By Alexis Morgan and Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
MEMPHIS – When puzzled point guard Mike Conley recently saw a lengthy stretch of artificial turf flooring being installed in the Grizzlies’ renovated weight room at FedExForum, his creative imagination flowed as quickly as his movements on an NBA court.
Conley found one of the team’s trainers for clarification.
“At first, I saw this big strip cut out in the weight room, and I was like, ‘What is that for?’” the Grizzlies’ franchise catalyst asked. “They told me it was for artificial turf for sprinting and stuff like that. And I told them I would turn it into a putting green if they made me run on it too much. It’s really cool, the ideas they have. And the turf is going to be good for it.”
Expect Conley to increase his speed – and reduce his golf handicap – at even greater rates this season.
An offseason of cool innovation and renovation has resulted in a state-of-the-art makeover for the Grizzlies, who believe their locker room and training areas now rival the top facilities of any team in the NBA. The latest phase of multimillion dollar upgrades and expansion started immediately after Memphis’ seventh straight trip to the playoffs ended in first-round loss to San Antonio in late April.
In addition to the enhancements of the Grizzlies’ basketball facilities, FedExForum will also unveil a new center-hung, high-definition scoreboard and four accompanying big-screen corner video monitors when the season opens at home Oct. 18 against New Orleans. Jason Wexler, Grizzlies president of business operations, will be among several team, arena and architectural executives who on Friday afternoon will host a preview of the expansive upgrades at FedExForum.
Conley is among the players, coaches and executives who have had a sneak peek of the makeover and new digs in advance of the team’s media day on Monday and Tuesday’s start of training camp.
“The locker room is a sanctuary to the players, and it’s vitally important to have an elite level locker room in any level of sports,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said. “It goes hand-in-hand with the mission of our ownership, Robert Pera, to give our players the best possible chance to succeed, give them world-class facilities and care, and this falls right in line with that.”
While the stretch of football style turf easily stands out inside an NBA training facility, it also symbolizes the progressive approach the Grizzlies have taken to stay on the cutting edge of player conditioning, training and recovery.
The training and weight rooms have been expanded to about 10,550 square feet in work space from last season. The new locker room has been enhanced with LED lighting, enlarged player seating and storage space, digital video screens, redesigned tile and bathroom fixtures and luxury spa, sauna and wet rooms.
The project also includes improvements to the arena’s Built Ford Tough Training Facility, where there are new locker rooms and office space for the Memphis Hustle, the Grizzlies’ G League expansion team that begins play this upcoming season.
Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said the goal was to create an environment that addresses every need, from the moment players arrive for morning practice and treatment sessions to when they leave close to midnight after the postgame recovery process. That mission appears to have been accomplished – with a few fringe benefits to boot, such as the billiards and ping pong tables in the players’ lounge.
Those intricate details shouldn’t be overlooked for the Grizzlies, whose roster retooling this offseason has mirrored the rebuilding of the facilities that surround them. Conley and All-Star center Marc Gasol remain the anchors, but Memphis could have as many as seven new faces on opening night this season.
“It’s critical in getting your players back to square one from a health standpoint (and) I also think the facility provides an environment to build team,” said Fizdale, who had significant input in the upgrades entering his second season. “The big part was I wanted to create an environment that guys wanted to stay in and not necessarily rush out of here right away, and provide top-notch services NBA players need. Everything was built with team in mind, and I really feel we’ve jumped to the top of the NBA from a facilities standpoint.”
Conley has already noticed the impact.
He’s played in FedExForum for 10 years since being drafted fourth overall in 2007, and believes it feels like a new arena in many areas. It’s the third consecutive year ownership has committed private financing for upgrades inside Memphis’ public arena for player development. In 2015, the Grizzlies overhauled the basketball operations infrastructure with new coaching offices and screening rooms. Last year, the team returned from the 2016 All-Star break to a new players’ lounge.
And now, there’s that enticing turf – among other improvements – Conley can’t resist.
“I was amazed just with how much space they were able to use,” Conley said of the retrofit. “I didn’t think we had much room to build into. But they found rooms to bust down and remodel, and the locker room is top-notch. The whole facility is top-notch. Our training room is massive and our weight room is massive. Everything in there is top of the line and everything you dream about having in a work place.”
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Alexis Morgan and/or Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.