Memphis considers itself a basketball Mecca. Countless legendary names in hoops have ties to the Bluff City. These names include iconic NBA players who have made pit stops in their professional journey. But we can’t forget those players whose legendary roots are tied to the soil of Memphis such as Snap Hunter, Joe Jackson, and of course, Penny Hardaway.
From the beginning of time, Memphis Tigers basketball – including all iterations of the university’s name – has been the focal point of the affection of fans and city residents.
In 2001, the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis and brought pro basketball at the highest level to the Pyramid. During the Grit-n-Grind era that included memorable playoff runs, the city of Memphis fell in love with the Grizzlies and rallied behind the Beale Street Bears.
Over the past few years, excitement for Tigers basketball was beginning to wane – as evidenced by attendance and ticket sales. With the hire of hometown hero Penny Hardaway as head coach 14 months ago, Tigers fans have come back out of hibernation and are ready to support the local university with their Tweets and their wallets.
This past week, the NBA draft lottery was held in Chicago. Unlike last year’s lottery when the Grizzlies fell 2 slots (from 2 to 4) this year they jumped 6 (!) slots from 8th to 2nd. This means that the future of the Grizzlies will include both the #4 overall pick from last year in Jaren Jackson Jr., and another bright young talent in whomever they select with the second pick in June. This combination of talent should excite any Grizzlies fan who has the foresight to look down the road in anticipation.
Also last week, Penny Hardaway continued his recruiting flex on the nation by signing multiple highly ranked players. In doing this, he assembled the #1 ranked class in college basketball.
Clearly, young basketball talent abounds in Memphis.
As I eluded to in my opening statements, Memphis is basketball rich, but only one team can truly be king. With the futures of both teams looking bright with potential, I wanted to know which of the two feats that occurred last week was appreciated by fans the most.
Unsurprisingly, Tigers fans answered the call and spoke up the loudest. I think this is actually a pretty fair representation of where the city’s loyalty sits. The hard work that Penny Hardaway and his staff have been putting in on the recruiting trail is certainly remarkable and deserves endless accolades. In a sport (college basketball) where sheer talent will help you overcome the majority of opponents, the future is bright for Penny Hardaway and the fans of his program.
In contrast to how the two teams first coexisted in Memphis, the Tigers are now guests in the home of the Grizzlies at FedExForum. However, this city’s heart still fixates on the eye of tiger.
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Zak (@BarnBurnerBro) is a native Memphian who covers the Memphis Grizzlies, Tigers, and St. Louis Cardinals for The Barn. He spends his free time exploring breweries, restaurants, and leading the Ivan Rabb stan club.