Friday, September 14, 2007

Class in Session with Chris Wallace

Every now and then you get lucky in life. Sometimes it is not answering the phone in time only to have it be a sales call. Sometimes you find a quarter on the ground. Friday it was playing a long shot and winning big.

Some friends of mine from the Memphis Grizzlies message board and I decided to get together and talk about the Grizzlies summer and what our expectations were for the coming season. On a whim I sent an email to new Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace and invited him to join us. I didn't really expect a reply. If I got a reply it would probably be from his secretary saying he couldn't make it. I didn't expect a reply saying "thanks for the invitation. I will meet you there."

And he actually showed up!

So there I was with (real names withheld to protect identities) Memphis Slim, Spartacus, Grizzman, Stubbylegs, MoneyShot and Mr. Toad when in walked Chris Wallace talking on his cell phone. Now I don't know what he was saying on the phone (I imagined he was telling Phoenix why Shawn Marion wasn't a good fit on the Grizzlies but I have a vivid imagination) but he hung up the phone and walked up to our table and introduced himself. No shyness. No pretense. No air of superiority. Chris Wallace is definitely not Jerry West.

For the next 2 hours Chris Wallace educated us on his vision of the world of basketball. He answered all of our questions. No holds barred education from someone who really knows what he is talking about. To say it was enlightening would be an understatement. It was like that favorite teacher in college who kept you enthralled during the entire class. I only wish I had thought to bring paper to take notes.

Here is what I remember from the conversation.

The first question was straightforward. I asked Chris this question: The Grizzlies have assembled a lot of pieces this year almost like a jigsaw puzzle but what do you see the picture looking like Mr. Wallace? His answer was a simple "I don't know." He then explained that his job is to raise the overall talent level of the team without destroying the chemistry that already exists. He is excited about the potential of our point guards. He believes we will be a better three point shooting team. He thinks our big men will improve the defense. Most importantly he said this team wants to be faster but not at the expense of defense.

He said the only players likely to be guaranteed starting spots are Pau Gasol (without hesistation) and Mike Miller (a slight hesitation there but I may be reading too much into that). He talked about why he went after Darko and how much he expects from him (a lot by the way). He explained why he went to Argentina but didn't make a serious attempt to sign Nocioni or Varejao (way too expensive for any increase in talent over Darko). Most interesting he discussed how he values players. He explains what he looks for in draft picks and free agents and how he views value. He reference the 6 to 5 difference compared to a 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 difference. Basically he saw the differences between Darko and Nocioni and Varejao as maybe a small difference in player skill but a large difference in the cost to acquire them. He can be satisfied if he doesn't get the better player if the cost is right. I am explaining it poorly but he made a lot of sense when he talked about it.

He talked about how Rudy Gay and Tarence Kinsey were promising rookies but he needs to see more from them this year. He believes they will show it as well. He talked about his concern about rookie playing the point and his concern about Damon not being physically able to play but he also said he was impressed with Damon's professionalism. He has been to see Stro and expects him in Memphis next week to start working out with the other players in town (and he said a lot of players are already in town). He talked about Pau, Juan Carlos Navarro and Darko playing in Europe (and mentioned he is still holding his breath until the last two games are played). He discussed Darko's outburst against the ref and how the Serbian culture and the timing of the question played into this. He wasn't pleased with what Darko said, but related that Serbia was at war recently, these international games mean so much more outside of America and the players are very emotional. The press fired questions at him immediately after the game and he would have said something very different if he had been given 10-15 minutes to cool off. Basically he said that you have to understand things are different over there.

He then broadened the conversation to the NBA in general. He talked about how the NBA is attempting to build a league where teams and players are associated together. Garnett was in Minnesota for 12 or so years, Paul Pierce in Boston, Kobe in LA, Patrick Ewing in NY, etc. Sure there will be trades made but the idea is to build a league where teams and stars are associated with each other. It does make it harder to become a champion but it builds fan loyalty. He talked about the importance of chemistry from the team. He gave the example of Boston when they went to the Conference Finals and how their team had basically been together for three years and how that knowledge played as important a part as the talent of the individual players.

I am leaving lots out and I am sure that the people that were there will fill in many of the blanks but the most interesting thing for me was that Chris Wallace was there. I told him it would be 3 or 4 people plus myself. I didn't imply that the people were interested in buying season tickets or upgrading their seats. He came because we wanted to meet him and he wanted to get us as enthused about the team and future as he is. If anyone is concerned that Chris Wallace isn't the right man for the job let me clearly state that in my opinion he is the right man. He understands that Memphis is a large small town, rather than a small city, and that we appreciate a more personal connection with the team.

