I remember it like it was yesterday. I had hoped for this moment but never believed it would actually come. And then out of nowhere the moment came and changed my life. What moment am I talking about? That would be the moment that Tony Allen followed me on Twitter. That's right. Tony Allen following me on Twitter nearly 6 years ago changed my life. The initial follow was because of some Future lyrics I quoted from a song TA had made me aware of and I was now listening to regularly. That song was "Go Harder" and eventually it became a sort of theme song for Tony Allen. When it was time for the Grindfather to do his thing, the DJ at the Grindhouse would turn that up, and the camera went right to Tony Allen. I never remember a time that the crowd didn't go crazy when it would start to play. But unfortunately, now another moment I hoped would NEVER come is here. Tony Allen is leaving Memphis to play somewhere else. I could go into all the times in Grizz history that TA made an impact, but plenty of writers that are far more talented have done that already. So I just want to take a minute and discuss what Tony Allen meant to me.
I am sort of known as an intense, outspoken Grizz fan on Twitter. But it wasn't until Tony Allen followed me on Twitter that I started to realize my words could matter a little bit more than I thought they ever could. Tony Allen following me on Twitter legitimized me to some extent. Suddenly there were people who WANTED my opinion on the Grizzlies. Me. Katee Forbis. Who am I? No one really. But Tony Allen recognized my fandom and passion. He gave me a few shout outs on the radio, and it wasn't long before my name was synonymous with Grizz fans. Tony Allen is my favorite basketball player. He is at the top of a short list of my absolute favorites in basketball. My short list consists of Tony Allen, Michael Jordan, Shane Battier, OJ Mayo, JJ Redick and Zach Randolph. Yeah, I know. It's an odd list. But I'm also kind of an odd girl.
But TA isn't my favorite player just because he followed me on Twitter, he's my favorite player because of who he is as a person. His defense is unlike almost any other player in the NBA. His energy changes the room. It changes games. It changed the city of Memphis. "All heart. Grit. Grind." wasn't just a saying in Memphis, it became our identity. I know that's said a lot, but it's said a lot because it's true.
I met Tony Allen a handful of times over the last 6 years, and in all of those times, I only said a handful of words to him. Partly because there is rarely time for a long sit down chat with your favorite NBA player, and also because I never wanted to be annoying or say something stupid. As much as TA and I interacted on Twitter, I never asked him for anything. Well, I take that back. At the first Memphis Grizzlies wrestling night, I really wanted Tony to sign my Grizzlyweight Championship (Yes, that's a thing.) but I didn't have much time to get his attention before he went back in the tunnel from an early shoot around. He was running into the tunnel and everyone was yelling "Tony! Tony Allen! Please sign this!" and I couldn't get him to look over at me. So finally I did the one thing I said I would never do. I named dropped. And if that wasn't obnoxious enough, I name dropped MYSELF. I didn't say I was proud of it. But it was my last ditch effort and I was desperate. So as TA ran past me, I yelled "TONY! IT'S KATEE FORBIS!" I had no idea if it would work, but suddenly Tony stopped, turned around, smiled, grabbed my hand like politicians do when greeting people in a crowd, and signed my Grizzlyweight Championship belt before running back into the tunnel. The people around me were looking at me like I had two heads. It's like their eyes were saying "Who the hell is this chick?" I was nobody. But Tony Allen always made me feel like a somebody. He didn't have to stop that day and sign my belt. He didn't have to follow me on Twitter or respond to my tweets as often as he did. Tony Allen didn't owe me anything. But that's just the type of guy that Tony Allen is.
Tony is all heart, and I'd like to think he could sense that I was all heart too. He wears his heart on his sleeve and I often do too. I can't speak for him, but I know in my life, this is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing when your vulnerability helps you form relationships and help others get through difficult times in their lives. It's a curse when that same vulnerability causes you to put your trust in someone who ends up disappointing you, whether they intended to or not. But that vulnerability is why so many people love Tony Allen. He is the real deal. He is going to say what's on his mind, and he is going to be himself at all times. There is an authenticity about TA that you just don't come across every day in the NBA. Tony Allen made us fans feel like part of the team. He showed us respect. He made us feel, as TA himself likes to say, like "He with us."
I am the owner of a fair amount of Tony Allen memorabilia. I have his rookie card and a signed basketball from his days with the Celtics. I have wristbands and a jersey he's signed to me. I even have a room in my new house that I lovingly call "The Tony Allen room." It got its name from the giant Tony Allen painting I bought and hung on the wall. Call me obsessive, call me a weirdo, but don't you dare call me a fair-weathered fan. I will always be a fan of Tony Allen. No matter where he plays. And if he has to go, I'm happy he's at least going to New Orleans this season, because that drive is fairly easy.
It's difficult to put into words what Tony Allen has meant to me over the years. Personally, I've had the hardest and darkest years of my life since Tony has been here. He didn't really know that, but he helped me through those years anyway. He gave me something to believe in. I believed in the Memphis Grizzlies because Tony Allen believed. And pardon the corniness, but I even started to believe in myself a little more because of Tony Allen. His confidence and passion made me feel like it was okay to be me. It was okay to be emotional and intense. It was okay to love the game of basketball on another level. Without even realizing it, Tony helped me come out of my shell. He inspired me to put myself out there and be my weird, crazy self. And most importantly, TA taught me how to not care what others thought about me.
So as Tony Allen leaves the Memphis Grizzlies and moves on to another chapter in his career, I wish he and his family nothing but success and happiness. In a perfect world, Tony Allen would've retired in Memphis. And who knows, maybe he'll come back for one more year. Maybe he won't. But either way, I'll never forget what he did for my city, my favorite basketball team, or what he did for me. Tony Allen came from very little and he made a name for himself in the NBA. He got to where he is at by working hard and following his heart. One of my favorite things Tony Allen has ever said is "Stay ready and you won't have to get ready." Tony Allen stayed ready in Memphis. And when the opportunity was finally given to him, he was ready. TA took that opportunity and turned it into more than anyone could've expected or dreamed. Tony Allen showed me that if you stay ready for the opportunity, there's no limit to what you can do with it once it's there.
Thank you for being YOU, Tony Allen. There will never be another like you. And that's why we all love you. I will forever be grateful to you, the Grindfather. And I will forever stay ready. Good luck in New Orleans. YOU DESERVE IT! *Future voice*
Sincerely, your #1 fan,