Memphis’ failure to finish

“I am very concerned about what I’m seeing from our Memphis Grizzlies because it could be a prologue of things to come and an epilogue to things already seen.”

by Howard Robertson Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 4/3/2015, 12:20 p.m.
Memphis’ failure to finish
Howard Robertson

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 says “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be…and there is no new thing under the sun.” Nana said, “Boy you got it honest ‘cause you just like your daddy.”

Understanding those truths, I am very concerned about what I’m seeing from our Memphis Grizzlies because it could be a prologue of things to come and an epilogue to things already seen.

Although Larry Robinson and I are two people with differing perspectives, this article is typically written in one voice reflecting our collaborative agreement on selected topics of commentary. This one is in one voice as well…mine (Howard). Larry’s hometown historic perspectives are from another time and place, not that of a child of the ’50s and ’60s growing up in Memphis. So I won’t attach his name or embarrass him with my “old man rants.”

Memphis has never won a national championship in any major sport professionally or collegiately. This was a difficult reality for me to face growing up with cousins in New York and San Francisco. So without sports to brag about, I had to keep those competitive, comparative conversations on something any self-respecting Memphian could hold his head high about…music.

That was until 1973 when the Memphis State Tigers rolled through to face UCLA in the NCAA Finals. On the evening of the 26th of March outside of Philadelphia, a long suffering kid from South Memphis was in a tight dorm room packed with about 20 spectators talking serious “shtuff.” Not only was this kid bragging about his hometown team, but Larry Finch and Ronnie Robinson were guys he’d grown up with and played against in high school. With the aluminum foil on the antenna perfectly positioned for best reception on the 12-inch black-and-white screen, we watched the Tigers and Bruins battle to a 39-all tie at halftime. It was an upset in the making and our first national championship.

Then during halftime, the quiet, intensely powerful force known as Coach John Wooden got into Bill Walton’s head. A beast roared out of UCLA’s locker room that couldn’t miss and wouldn’t be stopped. He finished with 44 points. UCLA finished with an 87 to 66 win and another national championship. Memphis was finished, because we couldn’t finish.

Then 35 years later, led by now legends John Calipari and Derrick Rose, the University of Memphis Tigers had a 9-point lead on the Kansas Jayhawks late in the National Championship game. One hundred thirty-two seconds left and ample time to pull and pop open a chilled bottle of the champagne too good for mimosas but perfect to celebrate our first national championship. One hundred thirty seconds later, after Memphis missed four out of five free throws and Cal had committed some critical coaching lapses, Mario Chalmers hit a desperation three-pointer with two seconds left to tie the game.

At the end of overtime Kansas finished with a 75 to 68 win and the national championship. The Big 12 finished with the conference’s first national title. Memphis was finished, because we couldn’t finish.