The Memphis Grizzlies are a far cry from the days of Ja Morant Instagram Live is campaigning for more ESPN games. Those days were just six months ago, but a 56-win season, an ESPN All-Access Special and one of the most exciting players in the league have the Grizzlies as one of the most featured teams on ESPN this coming season.
The NBA released the 2022-23 schedule on Wednesday, and the Grizzlies received a franchise-record 18 nationally televised games, plus another 10 viewings on NBA TV. Of those 18 games, 11 will be on ESPN and ABC, which was the eighth-highest total in the NBA.
“The Grizzlies have just had an incredible year,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN vice president, programming and acquisitions. “We are interested in continuing to tell this story. The Grizzlies will be the ones to write it. We want to be there to cover it.”
ESPN builds the game schedule through collaborative work with the NBA. Certain teams focus on, and Memphis is now one of those franchises.
One look at the Grizzlies schedule and you’ll notice that all 11 ESPN games will face 10 different opponents. Only budding rival Golden State is featured twice. The Warriors won the 2022 NBA Championship and beat the Grizzlies 4-2 in the Western Conference Semifinals. Between the post-game press conferences, questionable fouls, injuries and competitiveness, this was one of the most memorable playoffs of last season.
“We are storytellers at heart,” Kenny said. “We’re NBA fans too. We’re very aware of key storylines, developing rivalries, and want to give fans the absolute best games.”
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The Grizzlies had four 50-win seasons before 2022, but the air is different these days. Yes, Morant’s rise is a big reason, but it’s also the core around him.
When it was announced that Morant would not play in last season’s historic ESPN All-Access game against the Brooklyn Nets, at first it was a shame the world couldn’t see the Memphis All-Star. The Grizzlies beat the Nets 132-120 while seven of their players scored in double figures.
This game served as a national introduction to the depth and promising young core of the Grizzlies.
And then there’s the small market conversation. Ask general manager Zach Kleiman, and the Grizzlies don’t see themselves as a so-called small market. Earlier this summer, Kleiman said Memphis would pay to keep its core intact, and he’s proving it with contract extensions for Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and John Konchar.
While there’s no clear definition of what makes an NBA team a small or big market franchise, a few of the historic powerhouses are among the 10 teams with double-digit games this season.
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Full roster includes: Warriors (18), Los Angeles Lakers (16), Boston Celtics (16), Milwaukee Bucks (14), Dallas Mavericks (14), Philadelphia 76ers (13), Phoenix Suns (13), Grizzlies (11) ) Los Angeles Clippers (10) and New York Knicks (10).
Memphis has entered the upper echelon.
“NBA fans are smart and they want to see stars and top teams,” Kenny said. “Whether it’s a big market or a small market, you can’t deny the performance on the pitch, the enthusiasm off the pitch and when you look at the season ahead it’s clear that there’s a lot of interest in the Memphis Grizzlies. We’re proud to feature them at least 11 times this year.”
Contact Damichael Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @damichaelc