Saturday, April 5, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

One Day More

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.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Check Me Out

I did a little Q & A on the Final Four with the good folks over at Thirtyfive Seconds. They're doing a series on the Final Four and I was proud to be representing Memphis. Read it all here:

Final Four Preview: Memphis Tigers

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Maybe True Blue Speaks of Heart More than Blood

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

By Geoff Calkins (Contact)

Well, we do eat with our hands.

I mean, it's true, isn't it?

We eat barbecue -- with our hands.

We eat ribs -- with our hands.

We eat Pronto Pups -- with our hands.

In Los Angeles, they raw eat fish with chopsticks. Tell a Memphian to eat something with a stick and chances are he'll skewer it, batter it and dunk the whole mess in boiling oil.

So you can understand why people all over the country are having a hard time understanding what Memphis is doing at this year's exclusive Final Four gathering in San Antonio.

North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas are the right kind of people. Memphis is, well, here's Joe Gergen, from Newsday:

"If we were talking families here, the first three would be the Rockefellers, the Carnegies and the Stanfords," Gergen wrote. "Memphis would be the Clampetts."

It's true too. We don't have all the things those UCLA people have.

Elly May: I hear they got smog.

Granny: What's a smog?


Jethro: I reckon it's a small hog.

Better hope that The Rendezvous doesn't get a hold of it.

But the point is, we Memphians are viewed as interlopers, trespassers and party crashers, too.

"It's the blue bloods vs. the blue collars," said Memphis coach John Calipari, whose grandparents -- you may have heard this -- came through Ellis Island.

UCLA, North Carolina and Kansas have won 17 NCAA men's basketball championships between them.

Memphis won the NIT not long ago.

"Combined with UCLA, there's like 11 national championship between us," Calipari said.

UCLA has all 11.

Nice try, John.

UCLA is John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood. Kansas is James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.

Memphis is Calipari, giving out big screens in the upper deck.

USA Today ran a story Monday with the headline, "It's Memphis," explaining that the school is no longer called Memphis State.

The school's name was changed 14 years ago! Memo to USA Today: Memphis also has an NBA team. Or used to have one, anyway.

But why should anyone be expected to know stuff like this? We're fat Elvis and The Peabody ducks. A little too campy, a little too quaint and a little too gritty to know the secret handshake.

UCLA is all glamor and glitz. North Carolina calls itself a "public Ivy," whatever that is.

The "first graduate music therapy program was created in 1947 at Kansas," according to the school's Web site.

How about that? Kansas created music therapy.

Unless you count the blues, of course.

If the Final Four was a movie, we'd be Rodney Dangerfield in "Caddyshack."

If the Final Four was the House of Windsor, we'd be Lady Di.

If the Final Four was an awards show, we'd be Three 6 Mafia at ... hey, maybe there's a lesson there.

In 2006, Three 6 Mafia was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Nobody thought a raggedy Memphis rap group could win.

Three hours later, host Jon Stewart delivered the line of the night.

"For anyone keeping score, Martin Scorsese, zero Oscars," he said, "Three 6 Mafia, one."

So it's possible, isn't it? Especially this year of all years?

A beagle won the Westminster dog show. A former stripper won the Oscar for best original screenplay.

Who says a basketball team from Memphis can't win the NCAA championship?

And when it happens, really, no need for the rest of you to apologize.

In the words of Jed Clampett: "I reckon you done what you done because you didn't know we was who we was."