The Commercial Appeal
Keeping Allen is essential for the Grizzlies’ future
You should have seen the line. It began at the back of the Ashley Furniture store, then meandered along the wall, past couches and desks, past chests of drawers and coffee tables.
“Crazy,” said Alex Inman, who was one of the hundreds who showed up.
“Insane,” said his buddy, Jarrod Terry.
The line took a hard right before it hit the wall, then started back toward the rear of the store again. It curved past desks and lamps and armoires, past pillows and recliners and framed prints of butterflies.
Who could draw so many people to a furniture store on a picture-perfect Saturday? Was Justin Bieber posing with fans in a loveseat? Nope. There, at the end of the line, sat the Grindfather, the irreplaceable Tony Allen.
He signed posters. He posed for pictures. He heard the same plea over and over.
“Hurry up and sign that contract,” said Daniel Barrach, after he’d collected his autograph.
“I want to,” said Allen.
And that’s the reassuring part of all this, the words you can hold as close as your growl towel. Allen badly wants to stay in Memphis. The Grizzlies badly want to keep him here.
Indeed, Griz CEO Jason Levien has said that he plans to find Allen at 12:01 Monday — when NBA teams can start contacting free agents — to begin making his sales pitch.
Good thing, too, because it would be insanity to lose the guy who gave the Memphis franchise its identity.
“He’s the man,” said Don Sanders, 58.
“He’s hilarious,” said Sage Jenne, 14.
“Losing him on the heels of losing Lionel Hollins would be a really bad idea,” said Kenny Wiggins, 64.
Wiggins and his daughter LaTanya arrived at Ashley Furniture at noon, a full two hours before Allen was to get started. By 2 p..m., the line was out the door.
“It’s incredible,” said Bud Holmes, who arrived with his daughter, Campbell.
The Holmeses had been to one of these Ashley Furniture events before, when Zach Randolph was signing autographs.
“We arrived and Zach was standing there and he said, ‘Hi, I’m Zach Randolph,’ ” said Bud Holmes. “He was really nice. He talked to Campbell for maybe ten minutes. But it was nothing like this madness.”
Holmes didn’t ascribe the difference completely to the popularity of Allen, by the way. Randolph is plenty popular.
“It just shows how the team has taken root in the community,” he said. “Tony has been a huge part of that.”
So the fans waited and waited and waited, for Allen to sign a photo or a basketball or a Tshirt.
Nicholas Poplos, 18, just graduated from White Station. He asked Allen to sign his yearbook.
“He’s been an important part of my senior year,” said Poplas. “He’s the face of the Grizzlies, and they’ve been a huge part of my senior year. It just seemed appropriate.”
This is how it went, for the better part of two hours. The line didn’t move as quickly as it might have because Allen talked to everyone.
As for the issue of free agency, Allen has been clear from the outset. He bleeds blue. He doesn’t want to go anywhere else. Indeed, he has to catch himself so he doesn’t sound like he’s already agreed to a new contract.
“Hopefully, we can do big things,” he said, at one point. “Uh, if I’m back here.”
He shook his head, laughing at himself.
The man leads with his heart, in negotiations and in basketball.
So we will see how it all plays out. Free agents can sign new contracts starting on July 10. It’s hard to imagine Allen going anywhere.
All you had to do was look at the line. The amazing, endless line. Someone should have sent a photo to Allen’s agent, Raymond Brothers.
“He needs to be back,” said LaTanya Wiggins. “Just look at all these people who came out. If he’s leaving, we’re leaving.”