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Even without Grizz in playoffs, NBA Finals a big deal in Memphis

A 22-60 season for the Memphis Grizzlies wasn’t what many people expected, but it hasn’t turned Memphis natives away from enjoying the NBA Finals.

For a city like Memphis, it would take much more than that.

When Game 3 of the NBA Finals tipped off, about 85 fans gathered at the FedEx Forum to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Golden State Warriors. The fans watched the game from the Bud Light Bar & Grill.

“I got an E-Mail to do the Finals party for the Grizzlies and it sounded like a good idea,” Grizzlies fan Phillip Sims said.

Sims wasn’t the only Grizzlies fan who was all for the idea.

“I love the Grizzlies, but I like the Playoffs so I’m excited to be here,” Grizzlies season-ticket holder Don Meeky said.

The Finals@FedExForum
Katina Lewis, a staffing sales manager and NBA fan, was among the dozens who took in Game 3 of The NBA Finals at the Bud Light Bar & Grill at FedExForum Wednesday night. The Grizzlies hosted the watch party for season ticket holders.
(Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Memphis has become known for producing many top-tier high school recruits and having a raucous fanbase cheering for the Grizzlies. But Memphis loves the NBA in general.

Not many major cities outside of Oakland and Cleveland have watched the past two NBA Finals more than Memphis. According to Nielsen, Memphis was among the top 10 TV markets for the 2016 and 2017 NBA Finals.

With Germantown High School standout Ian Clark on the Warriors squad the previous two seasons, it would be easy to see why Memphians have tuned in. Clark is no longer a member of the Warriors, but that hasn’t stopped this big basketball city from watching the Finals just as much.

“Basketball in Memphis is one of the largest and most popular sports,” said hoops fan Justin Plummer, a 21-year-old University of Memphis student. “It’s a culture in Memphis and has been a part of what defines Memphis.”

Memphis-area youth basketball coach Dorsey Sims agrees.

“People are very knowledgeable of the game here,” said Sims, himself a third-generation basketball coach. “I always tell my players New York is the Mecca of media; Memphis is the Mecca of basketball.”

Though this is the fourth year that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are competing for the championship, this time is different. The Warriors entered the series as heavy favorites, and the Cavs are considered the underdog despite LeBron James’ historic postseason performances.

“I would like to see the Cavs win, but I like them both,” said Grizzlies fan Denise Lofton. “I just think that it’s their turn.”

Meeky had a much different reason for choosing the team he would root for in the series.

“The reason I’m with Golden State is because I got caught up in a bet,” Meeky said. “I took them so hopefully I win this $100 back that I lost.”

Meeky should be happy. The Cavs fought valiantly, but couldn’t overcome a monster 43-point performance from Kevin Durant, falling 110-102.

The blowout predictions have led many people to believe there would be a decline in ratings. That has been false so far, as the ratings this season are on par with those of last season in the NBA Finals. It’s no different in Memphis.

“Memphis is a basketball city,” said former Overton High star Jalisa Jones. “Regardless of the outcome of the NBA season, Memphis still has love for the game of basketball.”

(Damichael Cole is a rising senior at UT-Knoxville and an MPLOY Youth Summer Experience intern at The New Tri-State Defender.)

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