We'll call it Basketball Week in Memphis for the Murtaugh family. Leaving my press credential at home, I allowed my wife to drag me (wink) to the Grizzlies-Mavericks game at FedExForum last Wednesday, then added our two daughters to the mix for Saturday's matinee between the U of M Tigers and SMU. Twice in four days, we were part of a throng of 14,000 basketball fans. Same arena, but different vibes.
There was a pseudo-international flair to the NBA contest, as fans were spotted in replica jerseys that ranged from Dirk Nowitzki (the Mavericks' German All-Star) to Pau Gasol (the Grizzlies' much-talked-about Spanish trade commodity) to Nicklas Lidstrom (yes, the Detroit Red Wings' Swedish defenseman). Combine this with the Eighties Night promotional theme and you had a sporting event made for head spinning.
Among the tunes cranked up as part of the game's soundtrack: "Jump" (Van Halen's version), "Pour Some Sugar on Me," a Michael Jackson medley that included "Beat It" and "Billie Jean," "Bust a Move," "Born in the U.S.A.," "Centerfold," and "Come on Feel the Noise." If this playlist wasn't enough, the Grizzlies conducted a karaoke contest that saw the winner belt out "Jessie's Girl" as if Rick Springfield deserved punishment for his career-making jingle. Still not enough? Tommy Tutone himself -- you're damn right -- took the in-arena stage at halftime to sing "867-5309." Looking like most of the men sitting in the courtside seats, Tommy stole the show from Dr. Zarr's Amazing Funkmonster, who could merely cover Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" and Kenny Loggins' "Footloose." Bring back the Eighties, but keep it a secret.
On the floor, the players kept their shorts modestly long, and Rolando Blackman was not in uniform for Dallas. With commentary from my beloved that ranged from Mike Miller's accessories ("He loves his headband, doesn't he?") to Jason Terry's build ("You can see his muscles, even when his arms are just dangling."), the game unfolded with twists you wouldn't expect in a contest between a team with only nine losses and a team with only 11 wins. A flurry of second-half three-pointers by the home team (most of them by Miller) closed what was a 15-point Maverick lead to a one-point deficit. Alas, the Griz literally ran out of time, Dallas winning the game by in-bounding the ball cleanly with less than a second to play.
The highlight of Saturday's brunch (tip-off at 11 a.m.) wasn't so much the Tigers' 88-52 drubbing of the SMU Mustangs, but the special guest entertaining the crowd alongside Memphis mascot Pouncer. Scooby-Doo himself was there -- wearing a number-11 Memphis jersey -- to bring additional Saturday-morning joy to a crowd hungry for the U of M's 11th straight win. My daughters couldn't identify John Calipari in a lineup, but Scooby on the floor? Let's go Tigers!
My wife again stepped up with an unintentionally perceptive remark when she asked me, midway through the first half, "Who's the Tiger star this year?" And I was stumped. Is the answer Chris Douglas-Roberts (the team's leading scorer)? Joey Dorsey (the team's top rebounder and defensive presence)? What about Antonio Anderson (the defacto captain)? Or Jeremy Hunt (among the top sixth men in the country)? Perhaps it's the ensemble character of the 2006-07 Tigers that will elevate the squad among the elite come tournament time in March. After all, the team barely stumbled when CDR missed time recently with a bum ankle. (Just ask the University of Tennessee how easy it is to get by without your leading scorer.)
Memphis is a basketball town. Forget all the trade talk with the Grizzlies and all the unrest over the ownership question. Put aside any questions you have about Calipari's priorities and the semipro nature of modern college basketball. Once the ball is tossed in the air, it's about the game. Last week, more than 40,000 tickets were sold on that game (the Grizzlies were home again Saturday night), one variety or another. Families that hoop together stay together.