A Grizzlies Weekend in Memphis

Zach Randolph of Memphis Grizzlies - Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Zach Randolph drives to the hoop for the Memphis Grizzlies. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images.

Memphis Grizzlies playing at FedExForum. Photo Credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies play before a sold-out crowd at FedExForum. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images.

Come see Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies play NBA Basketball near Beale Street. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images.

Mike Conley with Memphis Grizzlies: Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies drives to the basket. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images.

Tony Allen - Memphis Grizzlies. Photo Credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Tony Allen is Grit & Grind. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images.

Memphis is a basketball city – the kind of place where University of Memphis games prompt de facto holidays. Where NBA alum/native son Penny Hardaway periodically coaches youth ball. Where a young franchise can win ardent fans and play-off games with a soul-deep scrappiness we call grit and grind—and that’s just part of the reason ESPN The Magazine named the Memphis Grizzlies the best overall professional sports franchise a short time back.

So when the Grizz bring their game to the FedExForum in Downtown Memphis, the city actually vibrates. (The vibration is, in fact, a combination of the team’s drumline and fan clamor, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) For now, what you need to know is this: Grizzlies games amplify Memphis with an energy that’s contagious. That makes it easier than ever for visitors to feel at home here, especially when you follow a winning weekend itinerary like this: 

Friday: Warm up on South Main

Check into your hotel and head to the South Main Arts District. With an hour-plus, visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, fully interactive with A/V kiosks and a moving view to the room where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his last night.

With less than an hour, hit the Blues Hall of Fame. The compact gallery is packed with listening stations and memorabilia of the greats, including B.B. King. Whatever you do, make time to shop Sachë. The cheeky t-shirts—many of them Grizzlies-themed—are original, made-in-Memphis designs. Short of scoring Marc Gasol’s autograph, these tees could be your ultimate souvenir. 

Hungry? Thirsty? Drop in anywhere that suits you, though South of Beale could be the right call for a basketball weekend: Share gastropub-y plates and take a Grizz shot, a Lemon Drop-turned-neon blue. Don’t leave South Main without playing a song on the Earnestine & Hazel’s jukebox.

Saturday: GAME DAY

Get your (coffee) grind on at Tamp & Tap, serving homemade buttermilk biscuits and breakfast sandwiches studded with candied bacon during a live Bluegrass Brunch.  

Then, make your game plan: FedExForum neighbors up to the only Gibson Guitar Factory in the world that allows visitors and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate that tells the complete Memphis music story—from Elvis to rappers Three 6 Mafia. A free shuttle runs from the Rock ‘n’ Soul to Graceland. 

Or, drive just north of Downtown Memphis to golf Mirimichi, transformed under its previous owner, Justin Timberlake, into one of the best courses you can play in Tennessee (so says Golfweek Magazine, three years running). Back Downtown, savor a drink and a view of the Mississippi River—from an open-air deck 32 stories up—at the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

You’ll know it’s time to head to the Forum when you hear the drumline—the Grizzline—kick in, their beats punctuating the sounds lilting over from Beale Street. Fans burst onto the plaza wearing Grizzlies capes, waving team flags and towels, taking hoop shots at inflatable courts. When the doors to the Forum open, the energy rushes inside in a wave of blue and gold. This is the Grizz Nation, and for the next four quarters, you’re part of it. So sit back (not really—this is more of a jump-up-and-cheer crowd) and watch the Grizzlies do what they do best: grit and grind their way on the court right into the hearts of those watching. 

With any luck, you’ll have something to celebrate post-game. At least. you’ll have made some new friends. Beale Street’s just a step away, and if anything enhances the street’s magic, it’s being there in a sea of triumphant Grizz fans.

Sunday: Cool down on The Edge

Sunday mornings in basketball season, sports in Memphis shift to replaying last night’s game over brunch. Downtown, funky Automatic Slim’s welcomes you for mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Southern decadence like fried chicken with homemade waffles. Before leaving Downtown, take a timeout on its eastern edge—The Edge, as it’s known—for a tour of legendary Sun Studio followed by locally made craft beer at High Cotton Brewing Co. With any luck, High Cotton’s “Baller” Brown Ale will be on tap—a spirited send-off to the home team. 

If You Go

If it’s the last Friday of the month on South Main Street, expect crowds and a magnetic street-party vibe, especially between 6 and 9 p.m. This is South Main Trolley Night, a street-wide open house/happy hour. 

Need lunch or dinner ideas for Saturday? For barbecue, go old-school at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous; new-school at Central BBQ. Reserve a table for dinner at Bleu inside the Westin Memphis Beale Street—the herb-crusted filet is a slam dunk, and FedExForum sits right across the street.

Should you go for the observation deck at Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, be prepared for a $10 cover. It’s worth it.

And regarding Beale Street on Friday and Saturday nights, at 9 p.m., a security checkpoint goes up, ensuring that guests coming onto the street are 21 or older. Minors already on the street at this time are permitted to stay, accompanied by a parent, until 11 p.m. After 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Beale goes 21 and up.

by Samantha Crespo