Bear wrestling debuted in America on Dec. 11, 1877. Sports Illustrated says so. You can look it up.
We don't much wrestle bears anymore. Sort of the same way we came to our senses and quit wrestling Haystacks Calhoun. There's not much future in it.
Bear wrestling these days is mostly limited to legend — that's how Bear Bryant got his name, and just-drafted Lane Johnson of OU fame duped Philadelphia media with a bear-wrestling fable.
Unless you count certain NBA games involving the Memphis Grizzlies. Grizzly bears don't get much east of the Oklahoma Panhandle, but that hasn't stopped the Memphians from trotting out a ballteam befitting its name. A ballteam that will make you jump out of the ring, as Paul William Bryant did as a boy in Fordyce, Ark.
Get ready for some sumo basketball as the Thunder-Grizzlies series starts Sunday. I know we're all used to greyhound hoops after six games watching the Houston Rockets, but Memphis doesn't even play the same sport as the Rockets.
That was streetball. This is paintball. With Houston, the paint was nothing more than an HOV lane. Get in. Get out. With Memphis, the paint is headquarters.
The paint is where the wrestling takes place and the games are won. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol pushing; Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka shoving.
The perimeter decided the OKC-Houston series. The paint was something you tried to keep dribblers out of. The paint will decide the OKC-Memphis series. Lion-hearted guards are more than welcome to enter the lane and are encouraged to share their stories should they be so fortunate as to survive.
“This is like night and day, playing against a fast, fast, streetball type of team in Houston, to a grind-it-out game here in Memphis,” said Kevin Durant.
“That's their DNA. That's what they do. And that's what we do. Guys are going to go out there, pushing and shoving. It's going to be a really physical series.”
It certainly was two years ago, when the Thunder survived seven brutal games and marched on to the West finals with wraps around their heads and crutches under their arms.
That's the way Memphis plays — two accomplished big men who have no problem smelling the blood of an Englishman. That's the way the Thunder can play, which is about the only reason you can give OKC any hope in this series.
Without Russell Westbrook, things just seem to come too difficult for the Thunder. But if the Thunder lumberjacks can neutralize Memphis' hard hats to some degree, we'll have a competitive series.
“Definitely going to be a different style of play,” said Scotty Brooks. “You have to flip the switch quickly. They play different than the last series.
“That's playoff basketball. You have to be able to play against different styles of play. You have to have that within your own game. And we have that. You can't play every round one style. That just doesn't happen.”
The difference between the Rockets and the Grizzlies is the difference between a Phoenix summer and a Green Bay winter. The difference between a Niekro knuckler and a Feller fastball.
The Rockets flooded the court with 3-point shooters. The Grizzlies flood the court with biker-bar bouncers, even on the perimeter, where Tony Allen would get my vote for NBA player most likely to survive an alley fight.
So while Perkins was largely useless against Houston, and Collison and Ibaka couldn't be used together, they've all got to play against Memphis. Play well and play a bunch.
The Grizzlies will pound the ball into Randolph on the low block. The Thunder has to make him catch it 12 feet from the basket instead of eight feet from the basket. That's the difference between winning and losing.
The Grizzlies will run their offense through Gasol on the high post, and the 7-footer will lumber down to the basket for rebounds or passes. The Thunder can't let him get there.
Perkins and Collison, mostly, but Ibaka, too, have to stand sentry. They've got to wrestle the bears and live to tell about it. They've got to win the paint for the Thunder to advance.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.