Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sacramento Kings 101 at Memphis Grizzlies 108 - February 12, 2013

In 1995, the Vancouver Grizzlies began playing as one of two Canadian expansion teams in the NBA. I saw their first exhibition game and remember the thrill of suddenly being able to see NBA basketball in person. I was so excited that I drove by myself to Portland to watch the Grizzlies first ever regular season game, and was about the only local fan to do so. I was interviewed by the Grizzlies staff and when I attended the home opener two nights later, I saw my face on the big screen. Fame! Well not really, more like infamy as my declaration of the Grizzlies being "Number 1!" was far from correct. Although they won those first two games, they went 13-67 the rest of the way to finish last in the league.

The following autumn I ventured off to Japan for what was to be a one-year contract, but there I stayed. The Grizzlies never recovered from losing their biggest fan and in 2001, they moved to Memphis, becoming the latest in a long line of NBA teams with ill-suited nicknames. This is their 12th season in Tennessee and they have finally improved to where they are competitive, lying fourth in the West this season with a 32-18 record. As part of my Quest for 400, I had no choice but to forgive and forget. So I woke early in Dallas thanks to jet lag and made the 7 hour trek east, arriving at the Fed Ex Forum in downtown Memphis.

FedEx Forum

The Grizzlies first played at the Pyramid Arena when they moved to Memphis, but it was too small to be a long-term NBA venue, so in 2004, the Fed Ex Forum was opened to host the Grizzlies as well as the University of Memphis Tigers.

Located on world-famous Beale Street, the Forum is surrounded by several great sights that can be visited before you go to the game. The Rock 'n' Soul Museum, the Gibson guitar factory tour, and of course Beale Street itself can give you a full day of entertainment.

The single entrance to the Forum faces South 3rd Street and is known as the Plaza Entrance (above). There are three seating levels here with the Club Level sandwiched between the Plaza Level and the Terrace Level. Take the time to walk around the lower concourse as there are a number of interesting tidbits that demonstrate how much thought was put into construction of the building.

The Memphis Music Mural is a collection of art that celebrates the city's history as a musical destination. As you wander the concourse on both levels, look above for paintings and pictures that commemorate all the great artists that called Memphis home.

The FedEx Zone includes a few displays related to the venue's main sponsor, and also has four super high definiton TVs that show other sporting events. Check out the funky mood lighting below.

The most interesting bit here was the photography exhibition that illustrated life in the Delta. Taken by Bill Steber and located in the International Paper Blues Zone, the photos were shot all along Highway 61, considered the center of the Delta Blues culture. Take time to check this out.

The concession stands are given cute music-related names such as the Juke Joint and Spin Pizza but they don't offer much in the way of originality. BBQ pork sandwiches looked to be the best bet. There are a couple of specialty restaurants that are open to the public before the game but I did not venture inside as they were totally empty while I did my rounds.

Concourses here are spacious on both levels, a relatively uncommon sight for downtown facilities. The Forum is constructed over two city blocks though, so they had more space to work with.

The terrace level sections are labelled in the 200s which might make you seem closer than you appear. There is a single row at the front of each section which would be my favourite place to sit. The view from here is quite good as you can see below.

The main scoreboard is high-def while there are stat boards at each corner that give you the details you crave if you are a basketball geek.

Overall, the Forum is one of the better venues I have seen. They really made sure to let you know you were in Memphis, and the location is tough to beat. However, the fans don't seem to care much and that really hurts the ambience. The Grizzlies are one of the better teams in the league, but locals are more enamored with the Tigers. Just like in Vancouver, the team is a second-tier tenant and may again be looking for a new home, which is a shame. New owner Robert Pera has promised to keep them there but after seeing the lame crowd at this game, he may have a struggle on his hands. If you haven't seen the FedEx Forum, get down to Memphis as soon as you can.

The Game

Ironically, the Sacramento Kings were in town. They are to move to Seattle starting next season as the NBA carousel continues to go round and round and this would be their last visit to Memphis. The Kings were 19-33 while the Grizzlies were 32-18 and tops in the league in defense, giving up just 90 points a game. The Kings wore their garish purple checkerboard uniforms that will thankfully be retired when they move.

The match itself was played with little intensity, matching that of the crowd. The first half saw both teams scoring nearly at will, with 9 lead changes. Memphis shot at a 55.3% clip including 5/7 from downtown to take a 58-55 lead at the break.

Pick and roll defended by Mike Conley

In the 3rd, Sacramento got within 1 at 68-67 midway through but the Grizzlies used an 7-0 run as part of a 16-6 finish to enter the final period up 84-73.

The Kings could not make up the deficit though, getting as close as 6 points but Marc Gasol (33, above) was too strong down the stretch, finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds as Memphis won 108-101. Note the mistake below; the next home game is definitely not starting 3 hours in the past.


The Grizzlies' slogan this year is "Made in Memphis". Not to be a stickler, but the team was made in Vancouver. How soon they forget.

I was again here on a Stadium Journey assignment and received a media credential which allowed me into the Don Poier Media Center. Poier was the voice of the Grizzlies from their inception and I recall watching him describe those early days when his enthusiasm made up for the team's lack of talent. Sadly, he passed away in 2005 and the team dedicated the media area in his honour.

I see so many games that I have become rather bored with the same old promotions, but there was an interesting one after the first quarter. Called Two on 'Cue, it featured a couple of fans playing a game of 2-on-2, although their opponents were three BBQ ribs. There were no rules so the ribs just kept trying to knock the guys down. It was more intense than the game even!

Next Up

I finally get a day to relax as I'm staying in Memphis to watch some NCAA basketball tonight. The hometown Tigers host the University of Central Florida and the atmosphere here promises to be much better. Check back tomorrow for an update.



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