Here’s the easiest sports question you’ll be asked all year: Measured in historical terms, who is the face of the New York Yankees? Love Mickey Mantle or Derek Jeter all you might, but the answer’s Babe Ruth. And it will always be the answer for this Face of the Franchise.
Now, let’s try another. Who is the face of the Chicago White Sox? Or the Washington Redskins?
Since early June (via Twitter), I’ve been naming — on a daily basis — the Face of the Franchise for every major professional team in America. (The list is being presented in alphabetical order, by team nickname.) I’ve worked my way through Major League Baseball (easy Face: Atlanta Braves) and the NFL (hard Face: Atlanta Falcons). This week I reached the NBA, and this Sunday I’ll be tweeting the Face of the Memphis Grizzlies. This Face selection won’t be as easy as it was for the Kansas City Royals, but shouldn’t be as hard as it was for the Arizona Cardinals.
I’ve narrowed our beloved NBA franchise’s Face down to five candidates (presented here in alphabetical order). Note that this is a players-only list. Sorry Hubie.
• TONY ALLEN — It’s not so much numbers or service (Allen has only played here two seasons), but a vibe with this defense-first two guard. He’s without question the face of the mantra (“Grit and Grind”) that took hold during the Grizzlies’ 2011 playoff run and seems to have stuck for good. If a Face of the Franchise embodies the way we view a team in general, Allen’s the pick.
• SHANE BATTIER — Somehow, even as a rookie during the dreadful inaugural Memphis season (2001-02), Battier made you feel dignified as a Griz fan. Perhaps it was his lingering Duke pedigree (he was the Face of the 2001 NCAA champs). He moved to the bench without complaint for the 2003-04 squad, the first in franchise history to reach the playoffs. Upon his return to Memphis after almost five seasons in Houston, Battier helped fuel the Grizzlies’ return to the playoffs, and even hit the game-winning shot in the franchise’s first postseason win.
• PAU GASOL — The most decorated Grizzly, Marc’s big brother earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 and in 2006 became the first Memphis All-Star. He never quite seemed to capture the hearts of local fans, though. (In some respects, Pau is the anti-Tony Allen.) He remains the franchise’s alltime leader in games (476), points (8,966), and rebounds (4,096).
• RUDY GAY — Climbing the list of “best players to never make the All-Star team,” Gay has hit the heights with Memphis, with more buzzer-beating heroics than any of his teammates. But he’s also hit some lows, missing the franchise-changing playoff run in 2011, and not making the difference many thought he should in the Grizzlies’ opening-round loss to the L.A. Clippers last spring. With a healthy 2012-13 season in Memphis, Gay should pass Pau Gasol atop the franchise’s games played and scoring charts.
• ZACH RANDOLPH — Playing under a new contract in 2011-12, Z-Bo struggled with injuries and missed 38 regular-season games. But when healthy, Randolph has been decisive at both ends of the court. He made the All-Star team in 2010 (his first season with the Grizzlies) and became the first player in franchise history to earn All-NBA honors (3rd team) when he averaged 20.1 points and 12.2 rebounds in 2010-11.
In speaking with local fans, I’ve received a variety of nominees for this hometown Face of the Franchise. I can be persuaded (to a degree), so feel free to chime in with the case for your favorite Grizzly Face. The name of that Face will hit the twitterverse on August 12th.