The End of the Innocence: The Maturation of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise..
It happens to everyone at some point. An event that forces you to lose the idealism of youth. Sometimes it’s a death in the family, or moving from one city to another. Sometimes it’s when you move out of your parents house for the first time (the second and third time don’t count). Sometimes it’s that first time you have your heart broken. The fan base of the Memphis Grizzlies is still in its youth, at least relative to many NBA cities. The team has been in the city since the 2001-2002 season, making the fans relative teenagers. Full of energy, and believing we had this NBA thing down pat. Then….
As with anything in life, time changes things. People get older, the league changes, time marches on. For many years the play of the Grizzlies had virtually mirrored the make up of the city. Tough, not flashy. Made up of players who weren’t the most physically gifted, but would just out will their opponents. This was a marriage made in Memphis. The Grizzlies were literally Memphis AF. Led by Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol the Grizzlies took the city on the magical ride powered by Grit and Grind. The fan base was in bliss. It was a fantastic period of our youth.
In the summer of 2017 everything changed. First the baddest of the bad dudes, Zach Randolph, left the Grizzlies to sign with the Sacramento Kings. Next the Grindfather himself, the person who literally coined the phrase Grit and Grind, left to sign with the New Orleans Hornets. This was an eye opener for fans of the Grizzlies. How could this be? ZBo and TA in different uniforms? Sure both guys had played for other teams, but these were our adopted sons. Well at least we still have our two home grown players.
It’s one thing when two guys who were adopted into the city leave, but Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were Grizzlies. Conley was the number 4 overall pick by the Grizzlies in the 2007 draft. He’d never wore another team’s jersey. Likewise Marc Gasol had been acquired by the Grizzlies when he was still playing in Spain. Having played high school basketball in the city while his older brother Pau played for the Grizzlies, Marc was the closest thing on the team to a home grown superstar we’d had since Lorenzen Wright. In fact you could argue that Marc was the best NBA player to graduate from high school in the city of Memphis since Penny Hardaway. Losing either of these two guys would be different. Not necessarily worse, but different all the same.
On February 7, 2019 the home grown son, and player who professed to everyone he didn’t want to leave, Marc Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors. The Grizzlies acquired a trio of younger players and a draft pick. They added cap flexibility and they get to look at some young players for 2 1/2 months, but it still hurts. There were tears, there was pain. Seeing Marc in a Raptors jersey will be…weird, to say the least. It will be shocking. It will be a definitive line delineating the end of an era. The end of Grit and Grind. The end of our innocence.
For years Grizzlies’ general manager Chris Wallace has said that anyone can be traded, but even I was skeptical that the Grizzlies would trade Marc. I was being naive. I was wrong. The NBA is about entertainment, but the most entertaining thing is winning. At 34 years old Marc was not the future and this team wasn’t anywhere near competing for a playoff spot. The future appears to revolve around 19 year old Jaren Jackson. So Marc was traded, and with him our idealism, our youth, our innocence left.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fall in love with players, but like the first time your heart is broken I fear we’ll never love any group as much as MC, Marc, ZBo and TA. If for no other reason than for our own protection. Knowing that no matter how good they are, were they are from, how much they mean to the city, they will all probably play somewhere else. Having someone play in one place their entire career almost never happens. Now we know that being Memphis AF, being as gritty as the city they play in, being the epitome of the fan base does not prevent you from playing somewhere else at the end of your career.
It currently appears that the Grizzlies are interested in building around Jaren with Conley assisting. I’m genuinely intrigued by this, but I know…I KNOW that Mike could be gone by the start of next season. I know that one day Jaren will probably be gone, just like Rudy, Pau, Shane, and now Marc before him. I hope that is a long time from now, but I won’t be naive, at least not this time. The time of being young and unsophisticated have passed. Now we have to move forward as fans. Try to be excited about the future, and about the possibilities, but make no mistake it very likely will never be as great as the first time we fell in love with our Grizzlies. Let’s not fool ourselves, the time for acting innocent is over.