Winks Thinks: The Grizz and Bear it Edition
Even though I have absolutely no money and am deathly afraid of flying, I’ve made a commitment to myself recently to try and travel more. As glamorous as my hometown of (North) Fond du Lac, Wisconsin can be, there’s a whole world out there that I’ve yet to discover. I would say that I have done my fair share of traveling throughout my life, but most of that occurred before I went to college and when all of those travel expenses were on my parents’ dime. Now that I’m at least on the path to becoming a grown man, I thought it’d be time to do a little exploring on my own. First stop: Memphis, Tennessee.
Why Memphis you ask? As far as I know, there are really only two reasons why people book a ticket to Memphis – Beale Street and Graceland (the National Civil Rights Museum could be a third, but I think more people visit that while they are in Memphis, as opposed to centering a vacation around it). I’m not an Elvis guy though, so that wasn’t the reason, and I don’t need a fancy street to give me an excuse to randomly booze, so that wasn’t it either. I found a third reason to book a weekend trip to The River City, that reason being Memphis Grizzlies basketball.
My baby bro picked up a full year internship with the team, so as an older brother it was only right that I made the trip to visit him while he was down there, at least once. Since going to a Grizzlies game was of course going to be apart of the trip itinerary, I made sure to schedule the excursion during the one weekend that my beloved Milwaukee Bucks would be coming to town. The only hangup with the trip was that it fell on Valentine’s Day weekend, but because I rarely have a girlfriend, and when I do I’m usually a terrible boyfriend, that was a very easy hurdle to jump over. So the trip was booked, and off to Memphis I went.
My Welcome to Memphis moment occurred as soon as I got into a taxi on my way out of the airport, as one of the first things that I saw was a billboard for “Big Momma’s: Like Father, Like Son”. You definitely don’t see a billboard for a Martin Lawrence movie in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, that’s all I’m saying there. On a sidenote, were you aware that this Big Momma’s movie is actually the third in the trilogy? I guess I never realized that a second one was made. Between these movies, Tyler Perry’s alter-ego Madea, and the official movie of the WNBA “Juwanna Mann”, it’s amazing how much mileage the black guy dressing up in drag plot line has been able to achieve in these past ten years. But I digress.
The weekend in Memphis was a good one, as I definitely hit up most of the Memphis hotspots, at least as many as I could during a 48 hour span. I did check out the National Civil Rights Museum, which was astonishing, as the museum is built exactly at the old location of the Lorraine Motel, the scene where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The exterior is just about the same as it was that fateful evening, and it’s one of those things that you see so often in publications or on television that you take a step back when you see it in person (here’s my photo evidence). Elsewhere, I did hit up some of Memphis’ more famous eateries such as Gus’s World Famous Chicken and Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous (famous for their dry ribs), and I did make it down to Beale Street, although the scene was much more clam than I expected. Other than that though, this trip centered around one thing and one thing only, the hometown Memphis Grizzlies.
Because I still have some ties to a media outlet (but more likely because there were seats that would otherwise be unused), I was able to score a courtside seat to the Bucks/Grizzlies game, sitting alongside Bucks broadcasters Ted Davis, Jon McGlocklin, and Jim Paschke on media row. If you watched the game, you could probably spot me; I was the only one in a row of broadcasters and journalists wearing a hat. As great as the courtside seats were, I was probably more starstruck by those three gentlemen than I was any of the players on the court. Those three guys have a gig closer to my dream job than any of the basketball players do, and if you’ve ever seen me play basketball you’d immediately know why.
I desperately wanted to introduce myself to any of the three, but saying “Hi, I’m Bart. I um, used to work at a TV station in La Crosse, and then I quit. But now I’m doing radio stuff part-time in an even smaller market than La Crosse, and uh, well, I used to write for SportsBubbler, which I guess doesn’t exist anymore. Oh! I do write for The Bucky Channel, but you’ve probably never heard of that yet. Maybe you’ve heard of Pocket Doppler, but I only write for them like once every six months. Um, go Bucks?”, yeah, saying that in my head first definitely influenced me to just sit down and keep my mouth shut during the game. I did creepily watch them work though, almost as much as I watched the actual game. My favorite interactions were between McGlocklin and Davis, as after every Bucks mistake they would look at each other in disbelief. You can tell these guys not only take their jobs seriously, but they do have a lot invested in this Bucks team. They are fans just like you and I, and it’s a lot easier to listen to your teams’ broadcasters when you know that they are rooting for the same outcome that you are.
