Y’all probably have already heard. If not, (1) Where the fuck have you been?!!; and (2) ESPN the Magazine has ranked OUR Memphis Grizzlies the #1 franchise, not just in basketball, but in ALL OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS (cite).
Let that sink in.
To paraphrase Entourage: “Hey everybody! You have the #1 Franchise in America right here in your backyard!!”
This is outstanding news. Unprecedent in Memphis. Or, frankly, Tennessee. A strong validation of the team’s direction. As 3SOB have noted, it also validates the leadership and guidance of former owner Michael Heisley, whom I must admit I have been very critical and skeptical of. But his 3 year plan, and, more importantly, his promotion of community service through the Grizzlies Academy and Grizzlies House have borne fruit aplenty.
But beyond the validation of the direction the Grizz are going in, and beyond the affirmation of the self-esteem of long-suffering Memphians, an improvement in the ranking really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
And, so, for all the naysayers, I am going to lay out the support for the Grizz rank of #1. [edit: This was going to just be one post. But the evidence and arguments supporting the Grizz ranking is so voluminous that it requires 2, maybe 3 posts. Enjoy. Or Suffer. Either way, *shrug*, here it is]:
This milestone cements quite a turnaround, but the lynchpin for the turnaround occurred three years ago. In 2010, the Grizz were ranked 75 (cite). The biggest jump occurred in 2011, in the wake of the surprising, momentous playoff showing that spring. The Grizz leaped to 9. Then 5. And, now, #1.
A. PLAYERS. Since our #5 showing last year, two anchors of the team from the #75 showing have raised their profiles to never before-seen heights (Defensive POY Marc Gasol, and PG Mike Conley). A third returned to prominence (Zach Randolph — [[cite First Take]], and the [[beat down of Blake Griffin]]), while a fourth sustained his consistency (Tony Allen). The Grizz traded away a fifth (Rudy Gay) who, despite his talent and valuable contributions has appeared to conflict with the style of the team and not perform efficiently in relation to his salary, a trade that not only reduced Grizz salary but retained a winning performance. So, from 2012 to 2013, the players improved. Concomitantly, so did the title track for the future.
This does not take into account the advances that occurred after the unprecedented 2012-13 season. While the Grizz may not have made the drastic changes that fellow Western Conference aspirants Houston and LA Clippers made, they strengthened their weaknesses, creating a solid second unit with the additions of Koustas Koufas (C), Mike Miller (SF), Nick Caleithes (PG) to Ed Davis (PF) and Jerryd Bayless (SG), and did so with shrewd financing.
The return of fan favorite Miller in the offseason makes the already accessible team more accessible. TA was retained, Marc and Zbo are still under contract. This is a very accessible, fan-friendly team whose accessibility was enhanced with the return of Mike Miller:
“For Miller, money was a consideration along with the opportunity to return to a familiar place with the added bonus of trying put the Grizzlies into the NBA Finals.
‘We missed y’all,’ Miller told fans at the news conference. ‘I am so happy to be back. Ten years ago, when I came here, me and my family fell in love with this community and these people. … You guys made the decision real easy to come back here.'” (ESPN)
Effort and Likeability. Check.
B. OWNERSHIP. Couple that with a change of ownership, which has attracted local ownership such as Justin Timberlake, Peyton Manning’s wife and Memphis native Ashley, Anfernee Hardaway, Elliott Perry, former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., Staley Cates, Pitt Hyde, among others. This along with the continuance of the Grizz’ lease at the Forum, reassured Memphians of the Grizz’ future in Memphis.
The faces of the front office — Chris Wallace, Jason Levien, Jason Wexler — make appearances ranging from regular to frequent on talk shows. But, in less than one year, the accessibility to ownership appears to have increased. The head honcho has participated in online interviews with fans. Under previous ownership, I think as the fans have seen the fruits of the 3YP, opinion of and relationship with Michael Heisley has softened. However, he did cut staff and often had a complicated relationship with local media and the local ownership group. His commitment to local charities, cannot be challenged. So far, this commitment has continued under the new ownership.
The ownership has shown in one season a commitment to winning. They filled positions in the front office previously left vacant, and hired ESPN fixture John Hollinger. During the season, they made the significant Rudy Gay trade. Initially it looked like purely a salary dumping move which would reflect poorly on this factor. Yet, the team continued its playoff course, and went further than ever before. In the offseason, the team re-signed TA and bolstered its depth while staying financially responsible under the salary cap.
The icing on the cake is the retention of local fixture, GM and ambassador of all things Memphis sports related, Chris Wallace.
It’s still clearly a work in progress, but in less than one season, ownership has improved with Pera.
C. STADIUM. A team with one of the better stadium atmospheres: It seems most environments in the NBA are the same. Not FedExForum.
