Memphis Grizzlies: Examining the Legacy of Tony Allen

Mar 27, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) during the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. The Kings defeated the Grizzlies 91-90. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) during the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. The Kings defeated the Grizzlies 91-90. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports /

Tony Allen has been a fixture for the Memphis Grizzlies since 2011. As he enters free agency, what will his final legacy in Memphis look like?

“Grit ‘n’ Grind.” This phrase has not only defined the culture of the Memphis Grizzlies over the last 7 years, but also the culture of the city of Memphis as well. Thanks to Tony Allen, the birth of this movement can be traced back to one certain game. It appeared to be a meaningless regular season game, but it would help define Memphis culture in way that no one could have expected.

The Start of Movement: February 8, 2011

Free agent acquisition Tony Allen was having a rough time fitting in with the Memphis Grizzlies. For most of the season, he had been playing behind Sam Young and Xavier Henry (remember when Sam Young started in the playoffs? Dark times.) With an injury to Rudy Gay and a suspension for O.J. Mayo, Tony was finally given the opportunity to start against the Oklahoma City Thunder. First assignment as a starting shooting guard?

Nothing too difficult. Just find a way to slow down Kevin Durant, who even at that early stage of his career, would end up being the league’s scoring champion. Like I said, nothing too difficult.

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  • At this time, Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo helped shoulder much of the Grizzlies’ scoring burden, so without them, Memphis didn’t appear to have much of a chance. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol weren’t at the point in their careers where they could takeover in a situation like that. They couldn’t match the youthful offense of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and…..wait for it….Jeff Green.

    However, legends are often made in the moments where you least expect it, and Tony Allen is no different. The Grizzlies would win that game in overtime 105-101, and Tony Allen scored 27 points on 9-for-12 shooting to go along with 5 steals. Durant may have scored 31 points, but Tony held him scoreless in overtime. It was one of the most memorable regular season wins in franchise history.

    “All heart. Grit. Grind”

    This was the response from Tony Allen that everyone’s favorite sideline reporter Rob Fischer received after one of the most classic regular season wins in franchise history. Fischer hadn’t even asked a question. It was completely improvised. Thus, one of the most iconic phrases in Memphis’ storied history was born.

    Tony’s Impact

    Memphis is a blue collar town with hardworking people. Unsurprisingly, “Grit ‘n’ Grind” quickly became not only the embodiment of the Grizzlies, but also that of the city itself. In the coming years, the Grizzlies would be defined by their hard-nosed, gritty play. Say what you want about Memphis’ title chances, but they have always been the team that no one wants to play in the playoffs. Since 2011, the Grizzlies have beaten the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, and Blazers in playoff series.

    None of this would have been possible without Tony Allen.

    Now I’m not gonna tell you that Tony has always been one of the team’s best players. There’s a reason why Lionel Hollins was playing him behind Henry and Young after all (broken jumper, questionable decision-making, etc.). However, without Tony’s tenacity, defensive intensity and heart, this team would most likely not be at the point where they are today.

    Without Tony Allen, there are no growl towels. There are no chants in the Fedex Forum of “First Team, All-Defense!!”. Without Tony Allen, the culture and spirit of this team would simply not be the same. “Grit ‘n’ Grind” would simply not exist if it weren’t for Tony Allen and that game on February 8, 2011.

    Memphis would also not have had anywhere near as much playoff success without Tony Allen. Without the guy whom Kobe Bryant called the “best defender I ever faced!”, the Grizzlies may not win some of the playoff series they did. Who would have locked down Klay Thomson in the 2015 semifinals? Who else would have been able to lock down Kevin Durant in all of his battles with Memphis?

    Even how as he has gotten older, his impact could never be seen more clearly than in the recent Spurs series. Despite incredible play from Mike Conley, the Grizzlies were at the mercy of Kawhi Leonard. James Ennis, Vince Carter, and Wayne Selden could do nothing to stop him. Perhaps the Grindfather himself could’ve helped slow the Klaw down.

    Tony’s Future

    Tony’s future with the Grizzlies is quite uncertain at the moment. He has been quoted as saying he’s not looking to “break the bank” in free agency, so there is hope for a return. Despite the obvious pain it would cause, Memphis may part ways with him to order to create cap space. However, whether he returns or not, Tony Allen will always have a place in not just the history of the Grizzlies, but also in the city of Memphis. He will always have a home here.

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    When the Grizzlies signed him to a three-year, $9.7 million dollar deal in the summer of 2010, no one was expecting to get a player who embodies this city’s spirit so perfectly. No one could’ve ever envisioned an entire era of basketball defined by the spirit of one role player. Whether he retires a Grizzly or not, Tony Allen will always be a Memphis legend. He will most likely have a statue along with the rest of the Core 4.

    His game has never been without its faults. He’ll be remembered by some, despite his defensive excellence, as a shooting guard who could never shoot. However, he has always made his team better despite his offensive deficiencies.

    When his career is finally over, Tony will be remembered as a player who was never complacent. He helped change the culture of a franchise, and in the process, gave the city of Memphis a folk hero. And along with the ring that he earned in Boston, I’d say, at the end of the day, that he had a pretty great career.