Though they didn’t go as far as they would have liked, the Memphis Grizzlies enjoyed a tremendous 2021-22 NBA season. They became the youngest team to win 55 or more game (56), finished second in the Western Conference and reached the second round of the Conference semifinals before losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games. They were hampered in that final series by the loss of their top player Ja Morant to injury, but overall it was a fantastic season for the Grizzlies.
However there had been a cloud hanging over their heads and by extension the city of Memphis and state of Tennessee. That was the existence of an “early termination” clause that would have allowed them to depart to any city they wanted unless the city or county agreed to purchase enough tickets to make up a shortfall caused by low average attendance for the 2019-2020 season, Keep in mind this was when the team was still struggling to re-establish itself as a contender after many of the players who were once part of the “Grindhouse” had either retired or been traded.
But the drafting of Morant and the creation of a highly competitive, exciting young team has generated new excitement and interest in pro basketball across the state, and recently the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted on an agreement to keep the team in Memphis until at least the 2028-29 season. The agreement provides for as much as $18.5 million over nine seasons from the County. it actually started with the 2020-21 season, which includes up to $1.975 million from the county’s general budget fund for Fiscal Year 2023.
While a new lease agreement will have to be negotiated in 2023, there seems no doubt that pro basketball is in Memphis to stay and has found a healthy and enthusiastic audience. There were packed houses for all the playoff games with Minnesota and Golden State. Over the weekend the team also sent a message to its fan base that they were ready and willing to pay its stars the big money they would demand in order to stay.
“We will have no problem playing whomever we want to pay,” Grizzlies general manager and vice president of operations Zach Kleiman said in a general statement addressing the viability of pro basketball in the city. He added that the team’s owner Robert Pera’s goal was to maintain team chemistry while working to win the championship. He said there were no worries even though the Grizzlies are in one of the NBA’s smallest markets.
“We’re not worried about the concepts of small markets or anything,” Kleinman added. “We won’t have a problem keeping them together, no matter wo we decided on the way.” He was named NBA CEO of the Year last week. The Morant case will be instructive due to his rapid ascension to superstar status. Morant was an All-Star stater this season and also voted the league’s Most improved Player. Drafted second in 2019, he is entitled to a contract extension for a maximum of five years this season,
“Whatever I can say under NBA rules without violating the CBA, I’m telling you what our plans for Ja would be,” Kleiman concluded, So it not only looks like the NBA is in Memphis to stay, but that the team owners and management want to do more than just sell tickets and draw fans: they want to win a championship.