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CITY BEAT

CITY BEAT

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OFF THE COUCH! Have you noticed that Memphis is kicking some serious naysayer butt? Our long civic trauma is over. The fabled Memphis inferiority complex has been cured. Memphis can finally get up off the couch. Jerry West is in town, it’s a brand new day, and pretty soon the last low-down naysayer will slink back under a mossy rock and all right-thinking Memphians will rejoice. It was Mayor Willie Herenton who put the naysayers on the run, warning last spring that they were lurking in our midst even as NBA teams in Charlotte and Vancouver announced their intentions to move to Memphis. A posse of loyal journalists and boosters has been in hot pursuit ever since. "(the) decision to hire NBA legend Jerry West as president of basketball operations should send a strong message to all of the naysayers and critics who refuse to believe that Memphis can be a first-class sports city," wrote the Memphis Business Journal. And who are the naysayers? The MBJ says they’re "the petty politicians that have ruled this city for decades." "No thanks to the politicians, a lot of crow was eaten April 30 when NBA legend Jerry West stood behind a podium in The Peabody and was introduced as the Grizzlies’ new president of basketball operations." Not to be petty, but two politicians, Herenton and Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, were solidly behind the Grizzlies all the way and helped persuade 23 other politicians on the city council and county commission to pay for a new arena. The power of sport to salve the wounded civic psyche should never be underestimated. Nor should the willingness of sports executives and owners to tell us that. "We’ve got to get that mentality out of this town," said Heisley. "I never felt like Memphis was a negative in me getting Jerry West here." "The woe-is-me thinking is disappearing," said Andy Dolich, Grizzlies president of business operations. "I’d like to think we played a small role in that . . . There’s always going to be naysayers about this city. And the self-image can always be improved. But this city is starting to believe in itself." Dr. Dolich made his diagnosis after seeing the patient for less than a year. "We as a city have to do a better job of being louder when we’re positive, and not let the naysayers set the agenda," said Grizzlies part-owner Andy Cates. Or put professional sports facilities to a referendum like they did in Nashville, Charlotte and San Antonio. About the only good thing the media can say Ñ and say, and say again Ñ for naysayers is that overcoming them is the stuff of greatness. Give it up, please, for Grizzlies’ part-owner and Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones Jr. who wrote this in a newspaper column: "Naysayers claim Memphis isn’t ready, Memphis cannot support a professional team, Memphis has bigger problems than financing a sports arena. I’ve heard it all before. With little financial support, I took on the challenge and the naysayers with nothing more than my belief in Memphis and its people." Nothing is too trivial to escape the attention of naysayers. No doubt you recall the firestorm over the Brent Dlugach signing by the University of Memphis baseball team, recounted in the CA. "The Dlugach signing had people questioning Anderson’s recruiting. And Dlugach himself said he heard the criticism, pointing out that some naysayers even insisted he was only offered a scholarship because his dad is a former U of M standout." And, admit it, you were one of the naysayers the CA nailed for getting it all wrong about black people and straight hair. "She opened a natural hair salon despite warnings from friends and others that African-Americans in Memphis weren’t into natural hair. Indigo Mangi has been proving the naysayers wrong." Well move over, NYPD. What could be more fun than a hearty har-har at the expense of card-carrying naysayers? "The Ole Miss Rebels heard all of the preseason talk about how bad they were supposed to be," wrote the CA in November when the Rebs were 6-2. "The players used those naysayers as a source for motivation. SEC aside, the Rebels could also be playing for a spot in a major bowl game." Yes! If only they had won their next two games against Georgia and Mississippi State. When ESPN dared to predict a last-place finish for the Grizzlies, the CA wrote: "The Grizzlies want to interrupt the naysayers with a little public announcement less than a week into training camp . . . Granted, the franchise has never won more than 23 games in a season." Granted, too, that they only won 23 this year and finished last again. But that was before Jerry West came to town, and the CA ran off the last naysayer with this benediction. "All things are possible in this city. All things. Don’t scoff. It can happen in Memphis. All it takes is energy, a vision and unmitigated gall." Unmitigated gall. Now we’re getting somewhere.

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