News/Commentary

Lorenzen Wright – A Legacy Restored

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On July 29, 2010 the body of former Memphis Tiger and Memphis Grizzly player, and native Memphian, Lorenzen Wright was discovered in an isolated lot in southeast Memphis near the intersection of Hacks Cross Road and Winchester Road.  The discovery ended an 11 day search for the Memphis alum that had started on July 18 when Wright did not fly back to Atlanta as scheduled.  This was the end of a journey for a man who had represented the city of Memphis as a highly rated high school player, a second team All-American at the University of Memphis and as a starter for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA.

As a youth Wright’s dad Herb Wright was shot and paralyzed at the rec center that now bears his name.  Lorenzen was only 10 years old, but he learned that the city he was born in has a dark side.  A side that can be cruel and merciless.  Still Lorenzen and Herb went forward.  Lorenzen became a high school all-american and signed with his hometown school Memphis Tigers led by fellow Memphian and local legend Larry Finch.

Lorenzen’s first game at the University of Memphis was on November 16, 1994 in the pre-season NIT.  With fellow big man, and nephew of Larry Finch, David Vaughn anchoring the middle Wright and Vaughn quickly formed a dynamic inside duo.  While the Tigers fell behind early against the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette, the front line of Wright, Vaughn, and Cedric Henderson was just too much.  The team would quickly jell and lead to a season in which Wright would average 14.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.  The Tigers would make it all the way to the sweet 16 where they would run into defending national champion and eventual runner-up Arkansas.  An overtime loss to Arkansas ended the season.  As a side note, the hand check call on Chris Garner is easily one of the 5 worst calls I’ve ever seen in any sporting event ever.

Wright’s sophomore season was even better  finishing with averages of 17 points and 10 rebounds.  This led to him being named a 2nd team All-American.  With the 7th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft the Los Angeles Clippers selected Lorenzen Wright and he was off on an NBA career.  However, his time in the bluff city was not over.  On March 26, 2001 the Vancouver Grizzlies announced they would relocate to Memphis, Tennessee.  Meanwhile Wright, who had been traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 1999, was traded from the Hawks to his hometown Grizzlies as part of a deal that brought Pau Gasol and Brevin Knight for Shareef Abdur Raheem.  In many ways this deal still defines the franchise to this day.

Wright would spend 5 seasons with the Grizzlies.  While here he would serve as an undersized center beside blossoming franchise player Pau Gasol and fan favorite Shane Battier.  Lorenzen was the glue guy, the blue collar player doing all the dirty work.  His first two seasons with the Grizzlies were his most productive with averages of 12 and 9.4 points.  By the end of the 2005-2006 season Lorenzen his time with the Grizzlies had ended, and during the offseaon he signed with the Atlanta Hawks.  The 2006-2007 season would be the last full season he would play.  Lorenzen would spend parts of the next 4 seasons with various teams before retiring after the 2008-2009 season.

The personal life of Lorenzen Wright had really only come to the forefront once during his time as a player in Memphis.  On February 8, 2003 the youngest child of Lorenzen and Sherra Wright passed away.  Prior to this event the personal life of Lorenzen Wright was not discussed.    However, following Lorenzen’s disappearance on July 18, 2010 Sherra Wright became a staple on local news channels and even national news shows.  Sherra had a story to tell.  One that to this day you can find on Lorenzen’s Wikipedia page.  According to Sherra the last time she saw Lorenzen was on the night he disappeared.  Sherra said he had cash and drugs and was going to made a drug deal to raise some money.  This was the story she told, and she told it over and over.

For over seven years Sherra told her story.  She wrote a book, which you can still buy on Amazon about a “fictional” woman married to an NBA player and their rocky marriage.  Guess what story made its way into the pages of that book?  She moved her kids to California, and told the same story.  Meanwhile the legacy of Lorenzen was tainted.  The story was told so many times people just accepted it as fact.  When the new Laurie Center opened in the fall of 2017, there were prominent spots for Larry Finch, Keith Lee, Penny Hardaway, and Ronnie Robinson.  All Memphis legends who led the hometown University’s basketball team.  The spot for Lorenzen was much smaller and not in a prominent location.  The story had taken hold and the legacy was tainted.  Even the University Lorenzen loved and called home had marginalized him.

Meanwhile rumors of the investigation continued to swirl.  There was even an ESPN report about it.  Locally, there were crazy rumors that local drug lord Craig Petties had hired a hit squad to kill Lorenzen.  With all that, the one consistent rumor was that Sherra was still a suspect, and the story of the final night of Lorenzen Wrights’ last night did not change.

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On December 5, 2017 the gun that was used in the killing of Lorenzen Wright was found in a pond outside of Walnut, Mississippi.  On December 15, 2017 the ex-wife of Lorenzen Wright, Sherra Wright was arrested and charged with the murder of her ex-husband.  On April 6, 2018, almost 8 years after his death Billy Turner was arrested and charged as co-conspirator in the murder of Lorenzen Wright.  There finally seemed to be a sign that justice could be done.

While we should always remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, there was finally a different story about the last night of Lorenzen Wright’s life that could be told.  This was not a story of drug gangs or a drug deal gone wrong.  It was not a story of Lorenzen Wright being involved with the wrong people.  Instead it was story of sex and greed.  It was a story of Lorenzen being lured from the home Sherra had shared with him, and being brutally killed for the insurance money by the same woman who had professed to love him and was the mother of his children.  This was a story as old as history itself.

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I firmly believe Deborah Marion, the mother of Lorenzen Wright, will follow Sherra Wright and Billy Turner to the gates of Hell in pursuit of justice for her son.  Honestly, who could blame her.  With all that, the restoration of his legacy will be left to us.  His fellow Memphians.  We are now responsible for rebuilding the damage done by the terrible lies told by a desperate woman.  Lies told simply in the pursuit of getting away with murdering her ex-husband.  As of today, 8 years later, there is no firm evidence Lorenzen Wright was dealing drugs.  No evidence he was involved in drugs in any way.

Here are a few interesting facts.  Both Penny Hardaway and Lorenzen Wright played 2 full seasons at the University of Memphis.  In 66 career games Penny Hardaway averaged 20 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.  In 64 career games Lorenzen Wright averaged 16 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.  Both players helped their teams to deep NCAA tournament runs in their first season, and both lost in the first round in their second season.  Penny was drafted 3rd overall, Lorenzen 7th overall which was the 4th highest any Tigers’ player has ever been drafted.  In fact the main difference is that Lorenzen actually suited up for the Grizzlies.  Yet, these lies told by Sherra Wright have stained his memory.

The restoration of the legacy of Lorenzen Wright needs to begin right now.  His number 55 should be retired by the University of  Memphis, and his number 42 should be retired by the Memphis Grizzlies.  Lorenzen should be enshrined in the Memphis Sports Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.  His place as a prominent alumnus and successful player should be placed in the Laurie Center beside his fellow Tiger greats.  More than anything, we need to stop remembering the hurtful lies told by Sherra Wright and remember the player that represented this city with pride and dignity for so many years.  When we think of great Memphians who have worn a Memphis Tigers jersey, he needs to be one we think about.  It is our duty as his fellow Memphians to make sure the tarnished legacy is restored.

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