Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins has been chronicling Memphis and Memphis sports for more than two decades. He is host of "The Geoff Calkins Show" from 9-11 a.m. M-F on 92.9 FM. Calkins has been named the best sports columnist in the country five times by the Associated Press sports editors, but still figures his best columns are about the people who make Memphis what it is.

Calkins: When Penny Hardaway is introduced, all you'll hear is joy

By Updated: October 03, 2018 7:21 PM CT | Published: October 03, 2018 2:35 PM CT

It will be the Memphis sports moment of the year. It will be a moment that summons the past and embraces the future and celebrates the return of a favorite son.

At sometime after 7 p.m. Thursday, Penny Hardaway will be introduced to a sellout crowd at FedExForum as head coach of the Memphis Tigers.

What you will hear next is the sound of joy and hope and gratitude.

It will echo from Binghampton to Bartlett, from Melrose to Collierville. It will — and this is not even a slight exaggeration — bring grown men and women to tears.

Hardaway has been generating standing ovations since the moment he accepted the Memphis coaching job back in March. He gets standing ovations when he walks into a restaurant these days.

This will be all those ovations multiplied by 18,000. This will be a sound that hasn’t been heard around here in a very long time.

It will be the sound of the Mid-South Coliseum in its raucous heyday. It will be the sound of thousands of fans meeting Memphis players at the airport in 1973 and 1985 and 2008. It will be the sound of the high school gyms where a kid name Anfernee became a star and of a building called The Pyramid which that kid transformed into the Tomb of Doom.

It will be the sound of Memphis basketball.

That’s what this night represents to Memphians. The return of a civic institution that many had thought might be gone forever.

As anyone who has spent any time in the city knows, Memphis basketball has been part of the fabric for decades. It is a shared experience and a shared memory. It is a collection of stories we tell ourselves again and again. It is a team and an obsession and a part of the civic calandar.  

Memphis basketball was a unifying force long before the Grizzlies arrived from Vancouver. It's been a source of fierce, chip-on-the-shoulder pride.

But the last few years have felt completely different. The building has been empty. The passion has dimmed.

The former head coach even tried to explain that, hey, times have changed.

Then Hardaway was hired and all the passion — all the hope, all the memories, all the fierce, chip-on-the-shoulder pride — came rushing back again. 

Hardaway promised that Memphis basketball would once again be Memphis basketball. Who better to believe?

He’s the Memphis kid who could have played college basketball anywhere but chose to stay and play at home.

He’s the NBA icon who could have retired to any city in the country but chose to move back to the city where he grew up. 

And now he was coming to the rescue, taking considerably less money than he could have extracted from the administration, so he could coach at the one school that claimed his heart. Never mind that the school didn’t seriously consider him for the job the last time it was open. That just gave Hardaway more time to prepare for this moment and for this night.

That’s why this Memphis Madness is special. That’s why $10 tickets are being resold for $100 or more. It’s not because of the hope that Justin Timberlake and Drake might be part of the festivities. It’s because of the hope that Memphis basketball might be back.

Indeed, on a night when some of the biggest celebrities in the universe are expected at FedExForum, Hardaway will unquestionably be the biggest star.

And, yes, it’s possible that all this could turn out badly sometime down the road. It did for that other Memphis icon, Larry Finch.

Nobody is pretending that every night will be as glorious as this one. Nobody is pretending to know what the next five years will bring.

But that’s no reason not to celebrate the return of something that has bound this community together as surely as faith and as music. That’s no reason not to celebrate all that Hardaway represents.

The ovation will be both emotional and memorable.  It will be the sound of Final Fours in St. Louis and Lexington and San Antonio. It will be the sound of Treadwell vs. East and Memphis vs. Louisville. It will be the sound of triumph and heartbreak and all the emotions that have bound Memphians together for so long.  

At sometime after 7 p.m. Thursday, Penny Hardaway will be introduced as the head coach of the Memphis Tigers.

You can already hear the joy beginning to build.




Geoff Calkins Penny Hardaway Memphis Madness Memphis Tigers baskeball

Comment On This Story

Section Emails

Sign up to get the latest articles from the Sports;Memphis Tigers section.