For the past month or so, Memphis, and perhaps the entire Mid-South has been on a fantastic ride called the Grizzlies 2013 Playoff run! It was as thrilling as any carnival ride ever brought to the Delta or Mid-South fairs, wrought with ups, downs, twists and turns. There were comebacks from two games down, overtime victories, overtime losses, dagger threes and powerfully throw down dunks, thrilling victories and disappointing defeats.
Through it all something great happened.
Born was something more exciting, more potentially impactful and certainly more important – this community came together, embraced its identity and stood proudly on the world stage exclaiming, "We Believe!" and "We Don't Bluff" as we "Whooped" every "Trick" the opposition threw at us (at least until the San Antonio series, where the Spurs opened up a can of whoop trick on us.)
Unlike any other occurrence, Tiger basketball included, the Grizzlies' success created a euphoric atmosphere that engulfed all the groups in which we tend to divide ourselves, including those who decided to paint their faces (or whole heads) Beale Street Blue and yellow!
It wasn't so much that we won, and of course winning was the objective, but how WE won. "Grit and Grind," was the phrase coined by our workhorse, Zach Randolph. The Grizz stepped on the court and earned every victory, fought, scratched, clawed and toughed their way to a historic, franchise-first Western Conference Finals. Along the way, they helped a city long in need of a positive self-image find and embrace one that truly fits.
If there was ever a city that needed a boost of confidence and self-pride, it was Memphis. A city with a reputation of beating itself up, Memphis has too often been guilty of self-inflicted wounds, holding on to an inferiority complex and tragedies of the past (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination among others) compounded by the occasional outside reiteration of all the bad (i.e. Forbes and others) without a filter by which to see the good and potential greatness.
The Memphis Grizzlies, this unique group of players, along with their fearless leader Coach Lionel Hollins, embraced and represented in every way the "Memphis Style" – fighting through adversity, overcoming the haters, naysayers, self-doubt and bleak days to WIN. Their inspired play inspired a new spirit of pride and community.
Finally, for the entire month of May, all eyes were on Memphis for something significantly positive. Finally the Memphis spirit, the true identity of the city, was shared with the entire country and a large portion of the world. Finally we could see who WE are, reflected through a national and international lens, and feel good about it.
Inspired in us was a sense of "we are all in this together," fighting common adversaries and clearly identifying our ultimate goal of success, or at least BELIEVING that together we could actually achieve it this time. Despite the odds and the challenges – small market, less talent, no superstar, new ownership, bad trades, not enough scoring, etc., etc., we cheered on as they fought on to make us proud.
Even as I write, there is a giant un-caged elephant in the room, waiting to be acknowledged and cared for. Now that the season has ended, the spotlight is off, the ESPN crews are gone and the Grizzlies players have gone fishing, can and will we take that same energy and apply it to the hard work before us? Or will everyone retreat to their not-so-neutral corners and back to the "us" versus "them," city vs. county, black vs. white, rich vs. poor battles that have hamstrung us for so long.
The greater challenge is how do we take that same grit-grind spirit of positive self-identity, of togetherness, of common goal and of common opponent and fight through our local challenges to truly become a world-class city/county/community. What must be emulated is that shared sense of responsibility for each other's success and well being coupled with a dogged sense of individual personal responsibility to the team. It can be reasonably asserted that those two primary factors led to success on the court and endeared a "superstar-less" team with many around the country. It is without argument that these two factors are key to the success of the Greater Memphis community overcoming the challenges we now face.
We waived fiercely and held on dearly to the yellow towels bearing the slogans we grew to embrace, not just as fans of a sports team, but because they truly represented who we are as a community at the core. We took a street anthem and transposed its meaning into a rallying cry, "Whoop That Trick" because we knew deep down there were some tricks and challenges of the past that we had to get past to succeed.
So I ask, do we believe that we can create a world-class education system for ALL CHILDREN, and are we committed to doing so, or are we just bluffing?
Do we believe that we can reduce poverty and crime while increasing opportunity, economic prosperity and safety for all citizens, or are we just bluffing?
Do we believe we can heal from the pain of the past and create a future based in trust, equal opportunity and commonality, or are we just bluffing?
Can we take that same energy, the same passion and apply it to our struggles and challenges and lift our community to its highest potential?
We say we believe, we declare that we don't bluff. Well, let's show the world that we truly mean it. The ball is in our court!