Downtown Memphis is sort of its own small town. You run into all kinds of people you know, even if you’re not from there.
For instance, we got back to our hotel after the game, probably around 1:30 a.m., and decided to get something to eat. So we walked the few blocks to Blues City Cafe, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. And on the way, we ran into a certain Ray Westbrook.
Yes, the same Ray Westbrook whose big brother plays a little hoops for the Thunder, and the same Ray Westbrook who in the middle of Game 3 tweeted that the Thunder needed a new coach.
Ray is a friendly fellow, and we asked him about the tweet. He said the Thunder already had reached out to him to express its displeasure, but he was unapologetic. “That’s how I felt,” he said. “If you don’t like it, don’t follow me.”
Of course, by the next morning, Ray Westbrook had apologized for the outburst. But it’s pretty safe to assume he didn’t mean it.
FedEx Forum is a loud and rowdy arena, at least in the playoffs. Memphis doesn’t draw particularly well for the regular season, but the Grizzlies raise a ruckus in the postseason.
However, the crowd is a little different from OKC crowds. More abrasive. More edgy. More personal against the visitors. More ref-baiting. Our photographer, Bryan Terry Burden, likened it to a night club atmosphere. There’s something to that.
But the arena wasn’t all Grizzlies. We ran into separate Thunder fans twice while out on the street Thursday. First, Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Steven Taylor, a day after he delivered a stirring ruling in that death-penalty case that has been a hot-button issue. Taylor’s son, Wilson, is the Thunder team manager. I wrote about Justice Taylor in the Monday Oklahoman, which you can read here.
Also, we met a couple from Broken Arrow, big Thunder fans who had driven over just for Game 3. I’m always amazed at the Thunder fervor from the Tulsa area. But it’s real and it’s powerful. I’d be interested in knowing how many other NBA markets get such support from other metro areas. Little Rock or Nashville for the Grizzlies? Austin for the Spurs? OKC for the Mavericks, in the days before the Hornets? Tucson for the Suns? Maybe they are as excited about those nearby franchises as Tulsa is for the Thunder, but I’ve never seen evidence of it.
We went to Central Barbeque for a late lunch Thursday. My friend Bill Weppner, an OU engineering graduate who teaches in Memphis, picked us up and took us to Central. Bill introduced us to Central Barbeque last year during the playoffs. It’s great BBQ, and the downtown location looks out over the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum.
Just as I promised the guys, Central’s barbeque is far better than the more acclaimed Rendevous. I had ribs, some had brisket. I had macaroni and cheese, which was fantastic. And best of all, the proprietor gave us a tour of the kitchen. Which meant an up close look at Ol’ Smokey, the stove that smokes all the meat.
The meat-smoking process is fascinating, the way wood is soaked, and then burned, so it actually does smoke. And the rotating racks hold chicken and ribs and brisket and shoulder (pork) and eggplant (yes, eggplant), removed at all times of the day. The smell is fabulous, even if it does get hold of your clothes like a skunk.
We just missed Scotty Brooks, who stops by Central Barbeque on every trip to Memphis. Nice fellow, said the proprietor, and we had to agree.
Our Holiday Inn Select on Union Street is right across the street from the historic Peabody Hotel. It’s a great location, but the hotel’s a little dated. For instance, the workout room. When I get lax about working out at home, because of time demands or something, I sometimes get back on track on road trips.
But it was difficult here. The Holiday Inn Select’s workout room has two treadmills, a stepper and broken-down bicycle. And it’s in a cramped room. Last year, we stayed at the Marriott, which had a huge workout room with all kinds of equipment and a massive window that looked out over the Memphis skyline.
If you remember, that’s where I bumped into NBA referee Tom Washington, who rode the bike next to me and was a prince of a fellow. Later in the trip, I chatted with Joey Crawford in the hotel lobby.
I’m pretty sure I won’t be meeting any NBA refs in the Holiday Inn Select.
Like I wrote for the Friday paper, I like the Grizzlies’ use of towels on each seat instead of T-shirts for each fan. When we went to the Thunder shootaround Thursday, the towels already were draped on the back of each seat.
Our man A.C. Slater decided he had to have a towel. So he took one. Grand Theft Towel.
I don’t guess it’s any big deal, though, since on Friday, as workers were putting the towels on the chairs, I saw a photographer leave with a towel over her head.
BLUES CITY CAFE
I was wanting breakfast, but Blues City Cafe is non-breakfast. So I settled for seafood au gratin. Basically, some seafood melted together with cheese. Not a bad way to go. Blues City is where we met Bree, our waitress, who met RFD’s requirement in a good server (tell us your name) but not mine (write down the order, don’t try to memorize).
The three great plagues of American dining are servers who don’t write down the order and who come to take away your plate even when you’re not finished and who won’t bring you the check even when you are ready.
But it all turned out well. Bree got the order right. She didn’t come for our plates too soon. And we had to wait only a little while on our ticket.