Who am I kidding though, sitting courtside was awesome. Yeah, I was technically behind the scorer’s table, but I’m never going to complain about a seat when it’s three seats away from the bench of the Milwaukee Bucks. My seat happened to be right where the Bucks’ supply of talcum powder was, and as a result of that I was right next to the players on several occasions. Keyon Dooling even nearly got a little of the white stuff in my eye at one point (let’s make sure we don’t take that last sentence out of context, okay?). Sitting that close though is something you have to do if you ever get the chance, because it’s neat to finally be able to hear what the players are saying instead of trying to guess by reading their lips on television. Granted, they don’t say anything earth shatteringly shocking, but you can’t deny the allure of that vantage point on the game. I watch lot of high school basketball from that same vantage point for one of my part-time jobs, and it’s neat to have that seating for a game being played by some of the best athletes in the world (even you, Hasheem Thabeet) instead of just random high school kids from Wisconsin.
Not that there weren’t plenty of other good seats available at the FedEx Forum, as even for a Friday night the arena was only about 2/3rds full. I might have expected a little more of crowd there, especially on a weekend and especially because the Grizzlies don’t suck this year as they often do. At posting, Memphis is only a half game out of the playoffs, and that’s in the Western Conference. In the East, they could already be making postseason plans as at least the 6th seed. Still, even though there were empty seats, the seats that were occupied held fans that made quite an impact. It was about as passionate as a fan base that I’ve ever seen during a regular season NBA game, at least during the game itself. I’ve seen that type of atmosphere at the Bradley Center, but only during the playoffs. A regular season Bradley Center crowd has never met the intensity of that Grizzlies crowd on Friday, even though the place wasn’t even close to being at capacity. Then again, the Grizzlies have a competitive basketball team, while the Bucks sadly do not.
The Bucks are going to head into this year’s All-Star break somewhere around three or four games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The East is much better than it’s been in years past, but it’s still top-heavy. This is a conference where seven or eight games under .500 will still earn you a birth to the postseason. I’m not sure where you stand, but I’d still rather see the Bucks make the playoffs even as an eight seed than I would see them just tank it and play for the lottery. I’ve always been on the principle that all you have to do is get into the playoffs, and then you never know what could happen. I seem to recall a Green Bay Packers team enter the playoffs this season as a six seed and then suddenly become Super Bowl champions (although I understand the flawed logic of comparing this Bucks team to any Packers team, but go with me here).
Watching the Bucks up close as I did on Friday, I just don’t see a playoff run happening. It’s true that we have the weakest remaining schedule throughout the NBA, but I don’t see them taking advantage of that by any means. I hope I’m wrong, but this team on Friday is making the same mistakes that they did at the beginning of the season. In the Memphis game, the Bucks had two costly turnovers near the top of the key in the game’s final two minutes, inexcusable mistakes at any level. I don’t think that Scott Skiles has lost this team at all, I just don’t think this team is very good. You have Jennings and Bogut, the cornerstones of the team, but you don’t have a guy that can step up and take the last shot, or any meaningful shot for that matter. I love Mbah a Moute, I love Maggette, I love CDR, I love Ers, I love Delfino, I love all the guys on that team, but they are all role players besides BJ3 and Bogut. We need a shooter, really, and sadly that guy might be Michael Redd. Even though it’s been reported that Skiles doesn’t want him anywhere near this team, and I have wanted him to be traded for a long long time, desperate times call for desperate measures. I don’t know though, I’m not an expert on this Bucks team, not even close, but I am smart enough to know that the team I watched on Friday is not a playoff team even if they do play in the Eastern Conference.
So with the disheartened Bucks set to fly home after their loss, I decided to hang out with the winners for a night, attending the 2nd annual Grizz Gala the following evening. This particular gala was a fundraiser event that was attended by the whole Grizzlies team as well as some of the richest people in the Memphis area. Basically, I had no business being there. But courtesy of nepotism, I was able to forgo the $125 ticket and hang out with the Grizzlies for an evening. Please understand that when I say hang out, I mean walk by and don’t talk to, as again, I had no business introducing myself to anyone. The only one I really wanted to talk to anyone was Thabeet. He’s just a fascinating person to me, as is his career up to this point. But again, I stayed silent. Luckily, the event was held at a Mississippi casino, so instead of feeling underdressed and out of place at this gala, I spent most of my time making love to various slot machines with the Mississippi locals.
And with that, the weekend was concluded. No crazy drunken stories. No crazy random hookups (although one girl did invite me to Sunday mass… um, nope). But of all the things that I want to do in my life and of all the places that I want to travel, I can cross “being a background extra in Hasheem Thabeet’s life for a weekend” off my list.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a belated Valentine’s Day date to get too. Two tickets for Big Momma 3, please!