You know the drill when it comes to discussing the NBA schedule. Opening night is big because we miss basketball so much. The Christmas Day games are big because we’ve been led to believe that the season really starts December 25. With an 82-game season and a lack of Monday Night Football-level built-in hype (Thursdays, you try), it can be difficult to take a marker and throw a couple of circles around a particular game for appointment viewing.
This is one of the reasons I’ve always admired the Martin Luther King Jr. Day game in Memphis. It adds extra spotlight to an important day and serves as another way of honoring the work of the civil rights activist. Every year, the NBA stacks up day games as many teams honor Martin Luther King Jr. through special ceremonies, but Memphis is the nerve center of it all, and for good reason.
Monday, that game was played for the 18th time in franchise history. It was the cap on an entire day of celebrating the icon who was assassinated about a half-mile from FedEx Forum at the Lorraine Motel, which is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. The Grizzlies do more than just play a basketball game. There are volunteer opportunities, a three-on-three tournament, and the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Awards, to name a few.
Basketball fans would be right to make the trip to Memphis on the third Monday of the year, whether or not your team is playing the Grizzlies. It should be a right of passage as not only an NBA fan but an American citizen. I’ve sketched out a handy itinerary for you to follow –
- Make a list of the top-five barbecue restaurants in the city (that aren’t located on Beale Street – this is important) and get one item from every spot. This sounds ridiculous, but it’s the only way. Don’t waste your time with a single side dish.
- Spend some time at the National Civil Rights Museum. There’s live music, a great energy in the air and several ridiculous food trucks that you’ll just want to look at because of the first item on this list. Become a member of the museum, and you’ll not only skip the line (it’s very long) but will be monetarily supporting one of the most important landmarks in the country.
- Walk the half-mile over to FedEx (again, because of the first item on this list).
- After the game, go with the flow and roll with the crowd straight onto Beale Street for what is a top-five post-NBA-game experience. You’ll probably still be pretty full, but just in case you’re not, add a sixth plate of BBQ – you might as well, you’re already on Beale Street.
Bonus notes from the game:
- Everyone is excited for Zion’s big debut this week, but I was just as excited to get a final glimpse of “y’all-don’t-even-know” street clothes Zion. Especially in the city where locals are working overtime to inflate Ja Morant’s stock, self-defense for the lottery balls drawing second place. Memphis fans were not shy about their insane Morant > Williamson take (signs everywhere, screaming often) – all cannon fodder for the Southwest Division wrecking ball debuting soon.
- Overall, the music played at FedEx was very good, though as a full time New Orleanian, I was personally offended at how often they played No Limit music (more than New Orleans does).
- I sat next to Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon, and we chatted briefly. Gave him a quick New Orleans hello (“Who Dat” – he responded positively) then told him how much I appreciated his work. “Still a lot of work left to do,” he said.
- A Memphis fan told me he hasn’t seen the Forum this low-energy all season, he doesn’t know why Ja is less electric than usual, he is unclear why the vibe in the arena is so underwhelming. I knew the reason was because Ja hadn’t met Jrue Holiday yet – but I didn’t want to ruin this guy’s night.