The grizzlies’ bad boy arc is exactly the antidote to the NBA fade

<span>Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/” data- src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″/.d8ac77beb6bc5688f3a32f11″/</div></div></div><p><figcaption class=Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports

NBA rivalries used to be about something: an exclusive claim to basket superiority, beef within divisions, a perceived lack of respect. But it’s been hard to sustain that grudge at a time when players come to the league as childhood friends, constantly changing teams, and barely defending themselves against each other. There’s only one team keeping the others busy these days, and that’s the Memphis Grizzlies. everyone hates them

Your bad boy arc begins with a classic betrayal. In the summer of 2019, the Grizzlies were part of a three-team swap that brought Andre Iguodala to Memphis. Iguodala is the gold standard for NBA glue, a former Finals MVP who remains valuable as an unofficial player-coach and contributor despite his advanced age. But when he refused to fill the same role for a Memphis Reconstruction squad and didn’t even show up at their facility, team management reportedly agreed to buy out his $17 million contract or trade him for a playoff contender . Of course, his new teammates were quick to take offense at Iguodala’s attitude, and hit their chests as Memphis defied expectations to overtake his former team, Golden State, in the Western Conference standings. “We all had the vision,” said Dillon Brooks of Memphis. “He hasn’t, which is perfect. Send him back to the Warriors and let him do his thing over there.”

Related: What NBA rivalries could shape basketball’s next five years?

Ultimately, Iguodala was traded to Miami before reappearing with the Warriors. (“If they really wanted me,” Iguodala said of the Grizzlies in a recent podcast interview, “they would have fined me for not showing up.”) Months earlier, the Grizzlies had the Warriors’ season in the league ends warm-up round. Then the Warriors got revenge in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals; It’s been a series that has seen Brooks trade flagrant fouls with Draymond Green (an NBA threat of his own), Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant accusing the Warriors’ Jordan Poole of intentionally injuring his knee mid-series, and all as Memphis fans mocked Golden State to the tune of Whoop That Trick. While Golden State was later crowned the NBA champion, the chips on the Grizzlies’ shoulders grew to a Sisyphean size.

Really, they’ve been stuck in Beatrix kiddo mode ever since the Iguodala “bargain” and start fighting over anything that offends them. When asked about the Western Conference teams standing in the way of Memphis’ title hopes, Morant quipped, “I’m fine out west.” (Not to mention reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets on the conference table. ) Recently, Steph Curry revealed the crazy talk he hears from Brooks when they compete — things like, “We’re already a dynasty.” (Forget last year’s playoff result.)

Brooks in particular has made a name for himself this season with physical play that often goes over the line. Last month, during a game against Cleveland, he was suspended for his role in a bank-clearing brawl that began with him rolling into Donovan Mitchell’s leg and hitting the Cavaliers guard in the groin after a missed layup. When asked if Brooks’ foul was a cheap shot, Mitchell shot back, “That’s just who he is.”

The Grizzlies aren’t even sparing their own fans — not after the Memphis crowd yelled at Morant to “sit back” during his rusty first game after a month-long health absence last season. “Usually when someone says something negative about me, it spurs me on,” he said. “But tonight, the comments from the fans actually hurt.” It may well have been the point of no return in the Grizzlies’ bad-boy arc, the moment they fully embraced the chaos.

On the road earlier this year against the Lakers, the Grizzlies were determined to be the ones to start And End it with fans. Brooks lit the match by yelling back at a courtside bystander who said he couldn’t guard LeBron James. The fan also got involved in a harsh verbal exchange with Ja’s dad Tee. During a stoppage in play, Steven Adams, the Brooks, Morant and Grizzlies’ tall man, walked straight at the spectator – who, upon closer inspection, was just as tall and aggressive as the players approaching him.

It turns out that fan was none other than Shannon Sharpe, the NFL giant-turned-television sports debater and president of the LeBron James fan club. And while the optics of NBA players messing with paying customers certainly brought the league office unwelcome flashbacks to the Malice at the Palace, say so much for the Grizzlies: At least the fight they started was with the biggest, literally fans in the club. Additionally, Sharpe, who was briefly removed from his seat, had to apologize on air for his part in the argument as the Grizzlies slapped her chest again. “A regular pedestrian like him?” Brooks chuckled. “He should never have come back into the game. But it’s LA.” The headlines berated the Grizzlies for “running out their reception” and being generally “annoying.”

The attitude in Memphis is not fake. It’s effectively who the team is since they moved out of Vancouver in the wee hours of the morning and shrugged off all that Canada Nice (not even Ontario-born Brooks, aka Memphis Bill Laimbeer, fits that type). The 2010s are fondly remembered as their grit-and-grind era — a simpler time when low-post tough Zach Randolph styled himself as a bully, Tony Allen on the defensive, kicking Chris Paul in the head and Center Marc Gasol didn’t hesitate to elbow his bigger older brother in the face. Still, these grizzlies weren’t exactly hated because they never posed a serious threat to the title. During their seven consecutive postseason appearances from 2011 through 2017, the Grizzlies made it past the conference semifinals just once.

The current Grizzlies players aren’t just tough. They are led by Morant – perhaps the most exciting player in the game not named Giannis Antetokounmpo. They are still young – on average just 24 years old. The defending champion Warriors, always in the way, tread water just above the playoff line. If the situation continues and Memphis doesn’t overtake Denver, the Grizzlies could face Golden State again in the first round of this year’s playoffs.

Certainly those who saw the heyday of the Bird and McHale’s Celtics, the Bad Boy Pistons and Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers never imagined that the day of pro basketball would come this far one Rivalry game – the Grizzlies v Warriors – worth seeing. The open hostility and bitterness that characterized those bygone eras have been replaced by runaway dots. And while hot streaks certainly have their appeal — they’re big, they’re feisty, they get ass in seats — they don’t stir the soul quite as much as good old-fashioned resentment.

All of that is to say: Maybe the league miscast the Grizzlies. Sure, every game with them is a grudge game, and they gossip back at their own fans. But if anything, they’re more anti-heroes than outright villains — an NBA team that actually means something. It’s just that they never mean well. The grizzlies’ bad boy arc is exactly the antidote to the NBA fade

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