The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 117-95. On the day the Grizz said goodbye to Marc Gasol to officially and irrevocably begin a rebuilding process, Memphis put up a good fight for 24 minutes, leading at the half by 2. However, the Thunder came out in the 2nd half focused and unwilling to lose a game due to pure carelessness and inattention, and rocked the Grizz 66-42 to end the night on a positive note.
So to speak.
But this game to me isn’t really about the win. Yes it’s cool to see the Thunder notch another one and stay competitive at the top of the West, but in a larger sense, I feel a dose of the bittersweet, as the end of an era is beginning.
If you’ve been with us at WTLC for longer than about 5 years, you know these two teams have a history, and it feels like they’ve played each other about 200 times over the years (only a slight exaggeration). Going all the way back to 2011, a scrappy team of overachievers took the new darling wunderkinds to 7 games and nearly knocked them off in the playoffs after decimating Popovich’s Spurs with a style we now know as “grit, grind.”
(Aside — I’ll love this interview forever, because not only does it spark an entire city’s love affair with their team, but it also spawned the phrase “the Sefoloshas of the world,” which makes me giddy every time I hear it)
There are 82 games in a regular season, plus playoff games (hopefully) tacked on, and when you multiply that by the 30+ years of me watching the NBA, a lot of things go fuzzy. But the moments — the real, meaningful moments — never fade. Especially after hating on the 80’s Detroit Pistons for years (I came to my senses decades later), I never thought I would become captivated by a team similar to those Pistons teams, especially since I was blogging about their competition, the Thunder.
But I’ll remember this team. I’ll remember Zach Randolph and Tony Allen and Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo and Darrell Arthur and Shane Battier and...Marc Gasol. A team that enjoyed various levels of success over the course of the next half-decade. A team that was good but never great. A team that couldn’t change quick enough as everything around them did, so they never left their grit-grind mentality because it still worked, just not as well anymore, and then, not at all.
And now Marc is gone.
Being a sports fan is a strange experience. It might be one of the only things in our existence that will disappoint us on some level 95% of the time, but that 5% hooks us forever. Sometimes it even pays off.
But every now and then you see in the most organic of ways a city and a team find each other like a couple in a romantic comedy, and they realize they’re made for each other, even if it’s only for a limited amount of time. The credits always roll eventually. So it was with this Grizz squad. And if we’re brutally honest, it might one day be the Thunder too.
These Grit-Grind-Grizzlies made me glad to be an NBA fan. They, like their beloved city of Memphis, will always be remembered.