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Sunday, May 19, 2024

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JOURNALIST’S NOTEBOOK: 30 Hours of Memphis Hoops

Damichael Cole

In my three year stint as a student journalist, I have learned that time is hardly ever on your side. Between deadlines and reporting accurate, factual and timely news, it can be a challenge.

Last weekend, I was presented with a challenge that was different. This time it wasn’t a Tennessee football coaching search or meeting deadline in a nail-biting Tennessee baksetballl game.

This time, it was different; covering three basketball games in 30 hours – and trying to sleep somewhere in between.

At UT-Knox, I major in journalism and work at The Daily Beacon, the student newspaper. But starting last summer, I did an internship with The New Tri-State Defender, where Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku offered me a chance to work whenever I’m home in Memphis.

Which brings us to last weekend. For the TSD, I’d be covering the Memphis Grizzlies, who were hosting the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets on back-to-back nights on Friday and Saturday. In between, I’d cover Tigers-Volunteers for The Beacon.

More than anything, I was excited. And the narrative couldn’t have been any better.

Game 1: Grizzlies vs. Heat — Tipoff: 7 p.m.


Friday evening as I was leaving home, my dad was pulling up.

“I’m going to cook some chicken tenders,” he said.

The game was roughly two hours away from start time. I try to get there an hour and a half before tip-off. I wanted those tenders, but time wasn’t on my side. They’d have to wait.

The storyline of the game was Dwyane Wade. The three-time NBA champion is retiring at the end of the season and this would be his last game in Memphis. However, that changed quickly.

Minutes after I arrived, news came out that Wade wouldn’t play because of “general soreness.” Minutes before tip-off, I roamed the baseline looking for any sign of Wade—no luck.

That story line was quickly erased. So were the Grizzlies, who lost to an undermanned Heat squad, 97-100. But there’s always something to write about in sports.

About four minutes before the final buzzer, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the Grizzlies had made a trade. Because “Woj” is notoriously spot on about breaking NBA news, word of the trade got around press row fast and everyone began to chime in.

But there was confusion. Woj initially tweeted that Dillon Brooks was a part of the trade, but he later clarified that it was MarShon Brooks. Whichever Brooks it was, he was supposedly headed to the Phoenix Suns.

Through his own sources, Arizona radio host John Gambadoro tweeted what he was hearing – that the player was Dillon Brooks, not MarShon. Suddenly, the game story was almost irrelevant as the media room was sent into a frenzy.

Some reporters were writing stories on the trade, and others were gathered around trying to figure it out. And it turned out that both reporters were right, but there was miscommunication among the teams. Minutes later, the trade fell through.

I had only been covering NBA basketball for a week, but several veteran reporters in the media room said it was like nothing they’ve ever seen.

Moments later, The Commercial Appeal Grizzlies beat writer (and fellow UT alum) David Cobb came up to me and said “thank goodness Tennessee football prepared us for something like this.”

Yes, it did.

I arrived home at about midnight and headed to the kitchen immediately to devour those chicken tenders. They were so good that I felt like watching a movie while eating them. But again, time wasn’t on my side.  My mom – a very light sleeper – appeared in the living room. It was 1:30 a.m.

“The game is in the morning,” she said. “Shouldn’t you be going to bed?”

I didn’t finish the movie, but I did finish my chicken tenders with a nice side of orange juice.  I went to bed about 2 a.m., and set my alarm for 8 a.m.

Yes, I know six hours of sleep isn’t healthy. But time wasn’t on my side.

Game 2: Tigers vs. Vols — Tipoff: 11 a.m.

As I woke up in the morning, it was easier than I expected to get out of bed.

Why? Because it was the return of Tennessee-Memphis basketball. That rivalry is something I grew up watching and it was a beauty.

As I drove to the game, I began to get a few text messages from friends that attend The University of Memphis. Most were filled with forms of trash talk and all I could think was “why are y’all texting me?”

“Tennessee is overrated,” one read.

I’ve lived in Memphis my entire life, and I always grew up supporting the basketball program. So why me?

Then, I arrived at the arena. It wasn’t crowded yet, but I could feel the energy. It was like the small thundering roars before a big storm.

As I walked around the FedExForum, I suddenly stopped in front of the Memphis student section. The section was filled with blue and people yelling at the Vols basketball players.

And in that moment, it hit me: I was never prouder to be a Tennessee Volunteer. Maybe I liked the villain role, but I stood there about 30 minutes soaking it in.  Blue may be my favorite color, but I had never been prouder to be part of Big Orange Country.

At the conclusion of the game, I was proud of both programs. Memphis could have gotten blown out at several points, but they fought hard. Meanwhile, the Vols took care of business like the No. 3 team in the country is supposed to. Vols win, 102-92.

At around 3 p.m., I submitted my final story from the game. It was still two hours before I usually arrived to Grizzlies games, but there was no point going home to come straight back to FedExForum. So I hung around in the media room. And that’s when those six hours of sleep caught up with me.

I couldn’t finish a conversation with anyone without a loud yawn. So I took a long blink – because it wasn’t a nap – for about 10 minutes. This happened at about 4:30 p.m., and I missed Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace meeting with media before the game to explain the trade-no-trade. But boy, was that long blink needed.

Then it was time for Game 3, as James Harden and Chris Paul came to Memphis.

Game 3: Grizzlies vs. Rockets — Tipoff: 7 p.m.


Before the game, I asked my editor when should I have the story submitted. “As long as you can get it to me before 9 a.m.,” he said.

When the Grizzlies-Rockets game concluded at about 9:20 p.m., I could have gone home and written my story. But I had been working all day so I thought to myself: Why stop now?

Truth is, I just wanted to sleep and not look over my shoulder at the clock while writing my story. Never did it cross my mind to wake up early and knock it out then.

But by 10:40 p.m., I clicked “Submit.” Never has it felt so good to hit that submit button. It was even better than those chicken tenders on Friday night.

Once I submitted the article, I didn’t leave immediately like you may think. As the workers were preparing the FedExForum for a graduation at 10 a.m. Sunday, I just stood there on the floor for about 10 minutes.

I’m a kid from Memphis that goes to the University of Tennessee, and I had the privilege of covering their battle. By far, it was the most electric I’ve ever seen FedExForum. It is no hyperbole to say the Memphis fans excitement rivaled the Kentucky fans during my trip to Rupp Arena last season.

It was great to see Memphis jubilant about their program again. It was great to see the Vols not fold in the environment and play like a veteran team.

Yes, the Grizzlies lost both games of their back-to-backs and the Tigers lost to rival Tennessee. It certainly wasn’t the best 30 hours for Memphis hoops.

But for a young sports journalist? It was the best 30 hours of my career, so far.

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