Professional basketball took over Beale Street in the fall of 2001, when the Memphis Grizzlies arrived after having spent six seasons up north in Vancouver, British Columbia. The franchise tweaked its color scheme to indicate a fresh start in the Mid-South, and soon, fans were descending in droves to support the resilient, hard-working club that prided itself on Grit and Grind.
As one of two Canadian expansion franchises that joined the league in ‘95 (along with the Toronto Raptors), the Grizzlies started at the bottom of the Western Conference. They won just 15 games in their inaugural year and failed to post more than 23 victories during any of the following five campaigns in the Great White North. However, if there was a plus side to the club’s struggles, it was the steady string of lottery picks. At the ‘01 NBA Draft, the franchise acquired European prospect Pau Gasol, and soon, the Spanish forward emerged as a premier attraction. Gasol earned league Rookie of the Year honors during the ‘01-02 season on the strength of 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, and in ‘05-06, became the franchise’s first-ever All-Star.
While Memphis would qualify for the playoffs three years in a row starting in ‘04, the franchise was never able to advance beyond the first round. During the ‘07-08 campaign, Gasol finally had enough and demanded a trade. The Grizzlies complied, dealing him to the Los Angeles Lakers. Among the players that Memphis received in the transaction was Pau’s brother, Marc. The arrival of the younger Gasol, along with free agent Zach Randolph the following summer, would change the course of the franchise. In ‘10-11, the Grizzlies not only made the postseason, but they also earned the first seven playoff victories in club history. Fans around the league took notice, too, as the Grizz upset the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and then battled the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven-game series. During the title run, Randolph made tremendous noise, averaging 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per contest. “Z-Bo” and Memphis were just getting started: the crew would return to the postseason in ‘12, ’13, ‘14 and ‘15.
As the Grizzlies climbed their way toward the top of the Western Conference, fans in Memphis responded accordingly. The team’s home arena, FedExForum, soon became known as “The Grindhouse,” as supporters rallied around the club’s hard-nosed approach to the game. The atmosphere in the Mid-South is wholly unique, and the team’s in-game soundtrack is one of the most diverse and distinctive in the entire NBA. Diehards wave their Growl Towels while rocking out to lesser-known tracks such as The Gap Band’s “You Dropped A Bomb on Me” and the intense rallying cry “We Don’t Bluff.”
It took a few years to get going, but the “Beale Street Blues” are a thing of the past, and folks in Memphis couldn’t be more thrilled about what the future may bring.