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'Grindstones': The corny way the Grizzlies reward gritty play  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

Garrett Temple happily agreed to the request.

Of course a reporter could take a photograph of the basketball in his locker adorned in stickers with the Memphis Grizzlies logo.

"You want to see all my grindstones?" he asked.

Then, from two lockers down, teammate Kyle Anderson piped in after the Grizzlies' 92-83 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

"You think he's got a lot?" Anderson said. "Peep mine."

The common reaction when the Grizzlies are asked about the basketballs covered in stickers that sit in their lockers at FedExForum is a dry smirk or an eye-roll.

"Ask coach about that," Marc Gasol said.

It seems far-fetched that professional basketball players making millions of dollars could be motivated by the possibility of earning stickers.

But the moment of playful postgame banter between Temple and Anderson encapsulates why Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff instituted a messaging strategy this season that Anderson said reminds him of his days playing youth football.

"It's giving guys some sort of recognition for making difficult plays," Bickerstaff said. "What it does, is not only do they get recognized for it, they compete against themselves. Nobody wants to be the guy that doesn't have any stickers on their basketball."

The Grizzlies are awarded stickers, or "grindstones" as the players call them, for leading the team in certain categories during a game.

"Loose balls, deflections, shot contests, charges and a few more that I can't think of off the top of my head," Bickerstaff said.

All the categories share a common theme.

"Physical or mentally tough plays that need to be made," Bickerstaff said.

For the slowest-paced offense in the NBA, "grit and grind" is more than just a marketing slogan meant to conjure nostalgia of former defensive stalwart Tony Allen's playing days.

With the Grizzlies, it's an identity that Bickerstaff is bent on reinforcing at every corner — even with stickers.

So far, it has worked better than most pundits expected. Behind Gasol and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies (16-11) are using defense and hustle to stay in the top half of a loaded Western Conference in a way that feels familiar to Portland coach Terry Stotts.

"They’ve done that for a long time," Stotts said after Memphis held the Trail Blazers 13 points below their previous season-low. "I think J.B. has done a great job of establishing an identity, and they’ve had a lot of success here over the years having that identity."

When the Grizzlies walk into practice, they are greeted with a board where leaders in every sticker-worthy category are listed. It's another form of subliminal messaging meant to reinforce the team's ethos and spur competition.

Bickerstaff picked up the idea for stickers from college football — think Ohio State's helmets — and brought it to his first full-time head coaching job.

To articulate the stickers as a primary source of motivation for the players would be a stretch.

"My reward is a W," Gasol said. "That’s my reward. It’s not going to be a sticker."

But Gasol gets the meaning behind the ploy.

"I understand, because I have those habits built for eleven years and some longer than that," he said. "But for some of the younger guys, we’ve still got to build those habits. I think that’s a good way of showing them how many times they’re doing it and the results the team has because of you doing that. I understand the reasoning behind it, and I’m very supportive.”

Conley offered his approval for the tactic's alignment with Ohio State, where he played his lone season of college basketball.

"I think it's good for guys to come in there and see their ball filled up with stickers for doing the right thing," Conley said.

A Grizzlies staffer tracks the sticker-worthy stats.

Then a runner gathers a few grindstones some time when the locker room is empty and bestows them upon the basketballs.

"I just like the idea," Anderson said. "You get rewarded a little bit with nice stickers. I don't know what it does for people. It doesn't do anything for me going into a game."

Take a peep at Anderson's basketball, though. It probably has more grindstones than yours.


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