Of all things, the music of the Grizz games has created quite the impression. Andrew Unterburger at the Basketball Jones wrote a particularly interesting outsider fan analysis of Grizz music:
“Generally speaking, when it comes to in-game music in the NBA — not the stuff played during timeouts or at halftime, but the little song snippets you hear when game action is actually taking place — there are three types of arenas. There’s the predominantly old-school, organ-based variety, the kind of low-production-value, audience-participation-heavy music you get in stadiums like Madison Square Garden and Staples Center. There’s the hip-hop and pop-rooted, crowd-pleasing variety, the kind of hit-a-minute Top 40 soundtrack you get in stadiums like Quicken Loans Arena and the Barclays Center. And then there’s FedExForum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies.
But when it comes to in-game song selection, there is no equal for FedExForum. While the sheer volume of it can be occasionally exhausting — only Barclays definitely beats it in terms of songs per minute — the stadium is unmatched for the breadth, diversity and high quality of the songs being played during any given point in game action.
D. FAN RELATIONS. Beyond Sport Team of the Year (2012). You can basically drop the mike after this. Simply an impressive organization by any measure. One of the best in sports. Much more so than the previous major sports franchise that notoriously made its temporary home here.*
But, beyond charities, the new ownership has increased the franchise’s visibility not just in Memphis, but in the region. It has ventured into markets the previous ownership rarely — if ever — visited, such as Nashville, Little Rock, and St. Louis. This is certainly an improvement.
E. Affordability — One of the, if not the, most affordable franchise in all of sports. Consistently the most affordable tickets in the NBA. Edit: Ranked #2 in the NBA at $29.49.
F. Coaching — this could be the biggest weakness in the case. However, consider this: Since the #5 ranking, old coach Lionel Hollins cemented a reputation as an effective, underappreciated coach, leading a coaching staff and team to the greatest franchise finishes in two of the past three seasons. However, he was not retained. The mitigating aspect from this loss is that his replacement is a holdover from the Hollins staff, suggesting consistency, particularly with the defensive identity of the team. However, Joerger has no prior NBA head coaching experience.
G. BANG FOR BUCK. The Grizz rose from #9 to #5 in Bang for Buck on the heels of a somewhat disappointing regression from a second round exit in 2011 to a first round exit in 2012. 2013 witnessed a two-round improvement into the WCF’s. Bang. And arguably has the most distinct identity in the league. An identity that represents and resonates with its target audience — Grit and Grind. Bang.
The Grit-Grind personality has lent itself to some tense, almost pugilistic moments that might enhance our Bang for Buck ranking as well. Many fans may disdain our ground and pound, gridiron-like persona. But that style has triggered drama and rivalries with almost unparalleled consistency in the NBA (is there another team that has done so?). With the fisticuffs and logic defying lack of acrobatics of Zbo, the energy, hustle, and logic-defying offensive unpredictability of TA as focal points of attention, along with Marc’s understated skill available to grab the attention of scholars of the game, games — especially in the playoffs — are must see for unpredictability.
In two consecutive years, the Grizz created at least two contentious, if not bitter, rivals in the Thunder and Clippers. Which they incidentally vanquished since their #5 ranking.
H. TITLE TRACK. You can argue future Title Track is better because of all of the above. We have no titles yet, so that part of this factor is inarguably against our case. A conference finals appearance in the competitive Western Conference, and an improved roster, should enhance our case, but we’ll see, as a couple other franchises have made significant additions.
I. CONCLUSION. This evidence supports the Grizz’s ranking. In every category except coaching, the Grizz have improved discernably. And it is not clear that coaching has regressed. The greatest lynchpin in the argument is in the affordable correlation between the identities and authenticities of the Grizz and the city/region of Memphis. I will explore that further in my next post. After that, all Grizz fans can drop the mike with a collective, resounding thud.
Congratulations Grizzlies. As I have proven, you deserve it!
By the way, can I make fanaticism more methodical, logical, and — during this off-season lull — more boring? Sheesh. Tell me in the comments below! I am open to suggestions!
* Reasons to support Grizz are also reasons to reject and shun the Titans, particularly their owner, a symbol of classlessness.
[Edit: I am adding the bulk of a later post to this one to have everything in one place:
A lot of fans of other teams have revealed their ignorance while challenging the rankings. You can view their glaring idiocy here and here. It's a sad testament to the consequences of a deficient education system in other cities. The fine folks at fansided.com (no alliteration intended) listed the percentages each factor was given in importance:
- Fan relations (25.2%)
- Affordability (17.4%)
- “Bang for the buck” (16.8%)
- Stadium experience (12.4%)
- Players (11.30)
- Ownership (10.2%)
- Title track (3.6%)
- Coaching (3.1%)
Fans who think that past championships are the only thing that matter might want to review those percentages before making further fools of themselves.]