The Grizzlies most likely won't win the NBA Championship this season. The team may not even make the playoffs but in Chris Wallace we have a man in charge who wants the Grizzlies to be an integral part of the city. That is more important right now after 5 years of disconnect.

Thank you Mr. Wallace.

Update: Welcome TrueHoop readers!


zack said...

what an opportunity!!!

very impressive by Chris Wallace to show up and meet some of the die hard fanatics....who frequent the messageboard nonetheless....

Circlek said...


I am envious that you guys got to actually sit down with the coach of the team. It is good to see that he took the time to come speak with you guys on a personal note. I would bet anything that NO other GM in the league would meet with a small group of fans like that. I am looking forward to this year, and the future as well.

Anonymous said...

Well done Chip. The only thing I am disappointed in is that you didn't have a pen and paper or a recorder to capture the moment. Plus where is the photo of CW and this merry band of poster?


ChipC3 said...

Damn GMan, I totally forgot about getting a photograph! That would have made it even better.

If I ever get a similiar opportunity I won't make that mistake again.

GrizzMan said...

I thought about taking a picture with my phone but I thought you guys would get mad.

ChipC3 said...

Geez Grizzman, why didn't you just ask? You didn't have to be obvious about it or anything.

Of course you didn't say hardly anything the whole time Wallace was there. I thought you swallowed your tongue or something!

Anonymous said...

Good to see you've found something to occupy the time you used to spend on the messageboard, chip. I was wondering what you were doing with those extra 3 to 4 hours a day since your triumphant departure from the negativeness of the board.

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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ChipC3 said...

I must admit it is a lot more enjoyable wasting time with Chris Wallace compared to some of my nemesis on the Grizzlies board.

Anonymous said...

I travelled through europe again this year from april to end of august and played pickup games in 8 different countries and let me tell you that if you play pickup in Belgrade (Beograd rules means there aint none!), the first thing you learn to say is Jebem ti mater and jebem ti sestru. Strangely enough, these outbursts didnt result in bloodbaths but seemed part of on court trash talk.

Always love a great diplomat, Chris. They werent 'at war', we bombed them for 3 months in support of the largest and best trained terrorist group in the world (according to our CIA). But nice sugar coating.

BTW, when the news of the Wallace hiring was confirmed, we were in Milano and we played a pickup game after a sound check with some locals behind the Torchiera Punk Club and later had a few beers and talked ball.
Let me tell you that people across the pond were as underwhelmed as were those in north america. The extreme 'sucking' of the Celtics was well chronicled abroad. Fast forward to the end of august, and we managed to find games in Barcelona, Marseilles (sheesh, you scared of walking through some ghettos? Marseilles has them beat) and Lyon and guess what?
EVERYONE loves the Grizzlies now!
The moves Wallace has made including the Iavaroni pick have gotten excellent marks and the fact that there are now three euros means that the team will be the new Kings (well, as long as its as entertaining) in europe. Hell, Im gonna watch the Grizzlies for the first time since the shame we allowed to happen in Vancouver (you cant be an international sports and allow players to behave the way they have in Toronto or Vancouver) because Im a big fan of Navarro's game. I might even have to join a forum!

Everyone loves the Suns, that's a given and the Raptors are getting lots of love there as well I noticed but Ive heard more than once people say good things about the Grizzlies and the most negative about them was always "its a shame they have to play in the west (2nd most common question is "Why are they not in the east?"). I would guess that youve had an increase in european traffic.


zack said...

zeke...thanks for chiming in...

Jeremy said...

Nice story - I can back this up as well. My sr year of college back in 2002, Chris was GM of the Celtics. After a game, my roomate saw him out at a bar and said he was hoping to have a career in sports (basketball) and would love to chat with him. Chris gave him his card and said to call him. Eventually they met at the celtics practice facility and Chris gave him some sound career advice. (not the job my buddy was looking for but still a real nice gesture). I wish Chris only the best in Memphis.

Anonymous said...

Kind of silly to go from "Chris Wallace is a nice guy" to "Chris Wallace is a good GM" - especially when his track record is atrocious.

Wallace obliterated the Celtics franchise and left behind the basketball equivalent of a post-apocalyptic world. Why any franchise would want him is beyond me, no matter how many fans he goes to dinner with.

Frankly, I'd prefer my GMs to be focused on the team, not going to dinner with fans. But I would guess that Wallace probably had nothing better to do - or doesn't know the difference.

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