What a ride! Just when you thought we were stuck in that sleepy-eyed sports vacuum between the Super Bowl and baseballs Opening Day, Memphis has a week fit for bronzing. Started on Monday when, despite being unable to take the court at The Racquet Club due to a back injury, Anna Kournikova -- the Super Model Who Would Be Tennis Queen -- appeared to present a fat check to St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital. Game, set, match -- and lots of love -- to Anna. The week climaxed with 49 seconds of the Bizarro World that is Mike Tyson. Not since your last 401(k) statement has a figure fallen as fast as Clifford Etienne. (Ill say this for Etienne: his nickname -- the Black Rhino -- is about the best boxing tag since Raging Bull.) Oh! And with car tools and hub caps against the rules, Tonya Harding lost a split decision to Samantha Browning on the Tyson undercard. Somewhere, Nancy Kerrigan is smiling.
Even as Taylor Dent and Lisa Raymond were crowned Racquet Club champions on Tyson Weekend II, though, we were reminded how this citys sporting heartbeat remains in echo rhythm with the thump-thump-thumping of a dribbled basketball. On the same day the University of Memphis earns its biggest win in a decade, the Tigers Pyramid co-tenants pull off a deal that brings a second Rookie of the Year to the Grizzlies. National headlines -- times two -- for Bluff City sports.
Dont underestimate, on any level, the enormity of the U of Ms beating Rick Pitinos 4th-ranked Louisville Cardinals at hostile Freedom Hall. You ask how John Calipari can possibly earn his $1 million annual paycheck? The answer is a seven-point victory -- which should have been much larger -- over the Tigers arch-rival in a game that had implications for the NCAA tournament field. It had been 10 years and 13 days since Memphis last knocked off a Top-5 team (Penny and the boys edged Cincinnati at The Pyramid on February 6, 1993). Only once in 12 years had the Tigers left Freedom Hall with smiles on their faces (January 23, 1997). The game was televised nationally on ESPN2, preceding a clash between the last two national champions (Duke and Maryland). This was big stuff.
The Tigers won despite missing an astonishing 17 free throws, including their first 7 of the game. They won despite the juvenile, throat-slashing antics of John Grice which served up a precious pair of free points for the Cardinals as the final minute ticked off the clock. They won despite the histrionics of a Louisville crowd that numbered nearly 20,000. And they did it the Calipari way. They rebounded (47 boards to Louisvilles 31). They tackled loose balls as if they were dropped babies. And they flexed their muscles (shortly after Chris Massie was knocked to the floor by a stray Cardinal elbow, Billy Richmond dropped Louisvilles Ellis Myles on what would have been an easy dunk). Perhaps most impressive is the fact the Tigers didnt let up three days later in Tampa, holding off South Florida to gain a measure of revenge for their loss to the Bulls in Memphis a month ago.
As enormous as the Cardinal-killing was, however, the game had to share local headlines with the Grizzlies trade of rookies Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek to Orlando for 2001 Rookie of the Year Mike Miller, Ryan Humphrey, and a pair of draft picks. Like everyone else who pays attention to NBA hoops, I bow at the Temple of West, but I cant help but wonder about Jerrys logic in this deal. Considering Humphrey will merely take up a roster spot and neither of the two draft picks will land in the top-20 (the first rounder originally belonged to Sacramento), the trade amounts to Miller for Gooden and Giricek.
What does Miller bring? Hes a shooter, a slashing swingman in the
Reggie Miller mold, average at best on defense, a decent rebounder (5.8 average at the time of the trade). What did the Grizzlies dismiss? Gooden was the fourth pick in last years draft, not the shooter that Miller is but, at 610, much more of an inside presence. Giricek is himself a fine shooter, a slashing two-guard who gave Memphis backcourt depth and above-average defense. Where is the net gain for the Griz?
While there may be marketing opportunities with Miller and last years Rookie of the Year, Pau Gasol, the fact is Millers ROY credentials were the weakest of any winner since Keith/Jamaal Wilkes in 1975 (look it up). Wests hope has to be that Miller becomes this teams second (if not first) offensive option, that he picks up his 16.4 point average nowthat hes out of Tracy McGradys shadow. Goodens loss leaves the Grizzlies with essentially two rebounders: Gasol and Lorenzen Wright. For a team that rarely sees north of 100 points and is already out-rebounded by nearly 3 boards per game, Mike Miller is a peculiar acquisition. But hey, hes Jerry West and Im not.