There has been much local fear and loathing in recent years about the prospects for a happy and prosperous long-term union between the community and the NBA's Grizzlies. Nothing and no one, not even the arrival of the legendary "A.I.," the newly signed Allen Iverson himself, could allay such feelings.
Nothing and no one, that is, except Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley himself, who, accompanied by numerous club personnel and several of the local luminaries who coaxed Heisley's team into town in the first place, took his best shot at it Tuesday during a luncheon of the Memphis Rotary Club.
In no particular order, Heisley:
— Assured his audience that the acquisition of free agents Iverson and Zach Randolph will have a "great impact" on the team's fortunes (a collateral benefit of A.I.'s coming was that the team owner had "a nice night" with Mrs. Heisley, a huge fan of the future Hall of Famer. Yes, Heisley really said that);
— Promised the crowd "we have no intention of moving the team," that, in fact, there are "contractual obligations that wouldn't even allow it," and he was a huge fan of Memphis for its music, its people, its ambience, etc., etc. An odd explanation offered by Heisley for that affinity was that he, a native-born Virginian, had come from "a relatively poor family" in the South;
— Made the much-vaunted Grizzlies' three-year plan, dependent largely on the success of trades and player development, sound like a bona fide return to the playoffs down the line;
— Congratulated former mayors Willie Herenton and Jim Rout (the latter of whom was present and introduced Heisley), as well as Pitt Hyde and Staley and Andy Cates, for their efforts in enticing him to Memphis;
— Credited NBA legend Jerry West, a former team general manager, and former coach Hubie Brown as the main factors behind the team's Memphis success in the middle years of the current decade;
— Lamented the facts that the NBA lacked a reasonable degree of revenue-sharing and that a small-market team like the Grizzlies always would have trouble competing with the likes of the Lakers in Los Angeles, where TV revenues alone outweigh the maximum total proceeds available to the Griz.
In his bridge-building with the audience, Heisley even went so far as to say he understood why some fans, dissatisfied with the team's dismal record in recent years, had a grievance with him, the owner. When, some years ago, Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf broke up that successful franchise, Heisley said he, a Bulls booster at the time, would have "shot him dead" if he'd encountered Reinsdorf. (The supposition has to be that Heisley was joking.)
Bad metaphors and double entendres aside, the Grizzlies' owner generally made a favorable impression on his audience and perhaps restored their capacity for belief. Perhaps it was Heisley's positive and confident aura that gave former county mayor Rout the impulse to brag on himself and Herenton for a FedExForum deal that, in recent times, has been in bad odor locally. Let's face it: We're all fans if talked into it the right way.