If you walk into the pyramid, the polyhedron shaped behemoth sitting on the banks of the mighty Mississippi river in Memphis you will find fishing poles, camouflaged clothing, and hunting rifles. Stuffed animal carcasses are scattered throughout, severed heads of pigs, bears, and deer look down on you from the walls, and you can even buy some homemade fudge or a boat if you’re so inclined, but the pyramid was not always this way. Before Bass Pro Shop breathed new life into a forgotten structure that had grown empty inside, years ago it held thousands of screaming fans watching a basketball game. And among those cheering for the new professional sports team in the area, the Memphis Grizzlies, was me, a thirteen year old seventh grader from Arkansas. Seventh grade was the year I had to try out for the basketball team for the first time faced the realization that maybe I wasn’t cut out for a career in the NBA when I didn’t make the team. I kept the dream alive though by playing with some friends in a community league in Maumelle, the neighboring suburb of Little Rock, where they didn’t care how good you were; if you paid, you played.
After the completion of the season someone had suggested and put into action a trip for the team to travel the two hours to Memphis to see an NBA game, so that is how I found myself on a Sunday afternoon in 2003 watching a Grizzlies home game in the pyramid. The seats were terrible, literally the highest seats in the stadium, and with the pyramid shaped the way it is, the further up you sit, the more it feels like your leaning over, about to fall on the court. If I looked behind me there was an opening allowing you to look all the way down below as they walked to the concession stand or bathroom and it made me incredibly dizzy and lightheaded to do so. Although we had the worst seats it was a lot of fun and still to this day is one of my favorite Grizzlies games I’ve been to. I don’t even remember who won, but it was 2003 so I’m guessing the safe bet is not the Grizzlies.
I remember getting to watch Carmelo Anthony play for the first time that day. I didn’t realize how special it was at the time but one day I can tell my kids how I got to see Carmelo play during his rookie season, and then because I don’t remember much about the actual game, proceed to embellish his stats and pinpoint that day as the breakout game that really put him on the map to becoming a superstar. I remember after one of the quarters, maybe the third, a video being played on the scoreboard, called the Stro Show. It was a video montage of Grizzlies player Stromile Swift dunking over opponents, and it was awesome. In that moment Swift became my favorite player. I wonder whatever happened to him. I remember before the game the whole team had gone out for lunch at TGI Friday’s, a staple in the rich history of Memphis food. I have no idea while being surrounded by great local why we chose to eat at this chain restaurant we could’ve eaten at in Little Rock anytime, but at the time I wasn’t bothered by it. I had ribs, you know because we were in Memphis and you gotta get barbecue in Memphis. I’m sure I thought they were fine, I don’t remember, but if I had to venture a guess I would bet they were pretty bad but the thirteen year old me didn’t know any better.
After lunch we made our way to the stadium and as we walked I remember one of my teammates kicking a pigeon that was pecking at the ground. The thud followed by a squawk was sickening and I remember thinking to myself, “what a little punk.” Although that wasn’t the first time I’d been to a Grizzlies game it was a lot of fun and holds some good memories for me. I’m hoping tonight as I walk through the Fedex Forum to our terrible seats near the top that I can start a whole new set of good memories with my wife. The Memphis Grizzlies are an important part of my life and tonight I finally get to share in that experience with a very important person in my life. I hope she will look back on tonight thirteen years later and remember with fondness her first NBA game and the night she became a Grizzlies fan for life, only this time, unlike my memory, I bet we’ll win.