Ja Morant has been one of the most hyped young players in college basketball for some time now, and his strong play with Memphis this past season will hopefully culminate into a successful NBA career. The Grizzlies have made it to the playoffs thus far, but what else are they doing?

Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies have arrived, and everyone’s hearing about it. Ja Morant is a 20 year old point guard who is 6’6″ tall with a 7’2″ wingspan. He has been projected to be one of the best players in the NBA for years now.

Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies have arrived, and everyone's hearing about it

Ja Morant skips excitedly and lifts his left hand, seeing an acrobatic chance. As he near the 3-point line on the left wing, he’s already asking for a lob, with Memphis Grizzlies backcourt partner Desmond Bane crossing half court in transition.

Bane scoops up his dribble, sprints through the center of the court for two long strides, and lofts a pass high into the paint over Los Angeles Lakers forward Stanley Johnson. Every player on the Memphis bench explodes from their seats as Morant flies to receive the pass, flips the ball into the hoop, then dips his head to avoid banging it on the rim as the 22-year-old superstar leaps to catch the pass.

The Lakers call timeout early in the third quarter of the Jan. 9 game, and Morant takes a detour to respond to a front-row fan who taunted him after a turnover the previous possession. Several of his teammates strut and celebrate on the Crypto.com Arena court as the Grizzlies’ lead swells to 17 points.

But all of the Grizzlies’ fun is getting to LeBron James, who couldn’t get beyond the free throw line in the backcourt during Memphis’ most recent highlight.

A Lakers turnover leads to another Grizzlies fast break a minute later. Bane swishes a trailer 3 — wide open since James is taking his time returning to transition — and informs the all-time great:

“Those footsteps aren’t frightening anyone.”

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These high-flying, in-your-face Grizzlies, who take on the New York Knicks on Wednesday night (7:30 ET on ESPN), are a tight-knit, youthful club that is ruffling the NBA’s old guard’s feathers. It’s a team with an air of arrogance about it, a core of players who have yet to win a postseason series but think they’re on the cusp of something huge.

Their 35-18 record, which has them third in the NBA, suggests they’re probably correct. And the Grizzlies are more than eager to inform a potential Hall of Fame opponent — and anybody else.


Morant comes up with a name to define the Grizzlies’ ethos after pondering for a time.

“Drippy,” says Morant. “If anyone has any idea what that means.”

A superlative degree of swagger, a tangible confidence in the way the Grizzlies hold themselves, how the bench celebrates by dancing, laughing, and falling over one another, and the continual talk emanating from Memphis players’ lips, to provide a rough translation.

“That’s our identity, and that’s going to continue to be our identity,” says Morant, a first-time All-Star who has developed a reputation for fearlessness as a 6-foot-3, 174-pound point guard who leads the league in points in the paint (16.0 per game). “It annoys certain men, but it provides us an advantage. We’ll keep doing that because it gives us a lift and a lot of enthusiasm out on the court.”

The Grizzlies are proud of their player development and fundamentals, but they aren’t too serious about it. The Grizzlies are a team built around 22-year-old cornerstones in Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. — Bane, 23, has joined them with his breakout season — and they play like it.

Morant’s morning practice generally concludes with a game of dodgeball with the assistant coaches who oversee his activities. Jackson wears bizarre outfits depending on the locales the Grizzlies visit, such as the “fiesta trousers” he wore in San Antonio, which were black designer jeans with frills down the sides.

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Grizzlies vs. Knicks, 7:30 p.m.; Nuggets vs. Jazz, 10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2 Grizzlies vs. Knicks, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, February 4th, 10 p.m., 76ers vs. Mavericks

All timings are in Eastern Standard Time.

Morant is fouled by Malik Monk, who turns around and backs into the Grizzlies point guard at the finish of the fast break. Morant is also hacked by Avery Bradley, who nearly gets the and-1 as his floater hits back iron. As the three grins and smiles, Williams and Jackson embrace Morant on the baseline. Bane joins the celebration, yelling and high-fiving his buddies.

James had had his fill of seeing and hearing, particularly from Bane. James interrupts the Grizzlies’ celebration in the paint in order to confront him under the basket.

“That’s your final chance,” James tells Bane, plainly audible on the local television show. “That is your last motherf—-ing opportunity. That’s the last time you’re going to insult me.”

Before jokingly putting his hands on his teammate’s shoulders and escorting him away from the lecturing legend, Bane yells back at James. Morant, who is trying to be a mediator, takes a step toward James but can’t stop grinning.

“Every single one of us on our squad grew up watching [James] play,” Morant adds later. “We’re all still fans of this guy.” We all know he’s one of the best basketball players ever, but if you’re buddy-buddy inside those four lines, you’re lost. That was essentially what went into it. Bron is a fierce competitor, and Des is no exception.

“It was amusing to see those men go at it. I liked that because it demonstrates that our troops don’t back down no matter who they’re up against.”


