In sports, and in life, Europe and the United States see their societies differently—just not in the ways you might expect.
Memphis, Tennessee, is known for lots of things: Elvis Presley and B. B. King, the blues and barbecue. All these things, and more. But not Grizzly bears.
I did not think much of this while on holiday from London when my wife and I escaped the city’s steaming, unbearable heat to look through the Memphis Grizzlies’ (gloriously air-conditioned) fan store. The Grizzlies are the city’s professional basketball team. Their mascot is Griz the Grizzly Bear. Their crest is a Grizzly bear. It’s all about the bear.
Puzzlingly, in one corner of the store were shirts and other merchandise for a team called the Vancouver Grizzlies—one whose name made much more sense. In fact, the two teams were the same franchise, which in 2001 relocated 1,900 miles, across an international border and three time zones. Vancouver had not been able to support a professional basketball team, so the Grizzlies left for Tennessee. This is not unique in American sports—even in Tennessee. In 1997, American football’s Houston Oilers moved to Nashville, where they played, incongruously, as the Tennessee Oilers before becoming the Tennessee Titans. The most absurd example remains the Jazz: a perfect name for a basketball team from New Orleans, where it was based; less so from Utah, where it now resides.