Heart, Grit, & Grind: Applying Startup Analysis to the #1 Franchise in Sports (YOUR Memphis Grizzlies).

Startup culture fascinates me.  The innovative, risk-taking mindsets of entrepreneurs, many of whom are young, all of whom are bright.  I attended the Everywhereelse Conference in Memphis in 2013 and will do so again in 2014.  And since then have been absorbing as much insight and information as I can about innovation.

Fake Grimlock is a startup personality that shares inspirational maxims and insights with entrepreneurs.  One of them is his version of the MVP.

Project = Does it work? + Is it Interesting?

Interesting → Customer caring about it → Customer shares/talks about it

1. How does it change customer’s life?

2. What does it “stand for”?

3. What does the company hate?

When I thought about caring, sharing, talking about a product, I thought about the Grizz, and wondered, how does it correlate with the Grizzlies?  And when the Grizz were ranked #1 franchise, I wondered even more.  So, on a lark, I applied the Grizz to this maxim (my attorney friends would recognize this as the Application of Evidence to the Law).  This is what resulted:

1. Make the Grizz Interesting.

A. “How do the Grizz change Memphis’ life?”

Memphians’ lives have been changed by seeing the positive embodiment of the civic personality of Memphis on the largest stages possible (national TV, playoffs, overtime games, Game 7s, Western Conference Finals).

B. “What do the Grizz stand for?”

The Grizz stand for Memphis’ Civic Pride.  Memphis is drawn to personality and eccentricity, sometimes to a self-defeating fault (Tony Allen?).  Memphis wants to have a positive civic self-esteem, something it has struggled with (Zbo?).

Few — if any — franchises in sports, certainly in the NBA, reflect their cities as synergistically as the Grizz:

a) Charitable.  With the Grizz you get a franchise that cares about its community just as Memphians care about each other.    The Grizz are one of the most charitable professional sports franchises in the world, receiving the international 2012 Beyond Sports Team of the Year award.  Memphis consistently ranks highly as one of the most charitable cities in America, ranking #2 in 2012.

b) Overcoming Odds.  With the Grizz, you get a franchise of many people overlooked.  Zach Randolph has had behavioral issues in Portland and New York, but has paid the utilities of many Memphians over the holidays, hosted many charity events, advocated for Marc Gasol’s contract and been a great locker room guy.  And who would have thought that Mike Conley would have a greater career than Greg Oden?

c) Hard Work.  You get a franchise of hard work.  Everyone on the team busts their tail.  And the embrace of the various players by the community reflects Memphis’ sophistication and appreciation about basketball.  Mike Conley has worked for several years to turn first into one of the best defensive point guards in the game, then into one of the most underrated point guards overall in the game.  Marc transformed from the chubby younger brother of Pau into a tough, defensive stalwart rebuttal against the stereotype of the Euro player.  Tony Allen, exemplifies the evident effort on the court.  GM Chris Wallace, the hard work he has invested over his life to get to where he is today was chronicled in Sports Illustrated.  I could go on and on, and am tempted to to avoid neglecting anyone.  But I won’t.

Charitable, overcoming odds, and hard work.

Or Heart, Grit, and Grind.

C. “What do the Grizz hate?”

Hate doesn’t work for the Grizz, because no one on the team or the FO will claim they hate anything.  But you can tell what is discouraged by observing what is encouraged.  Through the hard work of the team, you can see they discourage soft, entitlement attitudes.  I.e.  Pau Gasol (contrasted against the fans’ embrace of Marc).  I.e. Kendrick Perkins.  I.e. Blake Griffin.  I.e. the Clippers.

No player more vividly reflects this than Marc Gasol.  The younger brother of Pau, the perceived poster child for “Euro” in the 4-letter-word sense.  Memphians have embraced Marc where they did not embrace Pau because Marc reflects Memphis better.  A chubby kid who moved to Memphis with his brother and became a Memphian.  Shunned John Calipari (that should endear him to Tiger fans) to hone his craft in Europe.  He worked hard, lost weight, came to Memphis, developed an attitude to go with his skill, became one of the (if not THE) best centers in the game.  And earned the respect of teammates, opponents, commentators, and fans along the way.  Meanwhile, over time, Pau’s personality emerged to both charm and agonize Laker fans.

Memphians cheered the success (such as it was) of previous versions of the team when they were here.  And certainly appreciated their effort and talent.  But something was missing.  That something has largely been filled with players such as Marc, Zbo, Mike, and Tony Allen.

D.  Heart, Grit, and Grind make the Grizzlies INTERESTING as a franchise that transcends many of the divisions of Memphis and reflects the best that Memphis offers.  They incorporate a football mentality in a basketball hungry town.

Memphians CARE about Heart, Grit, and Grind.

Memphians SHARE the mantra and share their rediscovered love of their city .  And support everyone that does the same.

2.  The Grizz also “WORK.”  They win.  That cannot be undervalued obviously from a product development standpoint.  After three playoff sweeps from 2001 — 2010,

2009-10:   40-42

2010-11:   Marked by a (46-36) record, the first playoff victory in franchise history, an upset of the #1 seed San Antonio Spurs, a triple-OT loss and eventual seven-game-series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2011-12:   Marked by a (41-25) record, and first round seven-game-series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

2012-13:   Marked by a (56-26) record, DPOY honors for Marc Gasol, Beyond Sports recognition as Team of the Year, and Western Conference Finals appearance


Whether it’s through serendipity, or the trial and error of previous iterations of the team that the customers (fans) have booed into pivoting (Build, Measure, Learn, Repeat), the Grizz have found that rare identity in professional sports — an authentic reflection of the community it represents.

Heart, Grit, and Grind may sound like an overused, trite cliche in Memphis and in the NBA by now.  But it’s accurate.  More than I initially realized at least, because I failed to appreciate how deep the correlation of the generosity of the franchise and the city truly is.

The Grizz are INTERESTING.  And the Grizz WIN.  It had been a top 10 franchise in all of professional sports since 2011, and captured the affection of Memphians ever since Tony Allen first uttered the mantra of “Heart, Grit, Grind” the spring of that same year.

In this case, the formula works.  Now the Grizz are #1.

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