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On facing LeBron James, Grizzlies guard Ja Morant says

Much of Memphis’ cockiness stems from a team full of players who thrive on defying expectations. Morant was hardly recruited out of high school and went to Murray State, a mid-major, before becoming a franchise-lifting No. 2 overall pick. Because he had short arms and a lengthy collegiate career at TCU, NBA scouts and executives discounted Bane to the last choice of the 2020 first round. Brooks survived till the second round of the 2017 season.

“Just being underdogs,” Bane continues, “is in our DNA.”

Morant said after the Grizzlies beat the Warriors on Jan. 11 that he “wagered” the Grizzlies would receive their due respect. They were ecstatic 10 games into what would become a franchise-record 11-game winning run, which included triumphs against James’ Lakers (twice), Paul’s Suns, Kevin Durant’s Brooklyn Nets, and Stephen Curry’s Warriors.

Curry, for one, was appreciative of the Grizzlies that night, especially Morant, but he delicately reminded Memphis that it was lacking a prerequisite to be counted among the league’s top.

Curry said, “It’s a natural development of a team wanting to take that next level.” “The important thing is to display it in the playoffs. We want to be available to help in any way we can. I’m sure they do as well. Nobody is now attempting to win the rhetorical debate on who we are in January.”

In response, Morant acknowledged that you make a valid point, but he added that he felt “like we’re just getting started.”

“Now that we’re here on this stage, on the biggest stage,” Bane continued, “we’re letting everyone know that we’re here to stay.”


While Morant makes his pair of free throws, James continues to yell profanely, ignoring a polite request from Kyle Anderson, the veteran forward who, along with Adams, is the oldest player on Memphis’ roster, to “Chill out, LeBron.”

“I’m not going to relax!” As they form a line, James responds. “He ain’t hoopin’, he ain’t.” He’s yelling s—-. This is the last and final time I’m going to say it.

“You start by taking a few shots, then you start spouting nonsense… That’s s—-, I’m not playing that s—-.”

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Morant hits both of his free throws. The Grizzlies are up 22 points, and with all due respect, they don’t seem to be sorry for baiting James.

“It’s nothing new to us,” Jackson adds a few weeks later, shrugging. “It’s just like, yes, someone’s pissed that we’re talking nonsense. We don’t give a damn. It’s nice if they become irritated. If they don’t, that’s fantastic. Regardless, we’re going to have a good time. We’re going to have a discussion about s—- “..

Bane describes “the little incident at the free throw line that everyone observed” in the following manner: It all began when he drove for a and-1 layup in the first half and received an additional push and shove from James after the whistle, he claims. Throughout the game, when Bane led Memphis with 23 points in 26 minutes, there were additional bumps and shoves exchanged, as well as “chirping back and forth,” as Bane describes it.

Figures of Bane After giving up the transition 3, hearing a bit more discussion, and then committing a turnover, James felt compelled to convey his dissatisfaction. So Bane took a good thrashing, which he didn’t mind.

“After that, I mean, we were up by 25 or 30 points,” Bane adds, laughing as he finishes the sentence. “So I walked over there and relaxed.”


MORANT CREATED The Grizzlies made a statement last week in San Antonio, where they finished a four-game road trip. In a 118-110 victory against the Spurs, he tied for the season high with 41 points, putting on the sort of performance that fans have come to expect from him. He dominated crunch time and created highlights, the greatest of which was a behind-the-back move to break a double team before driving and sending a lefty lob to fellow high-flier Brandon Clarke.

Despite Memphis’ recent 11-game winning run, this was initially planned to be one of just seven nationally broadcast Grizzlies games this season until ESPN pulled out five days earlier. When the choice was announced, he slammed the apparent snub on his extremely active Twitter account. He brought it up again, uninvited, at postgame media availability.

“Thank you to whomever pulled us off the television,” Morant stated. “Thank you so much for it. That particular game was also for you. Do you want to take us somewhere? I’m not sure what went into it.”

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It’s just one of many occasions Morant has called attention to what he sees as slights to himself or his squad, ranging from national criticism (or the lack thereof) to casual Twitter messages. He brazenly promotes himself and his teammates on social media, lobbying for awards, sharing highlights and accolades, and even rebutting detractors.

He was elected as an All-Star starter after successfully lobbying for it, and he frequently nominates Bane for Most Improved Player and Jackson for Defensive Player of the Year. Morant recently tweeted a highlight video with the caption “nah this tough” and a fire emoji.

The Grizzlies’ return to NBA relevance hasn’t been as arduous as many had predicted.

The Grit ‘n Grind era ended in June 2019 with Mike Conley’s trade to the Utah Jazz, but the Grizzlies qualified for the Western Conference play-in series in Morant’s rookie season, when he scored 35 points in a thrilling loss to Damian Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers. Last season, Memphis continued on that momentum by winning a playoff berth, stamping their ticket to the playoffs with a play-in victory on the Warriors’ home floor, when Morant put up another 35 points.

The Grizzlies have improved far enough this season to not only qualify for the playoffs, but to possibly do so with a Game 1 in Memphis.

“Obviously, winning a championship is everyone’s ultimate goal,” Morant says. “All we have to do now is make sure we’re putting brick by brick each day to improve.”

“At the end of the day, we’ll create an empire.”

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