Grindhouse fits the Grizzlies, their fans and their city
MEMPHIS — Gritty and tough.
Its famous residents are known for paving their own way, like Elvis Presley, who left his home some 100 miles south in Tupelo, Miss. to come here. He was ridiculed for a new style of music. He didn’t care.
It’s the home of once-underground rap that pushed and shoved its way onto national record store shelves — Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball and MJG, Playa Fly — and wrestlers that helped make the city as the city made them, names like Jerry Lawler, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert, Jeff Jarrett, Mick Foley.
The Grindhouse, the nickname bestowed upon FedExForum, home of the Grizzlies, is the newest proving ground. Opposing teams are finding it tough to prove anything. Memphis has won for a franchise record 15 straight there, the latest coming in Thursday’s win over the second-seeded Thunder, which gave the Grizzlies a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.
It takes 18,119 people to fill it and Thursday was the 18th straight playoff sellout. Grindhouse fans have helped label Memphis, Hoop City, a town proud of their basketball knowledge and proud to let opposing teams know about it.
Knowledgeable and brash. They’ll boo opposing teams, referees, halftime acts and every now and then, they’re own players.
The Grizzlies brand is old school, inside-first, physical aggression, repeated punches to the throat — much to the delight of their angst-driven crowd. Oklahoma City went on a 17-0 run Thursday, but it was Memphis that was victorious in overtime, dropping the Thunder to 1-5 in the postseason in Memphis.
"Our team plays with a lot of pride here," Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. "They love putting the Grizzlies uniform on."
Meanwhile, the Grindhouse faithful love to get in the heads of the opposing players.
Earlier this season, the Clippers’ Chris Paul was seen chirping back-and-forth with a fan in the club section and Blake Griffin got a kick out of faking out a young fan who wanted his sweaty towel. He took it off his neck, then ripped it back before the fan could take it. Griffin had been booed every time he touched the ball and subjected to "flopper" chants for four quarters.
Even when beloved former Grizzly Shane Battier, now with the Heat, hit a string of three-pointers last month, it was met by a smattering of boos.
Those who are Memphis made have become part of its lore.
Thursday, Lawler was pumping up the crowd, after he hit "Dangerous" Doug Gilbert with a chair for wearing a Thunder shirt and last season during the Western Conference finals, Three 6 founder DJ Paul all but entered the Spurs timeout huddle and Al Kapone rapped "Whoop That Trick."
It took Memphis 16 years to win a playoff game, at one point 0-for-12 and not far removed from The Pyramid. But after somehow filling an entire roster with guys who share the same unique workman attitude of the city, their nine-year old facility has become a hostile house of opposing horrors.
No two are more identified with Memphis than guard Tony Allen, Mr. Grit-and-Grind, and power forward Zach Randolph.
Randolph admits he grew up having to fight when he left his Indiana porch. The same for Allen, a Chicagoan.
It was survival on rough streets, rough streets that made tough men. Zach has body-slammed and choked Griffin and sarcastically hugged Matt Barnes, while Allen, "The Grindfather" is a defensive worker bee. He puts in time to prefect his skills on the matte side of the stat sheet, steals, deflections, rebounding.
Then there’s Mike Conley, who once struggled defending the pick-and-roll, but has improved dramatically in the department; James Johnson was a castoff, fighting his way back to the NBA from the D-League and Courtney Lee was riding the Boston bench.
They fit the Grindhouse and the Grindhouse fits them.
Among yearly trade rumors, Randolph has established that this is home, and if traded, home in the offseason.
"It’s a tough place to play. Their crowd is always into the game," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. "They play well at home."
It’s the Bluff City, but Randolph stated "We don’t bluff," two years ago against the Thunder when he and Kendrick Perkins were both ejected.
"In the playoffs, every environment is hostile, "Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "People love their teams. Memphis is no different. You see the same type of atmospheres in every arena."
In Memphis, the Southern hospitality will welcome you. But the aggression, which courses through team and fans, will often times mock you right back out the door.
This is the Grindhouse.