As any veteran basketball fan can tell you, many an important game is lost in the last quarter, when nerves or a loss of focus or maybe just an imperfect game plan can do a team in. At this writing, only weeks remain before the National Basketball Association and Vancouver Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley will make a decision on whether or not to relocate the Grizzlies to Memphis for next season. We're in the last quarter, all right.
It is impossible to say how Memphis' latest quest for a major- league sports franchise will come out, but the local would-be owners' group and its associated booster organization, NBA Now, are making the kind of adjustments that could end up putting enough points on the board to build a new arena and bring the Grizzlies here.
For one thing, the local pursuit team's principals, notably including its tireless spokesperson Gayle Rose, have opened up their game a bit, practicing candor with the news media, local government bodies, and the community at large. We, all of us, now know a good deal more then we did about the separate funding sources proposed by the ownership group and Mayors Herenton and Rout and how they're intended to generate a revenue stream for the arena.
We know enough, in fact, to be reasonably certain, as we suspected in the first place, that some substantial private money is going to be needed to defray the costs of building a new arena from scratch. Enough static has come out of Nashville, where the General Assembly has so far not even decided on revenue sources to meet the state's basic needs, that the $40 million the ownership group was hoping to get from the legislature now seems a remote possibility at best. At least $20 million, and possibly more, will have to come from as-yet-unknown sources to flesh out the entire $250 million package.
We therefore welcome the announcement this week by one of the principals, J.R. "Pitt" Hyde, that the ownership group is "trying to put something together" that would cover the expected $20 million shortfall with private funding. Hyde was just a mite coy about it -- suggesting various solutions short of an outright commitment from himself and other members of the ownership group to put more money in. They're already investing generous sums to acquire equity in the team, but this money stays in the family, so to speak, and doesn't filter directly back into the community. The proposed arena would become a tangible asset, an enduring part of the city's infrastructure, and the need for private money there is not just a financial reality, it is a symbolic one.
Some doubts remain about construction of a new NBA-worthy arena, not just in the councils of state government but in those of city and county government as well. Many citizens still need to be convinced of its value, and virtually everybody who's looked into the matter is somewhat suspicious of the arena's price tag, wondering if the costs can't be lowered a bit.
But, on the evidence of the last couple of weeks, the proponents of an NBA franchise are keeping their heads and making some right moves. They have a far better chance of both success and community support than they started with.