By Andre Earls
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Finally past the other side of the trade deadline, Memphis Grizzlies star point-guard Mike Conley was happy to be assisting with the community service project in West Charlotte.
On the Friday of All-Star weekend, NBA legends past and present collaborated with dozens of NBA Cares volunteers to refurbish homes in the West Charlotte area. In addition to Conley, Klay Thompson, Miles Bridges, Buddy Hield, Reggie Bullock, Jason Collins, and others gathered at the Little Rock Apartments, partnering with United Way to help with restoration, as well as executing a food drive at the South View Recreation Center nearby.
“It’s great to be in Charlotte” Conley said. “It’s good to be a part of different communities. I’m so used to being in Memphis, so to go out into this community and meet all of the volunteers and see all of the good work they do and be a part of it, is special. It’s an opportunity you can’t take for granted.
Ten days removed from the NBA deadline, and emotions still swirled for Conley, who is in the process of adjusting to his new teammates.
“It’s really weird sitting down next to a guy on a bus ride, or a plane ride… you look over to your right and it’s a different guy sitting next to you and you’re like ‘What are you doing here?’” Conley said. “We knew at some point it would happen, but I’m just happy that we’re in a situation where we can succeed and win a championship.”
While Conley himself was able to survive the trade storm, his Memphis running mate Marc Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors. After playing in Memphis with Gasol for over a decade (with neither player having played for another team) Conley was forced to unpack his emotions.
“I think we had a whole two weeks of an ‘emotional goodbye’ situation where we were constantly talking, calling, seeing what was going on with each of our situations, and where we might get traded” he said. “When he got traded, we knew it was about to happen, so it was good luck moving forward and obviously we’ll see each other down the road no matter what. He’ll be in Memphis with his family I’m sure at some point, and we’ll get together. As far as goodbye’s, it was pretty simple.”
Despite his visible disappointment over his friend’s departure, Conley’s humble, objective personality was on display as he discussed how Gasol would impact the Toronto Raptors who currently have the second-best record in the NBA.
“He’s as solid of a player you’ll ever find” Conley said. “Every aspect of the game, he’s got no weaknesses. On the defensive end, he can really change games. He’s so smart, calling out coverages, getting his hands on balls, blocks, steals, his passing ability – all of those things are going to bode well for a team that’s already unselfish, plays fast and plays well together. He’ll fit right in, and you can already see he’s made his mark.”
Conley left his mark at the NBA Cares event, painting walls with both hands, which he said was representative of his ‘balanced lifestyle’.
“Yeah I always have [been ambidextrous], and thankfully so” Conley said. “When one arm gets tired, I use the other one. I just like to be balanced in life I guess.”
Stability is everything for Conley, and even though he didn’t get traded, he felt the full brunt of the trade rumors. As he enjoyed painting during All-Star weekend, he’s just happy he’s still with the team that drafted him 12 years ago.
“It was emotional man” he said. “It was hard because part of me is trying to lock in on my job and just worry about Oklahoma, watch film and prepare, but I can’t help thinking about the other 90% of me that’s like: ‘You’re going to get traded. Where am I going to go? I need to call my family. Am I even going to be playing in this game tonight?’ There’s so many different thoughts so honestly, it was just about trying to get to 2:00pm and get it over with… whatever it is. Whether I’m leaving or staying, just so I don’t have to be thinking about it, getting text messages and phone calls constantly. I’m just happy it passed, and something happened, which was nothing in my case, so I’m happy to be back in Memphis.”