At some point between the Apology and the Crito, Plato appears to have written down this dialogue between Socrates and a Grizzlies fan. It remains undetermined whether this Grizzlies fan was just a smart person who liked to watch basketball, or was involved in writing about the team in some capacity. All that remains of Socrates’ conversation are fragments, of which these are the first two.
Griz Fan: Yes, but did you see that Courtney Lee and Tony Allen are the starting wings? I assume that means Lee will be the shooting guard and Allen will be the small forward.
Socrates: Does it matter which position they’re assigned to?
G: No, I don’t guess it does. I’m just glad Tayshaun Prince isn’t starting. He’s way too old.
S: I don’t think that’s what you mean, but yes, he has been in the league for a long time. Are you sure you’re satisfied with the starting lineup?
G: I’d like to see Pondexter, personally. I think he’s a really underrated player. I love 3-and-D guys like that.
S: Ah, yes, I see you haven’t been reading Beyond the Arc for long. Which I can forgive. What about Pondexter do you like more than Allen?
G: Oh, not for Allen—for Lee.
S: What makes you so sure Tony Allen should be a starter? Does it matter whether he plays the first minute, or whether his minutes are used appropriately?
G: Tony Allen helps the team get off to a fast start. He scores, sets the tone on defense… It’s a much better use of his energy for him to play early on and late in the game. Isn’t that right? Doesn’t Chris Vernon keep track of how many minutes Tony plays, and when it’s more than 25 minutes, the Grizzlies always win?
S: Those are facts. Tony Allen’s offense is helpful early in games, and he does play more in Grizzlies wins than in Grizzlies losses.
G: Then why wouldn’t he be a starter? Doesn’t that say something about his importance to the team?
S: It does.
G: Then why wouldn’t you start him?
S: I didn’t say I wouldn’t, I only asked why you would.
G: There is one thing, though.
S: One thing about Allen?
G: One thing about Allen.
S: (crosses his arms, looks at floor)
G: Help defense.
S: I think you’ve discovered something. What about help defense? Tony Allen’s help defense?
G: This is… I mean… it’s just that… it’s just that it’s not always good. Or—OK. It’s often not always good. It’s not good all of the time and sometimes is really less good than it could be.
S: I get the impression that you’re avoiding saying something.
G: He’s bad on help defense, a lot of the time. I can’t believe I just said that. I can’t believe those words came out of my mouth. Tony Allen—I just said something bad about him.
S: Something you felt needed to be said, though.
G: It’s the guys that he doesn’t respect. The Gordon Haywards and the no-name guys on the HornBobNetCats or… guys who aren’t reputation players. He helps off of them, usually drifting towards the ballhandler. And then Jodie Meeks averages 20 points in 4 games even though the Lakers are a horrible purple and yellow garbage fire, all because TA wouldn’t stay home.
S: How much of that is Tony, and how much of that is the Grizzlies’ defensive scheme? And how much does that answer matter?
G: Not much, in the scheme of things. But now that I’ve proven that no one will shoot me with arrows if I speak ill of him, I’ve got something else I need to bounce off of you. But you have to promise you won't tell anybody.
S: I’m not a priest, you know. More of just an old Greek guy.
G: Yeah, yeah, that’s cool, I know. Anyway, the other thing is this: I’m not sure he’s going to be any good this year.
S: He’s been good every year.
G: And every year he’s a year older. He can’t go on forever, right? Isn’t his skill set going to fade at some point?
S: Have you considered that it might be fading in front of you and you haven’t noticed? What if these lapses you’re talking about—what if those are really just symptoms of decline?
G: I haven’t thought about that. Or, I mean, I have, but I didn’t want to say anything.
S: You seem to be afraid to speak ill of Tony Allen.
G: It’s just that… people don’t want to hear that kind of stuff. He’s so important to the team, and so important to the place the team has found in the city, that it feels like an attack on the whole city of Memphis to say something bad about him. It feels like Tony Allen is really just an avatar for the city as a whole on some level, however much sense that makes.
