Chris Wallace is general manager/vice president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, who on Friday night became the winningest No. 8 seed in Western Conference history with their 95-83 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in FedExForum. Wallace started working in the NBA in 1986 and previously worked for five executive of the year winners with six different franchises before joining the Grizzlies in 2007.
Talk about the excitement of this series between two of the league's youngest teams.
"I think it's fantastic for the NBA that we have two so-called small markets and two recent additions to the league (relocations via Seattle and Vancouver). You have tremendous individuals in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and so on with Oklahoma City, plus all our guys. It's wonderful to have a regional rivalry like this. Only Arkansas separates the two states. It's almost like an SEC-Big 12 rivalry game here. It's been a great series so far, I'm sure there are more thrills to come."
Both franchises turned things around the past couple of seasons.
"We have enormous respect for their organization, from ownership on down. They've done a great job, promoting their team, assembling the talent on the floor and getting it ready to play. This is a team we had been shooting at for a while. It's so much fun playing a series with the Thunder."
Presumably, one surefire way to recapture some fans was to bring back Shane Battier, which you did on Feb. 24.
"Shane means an awfully lot on the floor with his defensive abilities, his post-up game. But more than what Shane does on the court, it's really difficult to explain. You almost have to live here in Memphis to understand it. I've been in the NBA for 25 years with seven teams. I've never seen a player who is not a superstar who is as beloved in a city as Shane is here in Memphis. He could easily run for mayor. We have a county mayor and a city mayor, and there's not doubt in my mind that he could get elected to political office down the road here."
The last time you made the playoffs was Battier's last year here.
"Ever since I came here in June 2007, every place I went from the first time we took our dog to the park in the suburb of Germantown, people would come up and say, 'Oh, we should get Shane back. He used to come here and bring his dog.' If I heard it once, I heard it 1,000 times the last four years. 'We loved it so much better when Shane was here.' When we finally got him back, I literally had people run out in the street when I was walking across the street and hug me for bringing Shane back. It's really been a remarkable connection between Shane and this city, and it hasn't even been severed even though he was gone for five years."
You had just four sellouts in the regular season, but you can't find a seat in the playoffs, which have been nothing but sellouts.
"Things change with rosters, but we're excited for the future. We expected to succeed. We feel the relationship between this team and the city has been rekindled. The passion is back."