The ball is in Morant’s court


The two time NBA All-Star started his career at Murray State and has been playing with the Memphis Grizzlies since 2019.

Kate Wolfkill, Editor

Growing up, Memphis was the word I wrote on envelopes below my street address. Memphis was named after the M-bridge downtown that formed its first initial. Memphis had the best water in the world. Memphis was the only place I knew existed.

However, as I have gotten older, I have begun to perceive a fuller picture of Memphis as it actually exists. Memphis is a place where cars get stolen and shooters run rampant. Memphis regularly tops lists naming the most dangerous cities in America.

But, despite outside opinion, that is not all Memphis is, especially in recent years. And strangely, that is because of basketball. 

In 2019, the Grizzlies, Memphis’ NBA team, used their second pick in the NBA draft on a South Carolina kid, beloved by Murray State.

That kid was Ja Morant, and he was loved no less when he arrived in Memphis.

The city changed when he showed up. The “underdogness” that characterizes Memphis finally found itself realized in our star player. The city found someone to represent them, someone they could rally around. 

“The people of Memphis see that Ja is just like them, too: a hard worker, where nothing’s been given to him,” Zach Randolph, a former Memphis Grizzly of eight years, said in an interview with Bleacher Report.

Morant had a stellar record at Murray State, and he was only 19. Memphis became associated with this young kid who initiated his own success through hard work, which fits perfectly into Memphis’ unofficial ideology: Grit and Grind. 

Memphis is a good city, and it finally had someone to represent that to the outside world.  

So, with Morant’s help, the notorious perception of Memphis as a dangerous, crime-ridden town shifted to a more accurate one: Memphis is a harbor of spirited and ambitious people of all types.

It was this very trust that the city put in Morant that led to its recent heartbreak. 

On January 29, 2023, after a Memphis home game, a member of the Indiana Pacers traveling squad was confronted by a slow-moving SUV. Someone in the SUV trained a red laser on that Pacer. Morant was in that SUV.

Hardly a month later, news broke that accused Morant of punching a 17-year-old during a pick-up basketball game over the summer of 2022. Morant claims he acted in self-defense after the minor threw the ball at his chin and threatened to return to the Morant property and “light [it] up like fireworks.”

The 17-year-old informed police that, after punching him multiple times in the head, Morant went inside his home and returned with a gun visible in his waistband. The 17-year-old later filed a lawsuit against Morant.

Three days later, on March 4, 2023, after a 16-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, Morant went to “celebrate” at a club ironically called Shotgun Willie’s in Denver Colorado.

While there, Morant started an Instagram Live, during which he brandished a gun. Colorado police did not have sufficient evidence to charge him, but the NBA suspended Morant for eight games. 

At the same time, Morant announced that he would be taking some time away to focus on his mental health, and he deactivated his Instagram account. 

Because Memphis put Morant in the spotlight, all of these instances were publicized more than ever, the entire country developed their own idea of Memphis, perhaps basing it on Morant’s actions. 

Finally, I thought, he is going to put some distance between himself and the scandals. And he did . . . for a while.

On April 12, 2023, Morant filed a countersuit against the 17-year-old, claiming that an injury to his face could have harmed his career and that the story the teen was spreading could cost him contracts with the NBA, Powerade, Nike and Hulu. 

I appreciate the legal, non-violent way he chose to fight this, but with the very first playoff game of the post-season only four days away, a lawsuit should have been the last thing on Morant’s mind. 

Yes, Morant is young. He is allowed to make mistakes. And in this scenario, I think we should see this “scandal” more as a learning experience for Morant than anything else. 

I am glad that Morant had this situation occur early on. I truly believe he has the ability to gain knowledge and experience from it in a way that only happens when you “do it the hard way.” However, the near future will be Morant’s make-or-break juncture.

In the meantime, we in Memphis are left to reckon with the real impacts of his actions. The rest of the world may associate Morant’s actions with Memphis as a whole. 

Memphis has a fragile image, and while Morant’s highlight reels will eventually bury his scandals on the third and fourth pages of Google, Memphis’s troubled reputation has been perpetuated in a way that will leave a permanent scar.