S: Yes, but what you’re describing is really the nature of sports in general, isn’t it? The players, after all, have “Memphis” on the front of their jerseys, and their own names on the back. Why then would you be wishing ill upon a whole city for talking about one player, no matter how important? Are not there other players with the same thing on the front of their jerseys?
G: There are.
S: So then, if someone else steps in and carries the team the way Tony Allen has, isn’t that then also good for the city, and the team, and whoever else the team represents?
G: It is.
S: Why then the reticence to confront what is happening? Why, then, the fear of saying these things?
G: You don’t understand, Socrates.
S: What don’t I understand?
G: Did you not see what he did to O.J. Mayo?
Socrates: So then you see that Lindsey Buckingham actually has nothing to do with the Rudy Gay trade after all, despite the fact that yes, the guitar solo at the end of “Gypsy” is killer.
Griz Fan: I do have one more question, Socrates.
S: After that one, I think I’m ready for anything.
G: What if they’re never good again?
S: What if who is never good again?
G: The Grizzlies. What if this is the last year that they have Conley, Gasol, Randolph, and Allen together, and then something happens, and this run is over, and they’re never good again?
S: Do you have some premonition that this might be the case?
G: I do. Ingrained in me, I have a feeling that things like this can’t happen in Memphis for too long—like there’s a time limit on how long we can have nice things, and then they’re taken away, one after the other.
S: Has this happened before?
G: My dad was a big Showboats fan.
S: I mean with the Grizzlies.
G: They were only ever good one other time, and then they weren’t this good. They didn’t win any playoff games.
S: Have any other teams been bad forever? And not had any success?
G: Of course. Minnesota, the Bullets/Wizards—
S: The Bullets won a title.
G: Yeah, but in 1978. I’m speaking of recently, since the 1980’s anyway. My fear is this: this is the only time we’re going to be allowed to have a team this good, and then they’re going to be bad, and then they’re going to leave. Every time I see that some new city wants an NBA team, I get anxious. I feel like they’re gunning for Memphis.
S: Because Memphis is a small market.
G: Because Memphis is the poorest major metro area in the country. It remains to be seen whether a pro sports franchise can really be a long-term success here—whether the local economy can actually support a pro team for a long time. It’s worked for 14 years, but will it work for 25? For 50? No one knows.
S: So you’re afraid of loss, and afraid of the unknown. (Scratches head) I don’t think there’s anything I can tell you that will make you feel better about those.
G: Don’t quote Heraclitus at me, though. That Lipe guy does it all the time.
S: I’m not familiar with his work.
G: Anyway, I just worry that this Grizzlies run is nearing its end. And I worry that when it ends, there will be nothing to replace it with.
S: You’ve discounted the possibility that the “Core Four” are now the “Key Three”, or whatever Dave Joerger is calling them these days, Conley, Gasol, and Zach Randolph. And as Randolph ages, assuming the Grizzlies are able to re-sign Marc Gasol this summer, which seems to be a straightforward proposition, it will be a “Big Two” of Conley and Gasol that the team is built around, with guys like Jordan Adams, Jarnell Stokes, the one they call Jonny Basketball, those guys carrying the team forward.
G: But what if they don’t? What will they do then? Will they be able to withstand several seasons of 10,000 people at games again? What will happen?
S: Basketball is not like Old Faithful, where the same things consistently happen on a schedule, year after year, and where things that are a certain way will always be a certain way. Basketball is like Yellowstone, the whole forest. Every so often, whole thing has to be burned down to be able to keep going. Without the fires, the forest cannot sustain itself. And who doesn’t like a good fire?
G: Yes, Socrates, but when a basketball team burns down, it’s not a forest burning, it’s a dumpster.
S: Perhaps. But didn’t you watch the Sixers last year?
G: I did.
S: Then you know that some dumpster fires are more fun than others.
G: I suppose that’s true.
S: And sometimes it’s nice when the arena is so empty that Tony Brothers can hear you heckling him.
This is where the second fragment ends.