The Memphis metropolitan area has a population of 1.26 million. This is modest by major league standards. It is also home to the Memphis Tigers, a college basketball program with a long-term rabid following.
This is what the Memphis Grizzlies have competed against in the 7 1/2 years since the franchise moved from Vancouver. Attendance peaked at 16,862 per game in 2004-05, when the Grizzlies moved into the new FedExForum and reached the playoffs for a second year in a row.
The Grizzlies' record fell to 22-60 and attendance was announced at 12,770 per game in 2007-08. Meantime, John Calipari's Tigers were filling the FedExForum and reaching the national title game.
The Grizzlies were in need of being mainlined with a dose of excitement. So were the Timberwolves, a Western Conference rival that also finished 22-60 with attendance was generously announced at 14,477 per game.
The Timberwolves won the coin flip for a few extra pingpong balls in the lottery and wound up with the third choice. Memphis landed at No. 5.
This break allowed the Wolves to select O.J. Mayo, a shooting guard from Southern Cal. Memphis took Kevin Love, a power forward from UCLA. It was a mismatch when it came to the potential for thrills, since Mayo was a long-range shooter and outstanding athlete, and Love was known for his relentless effort.
Fred Hoiberg, in his role as official mouthpiece for the Wolves front office, went to a fan gathering at Target Center to explain the selection of Mayo -- and the crowd cheered giddily.
Everyone went home, columns were filed for the Star Tribune with headlines reading, "Wolves wanted Mayo all along" -- and then near midnight, Mayo was traded to Memphis and Love came to Minnesota.
On Monday night, Mayo came to Target Center with an average of 20.1 points and as early leader to be the NBA's Rookie of the Year.
Earlier in the day, the Grizzlies went through a shoot-around. A half-dozen Minnesota reporters gathered around Mayo. Someone waved a hand toward the empty arena and said, "This all could have been yours."
Mayo smiled and said, "Could have been."
He's not complaining. He's surrounded by some excellent younger players in Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Darrell Arthur.
"I'm definitely happy I'm with the Grizzlies organization," Mayo said. "We're a young team and find ourselves getting a lot better this year ... starting to compete a lot better."
The Grizzlies had a stretch earlier this month when they won five of six. They came to Minneapolis on a 1-5 streak that included losses to New Orleans, the L.A. Lakers, Dallas and San Antonio.
The Spurs game was Saturday night in Texas. Mayo played 52 minutes, made 12 of 22 shots and scored 29 points in a 106-103 double-overtime loss.
"I was trying to compete hard ... we really wanted that win in San Antonio," Mayo said. "We made some bad mistakes at the end of the game, executionwise."
Mayo scored 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting Monday night in Memphis' 108-98 loss to the Wolves. Love had 17 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
Those few Wolves apologists still to be found locally contend trading Mayo was wise, since it was clear he didn't want to play in Minnesota. The supporting evidence offered was that Mayo declined to work out for the team.
Mayo was asked if that was a proper read on his situation.
"No, not at all," he said. "It was what my agent thought was best for me. Mr. [Leon] Rose has been around this a long time. I just went with what he felt."
There was controversy surrounding Mayo and reported payoffs from the sports agency run by former Gopher Bill Duffy while he was at USC. There were also rumors of Mayo being surrounded by hangers-on -- a situation that makes some teams nervous.
There have been no problems with Mayo in Memphis. The basketball fans there are being drawn back to the Grizzlies by his nightly creativity as a scorer.
Kevin McHale, now the Wolves coach, made the decision to trade Mayo and bring in Love as the main pieces in the big trade. One suggestion by McHale for Love's slow start as a scorer is that he's such a young player.
"Kevin just turned 20, and Mayo's 23," McHale has said.
So, how old are you, O.J.? "Twenty-one," he said, and that birthday was Nov. 5.
His adjustment to the frantic pace of the NBA has been impressive, although imperfect.
"I forgot my room number," he said. "I was asked for what room number I was in [in Minneapolis] and told them the room I had two nights ago in San Antonio. The travel is catching up to me, I guess."
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. firstname.lastname@example.org