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Memphis is Just Good Enough To Be Great  

Scroll through the list of NBA champions dating back to the 1946-47 season and you won’t find a squad that doesn’t have at least one Top 10 court-wrecker on it – except the ’04 Pistons who had a legendary coach, hellacious D and three really good Top 20 players who inspired greatness in each other.

Scroll through the list of NBA champions dating back to the 1946-47 season and you won’t find a squad that doesn’t have at least one Top 10 court-wrecker on it – except the ’04 Pistons who had a legendary coach, hellacious D and three really good Top 20 players who inspired greatness in each other. It was an accomplishment as rare and satisfying to basketball purists as the two-handed set shot. 

The NBA is built on superstars. From the marketing to the “favorable calls” to the yearly champions – star power is the driving force behind a league that boasts a fan base spanning from the public houses of Brownsville, Brooklyn to the ice pockets of Alaska and abroad.

If the Memphis Grizzlies continue to form like Voltron and remain an inseparable, indestructible and perfectly meshed basketball team – then history could repeat itself.

Tayshaun Prince (a key starter on that ’04 Pistons squad) was traded to the Grizzlies in February after 10 ½ seasons in the D. Most thought he’d fade away into the sunset without tasting championship glory again. Instead, there he is on the court in a clinching Game 5 defending, scoring, and doing all of the little things that have a huge impact in the playoffs. It’s almost like the basketball gods put him in Memphis to guide the star-strapped Grizzlies in their celestial quest.


Similar to the Pistons of ’04, you won’t see any of the Grizzlies players leading an NBA marketing campaign. Their uniform colors are classic, basic. So is the rugged interior D and treacherous high-low post game of bruisers Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They just bust ass and go home.


Z-Bo is as close to a superstar as Memphis has, and he’s been racking up 17 points and about 10 boards his entire 11-year career. Not quite elite, but damn good.

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Gasol has lived in the shadow of his blinged-up Hollywood brother Pau, who enjoys the championship highs and berating lows of holding down The Black Mamba. The 7-foot Spaniard is a stud at the center position and was voted the 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He’s not Top 10 though.   

When needed, however, both players have the ability to elevate to star status. Randolph’s 28-point,14-rebound performance in OKC series closeout game, and Gasol’s four-straight 20-point games, is proof of that.  


Point guard Mike Conley is a constantly evolving player. He may even crack the killer-code one day. Right now, he is on the “dangerous when wet” list, but not the “ultimate respect” list.

Tony Allen would D-up Godzilla toting an AK-47, because that’s his job. Memphis has a team full of guys who selflessly, and with little national recognition, get it in for the team. 


Where things stand now, Memphis is chilling until the Spurs-Warriors series concludes. Player rankings and jersey sales don’t matter to a Grizzlies team quickly becoming the epitome of collective success.  

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Any way you slice it, the Grizzlies are a tough draw in the playoffs with a clear advantage over most teams in that they don’t have to affirm any individual player’s greatness at their team’s expense.

A LeBron, KD or ’Melo is going to shoot until his arms fall off, because hit or miss, people would give them hell if they didn’t take the shots. Without a polarizing figure or anointed NBA-royalty to steal all the shine, Memphis shares equally in its quest to accomplish a great feat, with a few good men. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The Deputy Editor and Senior Writer is in his 23rd year of covering sports and culture professionally. He began working in major newspapers in 1995 and has covered a cornucopia of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, magazines and national TV.

Gamble has covered World Series, Super Bowls, NBA and MLB All-Star Games, Final Fours, World Cup, NASCAR events and done hundreds of exclusive interviews over the years. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.