Downtown Memphis is in the midst of a massive revitalization project. No one’s ready to call it a renaissance just yet, but over the past few years, developers have poured nearly $4 billion into transforming its various pockets of urban decay into a thriving center for local commerce. Crumbling warehouses have been renovated and turned into boutique retail spaces, chic apartment buildings, and trendy restaurants. Filthy, crime-ridden streets once filled with vagrants and panhandlers are now populated by Midtown hipsters and happy families and their dogs.
But gentrification, as always, is a double-edge sword. A city has to sacrifice some of its character to make way for the shiny and new, and the path to the future is always littered with roadside casualties, typically of the underprivileged variety.
The Memphis Grizzlies, more so than any other team in the NBA (and perhaps all of professional sports) have been an avatar for their city, the on-court embodiment of its hardscrabble existence and its rugged, blue-collar ethos. And the organization is now facing a similar fate.
The NBA is an unsentimental place, and the Sisyphean task of staying competitive in a rapidly-changing landscape forces difficult decisions, no matter where your loyalties lie. That’s why, after eight seasons in Memphis, it was time for Zach Randolph to move on. At age 36, the Kings offered a great deal more than the Grizzlies would’ve been willing or able to.