I remember seeing Ja practice one time over at the facility just a little while after the Grizzlies had drafted him back in 2019.
Everybody at the organization had been raving about this young kid coming out of Murray State. All the upsides to his game and this and that. What his ceiling could be. How far he could go. But when I saw him for myself I had to correct them a bit. They were like, “Z Bo man, what do you think? He’s got some potential, right?”
I said, “I think y’all might have it wrong.”
He was what the organization said and more. I could see it from the jump. It wasn’t just like, “Hey, this guy right here has got potential.” Nah. It was a lot more than that. I told them the way I saw it, this kid was going to be a superstar. And it’s not gonna take that long.
I’ve been telling folks, These guys are going to shock the world. But I can’t even say shock any more — because now people KNOW. They know about Ja and Jaren, Bane, and this young core. The world knows about the Grizzlies now.
We’ve been watching these guys evolve. And now they’re at a level where they are playing championship basketball.
They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder like how we carried it when I played. We had that same mentality. That us against the world mentality. That heart of a lion. This is the culture we were building way back when, and these guys believe in it. Knowing how we came, and how we left it all on the court — they follow that. They thrive in being underdogs and letting people focus on the bigger market teams.
And they fit Memphis like a glove. Like a glove. Listen man, Memphis is one of the most underrated cities in the country. They have so much underground talent in that city that hasn’t even been tapped yet. I know that for a fact. Memphis has so much creativity and history, just on the music side, from the blues to Isaac Hayes, to even Elvis.
There’s no denying it’s a cultural city.
But it’s a hard working town, you feel me? With blue collar, hard working people.
It has its tough spots and rough moments, but the thing that makes Memphis special is that they accept all their people. People who got knocked down and got up resilient. People who ain’t got the prettiest journey story. Bottom line is, you can be you in Memphis — you don’t have to act a certain way.
So when I got there, I felt like I fit right in. And you can tell with these guys that they do, too. They’re built for this environment. You can see it in how they’re playing. All those guys on that team are blue collar players, from Ja, to Jaren, Steven Adams, to Kyle, to Bane. Ain’t none of em scared of nobody.
It’s a new generation, and I can’t lie, I love it man. I love these kids. Ja — you would think he’s from Memphis the way he stays iced out. And he got the locs down, don’t he?? Haha. I love how they let him dress, the style. All them guys. They really let them do them. It’s like how Triple Six Mafia says: I’m ridin spinners … It don’t stop. That’s this crew, man.
Dripped out. Ballin. Everything Memphis about it. We don’t stop.
And we don’t bluff either.
We talked it up, me and Ja. I’m cool with him and his father. And I can tell you first hand that he’s hungry. Coming from nothing, not being ranked, didn’t go to a big time school — he was born with that underdog mentality in him. The hunger you see in his game is real. It’s some hard work to come from where he came from and get to where he is, and that’s as much a testament to the great parents he has as it is to his game. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, which is always going to be the most important thing, and some great people behind him. A lot of people don’t realize how much he really stays in the gym with his dad. He wants to get better, and he puts his time in.
I’m just proud of the young fella, man, and how he’s taken over and embraced his role with the Grizzlies. What is it, like his third year? And he’s carried them from being a lottery team to the No. 2 seed in the West. I don’t think people understand what an achievement that is.
Who else is that kind of player in the NBA right now?
He just embraces it all. He’s not the type that runs from it, he runs to it. And I love that because that’s the kind of player I was. I liked putting the team on my shoulders because it put me in a tough position that I could thrive in. And I saw that mentality in him right away.
He’s changing what it means to be a star on a small market team. Every time he steps out on the court, he thinks he’s the best guy on that floor, and he shows it. The way he attacks that rim reminds me of Russell Westbrook or something like that. He’s relentless. He’s putting pressure on the rim, and he’s drawing in players to get his teammates open and get a good shot.
I’ll tell you one thing: Next year, he’s got the MVP sewed up.
But it’s not even just Ja, you see what I’m saying? That’s what makes this team so exciting. They’ve all taken on that Grizzlies identity. Ja’s one of them guys like me, they ain’t really gonna play with him too much. And Jaren, he’s like one of those good guys. He carries himself like Mike or Marc, but he’s deadly. They ain’t backing down. They’ve got that grit, and they’ve got that grind.
We used to pride ourselves on how seriously we took our defense. Tony Allen, and Mike, Marc, they were just like that, man. We were always locked in. All we knew was we had to be there for our brother. If Mike needed me there or TA needed me to hop out on that screen, that’s what I did. I didn’t want to let them down.
And I think it’s the same thing with the next generation Grizzlies. I watch all their games, and I see them helping each other, they’re working at it. They’re not going through the motions, they’re getting stops. I mean, we got the second best defense in the league right now.
It’s funny…. I almost think because of the way they shut down the arena every game with crazy dunks and breaking three-point records, the focus tends to be on the Grizzlies offense. But the defense is just as good!! Jaren hasn’t really been a part of the Defensive Player of the Year conversation for some reason, even though he’s currently leading the league in blocks. He should at the very least be in the conversation, you feel me?? He’s a monster.
Lastly, man I gotta give my props to the coaching staff.
Coach Jenkins has done an amazing job. The front office, too. And then the players, how these guys play for Coach — I’ve been to the games and seen how they operate. When Coach talks, they’re attentive and they’re listening, and you know they’re locked in. And these guys play comfortably when they’re on the court. With a group that young, that doesn’t happen without elite coaching. So I want to give Coach Jenkins a lot of credit because he did a great job with this group.
I’ve been spending a lot more time at the facility in Memphis. I was just there last week. And if I can be real for a second, it means a lot to me that they’re asking me around more. They want me with the guys, just mentoring them and ensuring that the culture continues to be passed down. I gave my heart to that team and the city of Memphis. So the love that I get back, man it makes me feel good. When I’m in the city it’s the red carpet and nothing but love. I always say it’s like a puzzle you know? And when I came to Memphis it was like I finally found the last piece. It all finally fit together.
It’s just been a blessing, and I’m thankful.
That’s why I wanted to write this.
The energy and excitement they’ve brought back to the Memphis community — it’s bigger than basketball. I mean that. This city has been through a lot in the past year, with the loss of Dolph, who was an icon. So, Memphis deserves this. We needed something to root for and be passionate about. It’s really great for the city and the people.
Ja and Jaren, these guys are already in the community doing good. The Grizzlies are an organization where people want to help. When you’re a part of this team you want to give back — you want to help change the next kid’s life if you can. And that’s real. These guys aren’t just good ball players. They’re good men. So I want to see them succeed on the biggest stage.
It’s up for grabs, man. The teams this year are tough — the NBA is at one of its peaks — but you’ve gotta watch out for those Grizzlies. You can’t doubt. The sky’s the limit for them.
The West is still the Wild Wild West, like it’s always been. So to me, the time is now.
Look at their confidence — they believe.
And I’ll be there every game, supporting them any way I can.
I wanna leave the guys with one last message: Keep fighting.
I’m telling you now it’s gonna get tough. In a long series, keep fighting. Go into it believing and know you gotta be there for your teammate on every chance you get, on the defensive game, on the offensive game, setting a screen, or being in that right place for help on defense or whatever — just be locked in.
Y’all making history. So do it for yourselves and the city that you represent.
And Memphis, y’all better throw it up for these guys because they’re about to be a problem.
They’re ready to run through a WALL.
And that’s what this Grizzlies thing is all about.
Grind City. Let’s go.