I don't want to turn this blog into a Geoff Calkins tribute or anything, but he is my favorite sports journalist. Today he writes about judging the Memphis players-- by the way they wear their hats, by the tattoos they have, by their age, by so many things. It's something people do. And not just the national media-- not just people who have no clue about Memphis, the University, or this team. Memphians do it.
As a lifelong Memphian (until recently, anyway-- but I am still a Memphian, in spirit if not in location), I can't begin to enumerate the number of times I've heard people insult my hometown. Visitors, people who've never even been to Memphis, but especially locals. It's crime-ridden, it's ugly, and (my favorite from my time in East Tennessee) it's FLAT. But let's just talk about that for a second.
I'm not going to pretend that Memphis doesn't have crime. It's a city. Cities have crime. And Memphis has more than its fair share. Memphis also has more than its fair share of racial tension. But it's not like I was afraid all the time. Or even very often. And ugly? Memphis may be many things, but Memphis is not ugly. And I feel that I have enough experience to say that. Look, I live in the mountains. The Rocky Mountains. I can see ski slopes from my office window. It is ridiculously and unbelievably beautiful here. But I still won't say Memphis is ugly. Memphis has lots and lots of trees, and big parks. Memphis has azaleas and flowering pear trees and crepe myrtles that flower all summer. No, there's not much snow. And autumn never lasts as long as we want it to. But Memphis is not ugly. And flat? Come on, Chattanoogans, is that the best you've got?
Anyway, the whole point of this post was to say this: this team, these Tigers, may not appear to be basketball royalty. They have tattoos and brands, and cornrows, and wear their hats in a untraditional manner. They get in trouble when they stay out too late in nightclubs, and at least one of them has thrown away his lifelong dream this weekend. They make mistakes. And I don't claim to know them personally. I've never met any of the players. Calipari says they have great hearts. I know better than to believe every word out of Coach Cal's mouth, but I do know what I've seen.
I've seen them LOVE to play basketball. I've seen them have fun on the court. I've seen that most times these players are willing to share the ball, and thus the glory, with their teammates. I've seen that they appear to be more than teammates, they are friends. I've seen that Joey Dorsey lights up and comes alive when he feels the love and support of the crowd. I've seen Chris Douglas-Roberts give all he has over and over. I've seen Derrick Rose arrive without a sign of any prima donna attitude, and be all that we thought he would be and more. I've seen Antonio Anderson named the Most Valuable Player in the Conference tournament even though he's not at the top of the list of "stars" on the team. And that's enough for me.
So call them young and irresponsible. Just don't call them thugs.