Win or Lose, the Grizzlies and Memphis Are Connected in This Journey

By: Austin Crowder
Photo Above: Memphis Art Project, Mural by Brandon Marshall
This article originally appeared in Grizzly Bear Blues, an SB Nation Affiliate Site

Around this time last year the Memphis Grizzlies had the best record in the NBA, bearing to the nation the "grit and grind" mentality that has seeped deep into the DNA of this great city. This season the wins and losses are different, but the story of the Memphis Grizzlies is still the story of their fans and of their city. This Grizzlies squad has stuck with us and we must stick with them.

I teach in South Memphis, home to some of the most impoverished zip codes in the country. Plastered all over my classroom wall are giant cutouts of Tony Allen's head. A poster on one wall totes our classroom goal: "Grind ‘til you Shine." It’s a slogan taken from a mural by local street artist Brandon Marshall that occupies an external wall of a nearby community development center. Students in my classroom write shout outs to each other for things like tenacity on small cutouts of Grizzlies players that are then posted on another wall of my classroom that we’ve nicknamed the "Grindhouse." Student work that’s deemed excellent is posted on the "Grit" wall. My school has a strictly enforced uniform policy, but if you show good behavior throughout the week, you’re allowed to wear your Grizz gear on Friday. 

Believing in this team is a part of believing in Memphis. It’s the belief that with enough heart we can prevail no matter where we currently stand.

Last year I taught at a title 1 public school and was shocked to discover that Coach Dave Joerger’s children were enrolled. Private prep schools were bypassed to have his children integrated into the socioeconomically diverse community in which they live. I talked with Coach Joerger at 5th grade dances and recitals. I came to him as an avid Grizz fan, accustomed to nose bleed tickets, jabbering my novice post game analyses. Nonetheless, Coach Joerger always wielded passion and candor in our conversations. For our city, Coach Joerger, and the Grizzlies, the power is in the connection, common identity, and common goals – status is irrelevant. Whatever the win-loss count, we are connected in this journey.

SG Courtney Lee Pauses for a Photo with a Fan Outside "Celebrity Cuts," a Local Barber Shop in Downtown Memphis

Like the first decade of Memphis Grizzlies basketball, the city of Memphis has had a record of loss. Late in the 19th century the Yellow Fever nearly wiped out the city on its way to prominence. On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, polarizing its citizens and stunting its development. "White flight" disinvested wealth from Memphis' urban education system. Our city, like the Grizzlies, is stained with a tumultuous history, and has often been overlooked in its revitalization. This was most apparent last year when just a single Grizzly was selected for the 2015 All-Star game, while multiple stars from losing teams around the league were granted this privilege. This Bleacher Report piece sums it up perfectly, stating "It's about the Grizzlies continuing to carve out their place among the league's elite without being recognized for it." And today, in a season fraught with steep losses that people near and far are counting out, they’re overlooking the potential of this Grizzlies team.

The style of play that granted the Grizzlies success has messaged to our city that everyone must fill his or her role with passion, grit, and cohesion. Joerger leads a Grizzlies team whose success is not found in a franchise player or the petty foul calls associated with one. What has made the Grizzlies a winning team (and is making a greater Memphis) is the diversity of strengths and weaknesses coexisting in a poetic chaos, fueled by a fire to do whatever it takes. "All heart. Grit. Grind." is how Tony Allen put it.

Tony Allen, Photo: Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

So, here we are, amidst a disappointing season. It has been a December of surprisingly fair-weather temperatures and fandom. But just like our blue-collar city, rooted in grit and passion, we cannot count this Grizzlies team out. Memphis has never moved forward by pandering to the critics, but by marching on to the beat of our own drum.

On the day before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. he stated with anticipation, "Something is happening in Memphis." This legacy, too often forgotten, still marches on in our city and in this basketball team. We are a city of grit, a team that unsuspectingly gave the greatest scare of any to the Warriors' championship squad. To stay grounded with our team now, in a hard time, is in our DNA. It is essential to our identity; lest we forget that "something [still] is happening in Memphis."

Austin Crowder is a high school teacher at the Soulsville Charter School
Posted by Josh Colfer at 1:59 PM

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