Thursday, May 16, 2013

Non-Sports Post: Dr. J on Memphis and the Grizzlies

Like many other people in this town, I had to smile last night as I watched the Memphis Grizzlies advance to the NBA's Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. It took a long time for the Grizz to get where they are now, and almost anybody you pass on the street would tell you exactly how hard-earned an achievement it was.

One of those people is Dr. Leigh Johnson, a native Memphian and professor of
philosophy at Rhodes College, a small liberal arts school of about 2,000 students located just a few miles east of downtown proper.  As a recent graduate, I am a bit sad to admit that I never had the pleasure of taking one of her classes, but I know a little bit about Dr. J through her writing. She maintains a blog through which she expounds on a wide range of topics, and last night, she took the time to appreciate the Grizzlies' role as a key cog in the resurgence and emotional renaissance in this much maligned city. I've excerpted her post here, but I encourage anyone trying to understand what the Grizzlies' success means to its fans to read it in full (link below).

From Dr. J:
Memphis could always have done a lot of things easier than we did.  But we've always elected, voluntarily or otherwise, to do it nice and rough.  Why?  Quite simply, because if you go down to the [Mississippi] river, you're gonna find some people who live.  And real living, for the vast majority of us, is hardly ever nice and easy.  There are precious few places in this country where people so deeply and existentially understand that just living is rough-- just getting up every day hoping that it's better than the last, just finding some place to work and to make ends meet, just manufacturing the means to suffer or combat a million both tragic and mundane injustices, just finding a warm (or cool) and safe place to lay your head at night, and just finding some people to eat and laugh and love and dance with while you try to do your best at living.  It's something that requires all the heart, grit and grind a person can muster.
Heart, grit and grind don't pay the bills, though, and I'll be the first of the million Memphians to testify to that. [Tina Turner's] "Proud Mary" says that you don't have to worry 'cause you got no money, people on the river are happy to give. But, truth is, Memphis is poor and not a lot of people have a lot to give.  Memphis has very real and abiding problems with violence and crime.  Memphis is and has always been deeply divided, a microcosm of the very same race and class issues that deeply divide our country as a whole.  Memphis fights with itself, which means that it loses every battle it wins, and wins every battle it loses.  
My dear friend…once told me that "you can't really say that you love a city until it's given you reason not to."  Of course, I know of all the reasons that people say that Memphis is unlovable. And they have no idea the love they're missing out on by not believing in this underdog."  
I've always been an unapologetic fan of the underdog… [and] I'm a self-appointed ambassador for Memphis. Locals will tell you, sometimes with gratitude and sometimes with exasperation, that Memphis is a place that won't let you go, keeps bringing you back, whether you want it to or not.  
Given the right conditions, which have only just arrived, Memphis has more to give than anyone ever imagined. And I'm even less surprised that, as we say here, ERRYBODY is jumping on board.
Welcome aboard the Memphis bandwagon, y'all.  The most soulful, passionate, crazy, infectious, tasty, libidinous, musical, gritty and, to be honest, sexiest wagon around.
Full post here:

I recognize that the Grizzlies are just a sports team, and if they were not a good team, as they were for a long time, their existence wouldn't mean much to Memphis. That said, their success is a beacon for all of the people in this town, and Dr. J does well to get at that feeling, one that's so palpable this week.