2009-2010 season with a record of 40-42 and as of the mid-point in the 2010-2011 season were a game over .500. History will show that a fairly innocuous event led to a truly seminal moment for the franchise. Prior to a road match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder starting small forward Rudy Gay declared himself out due to a leg contusion. In his place, an fresh off the injured list, was Tony Allen. Allen responded by playing arguably the best game of his career with the Grizzlies. 27 points, 8 rebounds an 5 steals against an Oklahoma City team that would go all the way to the finals. In the post game interview Tony was asked about the game. He responded with the famous quote that it was “all heart, grit grind”.
Following the game local radio host, and huge Grizzlies supporter, Chris Vernon began selling shirts with Tony Allen’s face and the now famous quote on it. Meanwhile, Zach Randolph, who is affectionately referred to as ZBo after the bully DeeBo from the movie Friday, was making his mark as a Grizzly too. The two, combined to define the term “Grit and Grind”. The FedEx Forum, was quickly anointed “The Grindhouse” and Tony Allen became “The Grindfather”. Honestly, never have a group of professional athletes embodied what the city of Memphis is really all about. For many lifelong Memphians, no term has ever defined what life is like in the city, nor has any pair of athletes defined a city in general like Zach and Tony.
Tony and Zach aged and have moved on, but Grit and Grind is not dead. This has nothing to do with drafting Jaren Jackson or Jevon Carter. The truth is that Memphians have been grinding long before February 8, 2011. Way back in 2005 Memphian Craig Brewer’s Hustle and Flow depicted the grind that life in Memphis can be. Heck, the very definition of the Blues is just a good man feeling bad. For Memphians feeling bad, looked down on, and mad fun of can be common. Yet we grind on, we work to improve and try to work together. Anyone, Grizzly players included, who don’t work hard and with passion will get no pass from this city.
Memphians always have and always will be drawn to the underdog. The guy who is not the flashiest or smoothest. Heck, Tony Allen’s jump shot was broke almost as bad as Charles Barkley’s golf swing, and ZBo couldn’t jump over a credit card. Still both worked hard and became great players. So to those who think the Grit and Grind left with Tony and Zach, I say they were merely the emblem of what the city really is. A city in a state that would not mind if it wasn’t. Thought of as dirty and crime ridden. Tony and Zach, and the Grizzlies were simply a reflection of the city. It allowed the country a glimpse it the heart of the culture of Memphis. The culture that gave birth to the Blues and Rock and Roll. A culture that values hard work and a never say die attitude even if the odds are against you. Because they generally are. Still you go out there and just refuse to quit, until your opponent does. That’s grit and grind. That’s the culture of Memphis.