They Can't All Be Winners, Part 8: Memphis Grizzlies

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The Grizz are a dog you expected to kick it years ago, but now, as he’s sauntering arthritically through his 22nd year, you expect to never die. They’re working auteurs; they’re Noah Baumbach. They’re the music you listen to when you don’t know what music to listen to; they’re Steely Dan. They’re the good cashier at the bodega, the one who calls you boss. You’re hungover, and they’re club soda and cigarettes. They’re a 15-buck popcorn popper your dad bought in ‘91. They’re still tipping, still producing joy. They’re an ugly, meaning-rich tattoo. They’re the steezed, early morning embers of a party, four or five people buzzing pleasantly, if you could pick up that feeling and carry it with you, flip it on at seven in the evening and fall into it for a couple hours.

I’ve given up fretting over whether this is the last season for these Grizz. If Zach Randolph finally starts taking jumpers where he doesn’t just get zero lift, but actually sinks into the floor as he cocks his wrist back, and Tony Allen’s lower body decides to stop keeping up with the speed metal festival in his head, then fine. They’ve had a great run.

As ever, one more year of this would be nice. Teams don’t hold together the way they did even six or seven years ago, and in some ways, that makes the regular season more interesting than it otherwise would be. Each year, there is a new league to puzzle out. But there is utility in a team that stays intact for a while. They become something to which you can return, and feel at home. I lose track of the Grizz, forget them for months at a time, and then on some Thursday night in January, I see they’re playing the Thunder and think that sounds delightful. And at once, I come back to the Grizz. They are essentially unchanged. I remember what I like about them. They don’t bluff, and they don’t disappoint.

You need stuff in life to return to repeatedly, familiar things for your brain to operate on, psychic slate cleaners. When my thoughts knot themselves and the words won’t flow from me, I occasionally pull John Fante’s Ask the Dust from my bookshelf. Like Marc Gasol’s passing out of the high post, its memory is always alive in my mind, and it soothes me. It’s a story of a struggling writer’s ambition and narcissism, and the sometimes-tragic, sometimes-just-very-frustrating limits of understanding between people. It’s grounded in the day-to-day, and its language straddles the line between plainspoken and poetic. It’s a book I would love to have written while at the same time being one about the ultimate uselessness of writing. There’s an earthquake toward the book’s midpoint, and as the earth rumbles and cleaves, the protagonist’s internal monologue is you’ve really done it now, old boy. I think it’s perfect. I need it around, even if I don’t touch it for months.

I put the Grizz in the same category of things. They’re offbeat and wild; I like that they’ve never had shooters in an era that’s increasingly become defined by the three-pointer. I like that they’ve made junkiness majestic. I like Z-Bo—the nickname and his chubby arms and the improbable beauty of his back to the basket game. Ten years from now, history will have forgotten this collection of players, because they haven’t won much of anything, and they don’t look poised to. They’ll tick off 55 wins with good defense and offense that’s like watching someone carefully sledgehammer the shit out of a wall. Or maybe this is the season they decline. It doesn’t really matter; they’ve already distilled a style, and that’s the biggest achievement they’re ever going to muster. They’re a lesser light, but I think they’re perfect. Perhaps they’ll never die.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets Philadelphia 76ers Houston Rockets Los Angeles Lakers Dallas Mavericks |Indiana Pacers | Oklahoma City Thunder

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