Why I believe Memphis
By Lang Whitaker
NEW YORK CITY - In the interest of not burying the lede, let’s start with the news: I’m signing with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Memphis Grizzlies have hired me to be the General Manager of the Grizzlies Team in the NBA 2K League, as well as a contributor to their in-house digital content group, Grind City Media. What does this mean? Well, I’ve spent the last two decades writing and talking about the NBA, first at SLAM magazine and then at GQ and NBA.com. Now I’ll be doing it for Grind City Media, on the same squad as great people like Alexis Morgan and Chris Vernon and Mike Wallace. Which means I’ll also be writing for grizzlies.com and grindcitymedia.com, and making podcast appearances, popping up on their game broadcasts, and making all kinds of related content, from Grizz to the NBA at large and some College Football too (Go Dawgs).
And that’s the part of this job that’s easy to explain. The other part I’m going to need you to use your imagination, because it’s something that doesn’t even really exist yet. And even when it does exist, it’s going to be virtual. (You should’ve heard me trying to explain all of this to my Mom.)
In a couple of months, the NBA 2K League will launch. Seventeen NBA teams will have their own squads of video gamers who will represent their franchises and play against each other in NBA 2K. I’ll be running the Memphis Grizzlies’ squad: drafting players; hashing out strategies; generating content along the way; coaching up our players; basically being all-in on the Grizzlies eSports team. Over the last few years, I got to watch up close as my brother and former podcast co-host Rick Fox built his Echo Fox eSports organization into an industry leader, and now the Grizzlies are giving me a chance to do something similar. I have a lot of fun ideas, but the most important thing to know is that this team is going to grit and grind and kick some butt. I’ve played video games, including 2K, my entire life. Now I’m getting paid to do it. What a time to be alive.
Now, how did all this happen? A few weeks ago I knew I was going to have the chance to test unrestricted free agency. I threw out some feelers, started setting up meetings. I had the chance to talk with a bunch of the world’s leading content providers and news outlets, and finally got to a point where I needed to start sorting through the options that were out there.
And then I got a call from the Memphis Grizzlies, who reached out not only to express interest, but to tell me they really, really wanted me. So we started talking. A lot. I spoke with Mike Wallace, Grind City Media’s Senior Editor. I talked with Jason Wexler, the President of the Grizzlies, as well as a slew of other team execs. And when I told them there was interest on our end, they invited my family down to Memphis for a weekend so we could see exactly what they were selling. I’ve actually been in Memphis the last few years for the NBA playoffs, covering games for NBA.com, but that time was mostly spent just going back and forth from my hotel to the arena. (Um, I also may have spent some time at Gus’s.)
So we came down to Memphis and saw the Grizz thump the Warriors (when Steph Curry chucked his mouthpiece at the ref). We went from Mud Island to Collierville, had a big dinner at Rendezvous, and spent hours talking and talking and talking with various people from the Grizzlies. One thing I was told several times over the weekend was that the Grizzlies want to do things differently, which really resonated with me. Because I’ve always believed if you’re going to do anything, why do it the same as everyone else?
I came home and thought about it for a while. The phrase “Believe Memphis” is omnipresent around the city, plastered on t-shirts and bumper stickers. I believe it’s intended to be a rallying cry, a unifying ethos for Memphians to buy into. As amazing as it would be to run the Grizzlies eSports team and to join Grind City Media, for me accepting this offer went deeper. So I started looking at it as a question: Did I Believe Memphis? Like, did I believe it enough to pick up and move there?
After being born and raised in Atlanta, I moved to New York City in the fall of 2000. I will always love New York City. I was in New York during 9/11. I got married while I lived here. My son was born here. I made lifelong friends here. But seventeen years after showing up with a couple of suitcases and a bunch of plans, I’m ready for something new.
The song says if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. Well, I made it in New York City. And now I want to make it in Memphis, back home in the South. I’ve missed Waffle House and SEC football and Chick-Fil-A and sweet tea and having the chance breathe and enjoy life as it unfolds. The Grizzlies have assembled a team off the court that is as creative and competitive as their team on the court. And I am excited to be part of that team.
So I’m choosing Memphis. I believe Memphis. And I hope you do, too.
Let’s grit, let’s grind. Let’s go.