No Moral Victories
OJ Mayo’s tough road to success
by Tracy Weissenberg
I remember the first time I interviewed OJ Mayo. It was December of last season and the Grizzlies had begun to right the ship after a 1-8 start. The team came off a 110-105 loss against Boston and I asked if, despite the loss, there were some auspicious signs from the effort.
“We accept no moral victories,” he said.
Every time I watch Mayo play, I remember that quote.
Fast forward over a year later and the Grizzlies have clawed their way into the heart of the postseason. With a roster in which nearly every player has something to prove, the Grizzlies have done it their own way. As the last seed in the West, the team faced no pressure or expectations from rank or legacy. The franchise had never won a single playoff game, let alone series. As the Grizzlies would go on to show, sometimes it is easier to win when you have nothing to lose.
While the Grizzlies defeated the No. 1 Spurs to taste uncharted success, the team’s situation greatly diverges from that of their third year shooting guard. In a year that brought OJ Mayo a barrage of bad fortune—by both fate and fault—it is easy to forget the future the public had mapped out for him only a few years before his entry into the NBA.
Mayo, once saddled by expectations based on talent and early success, has dealt with a sequence of disappointments that seemed to continue coming without reprieve.
Somehow, despite a list of well publicized events that I’d rather not dredge up, he has emerged to reach a place he isn’t even supposed to be. If he was traded to the Pacers at the deadline—like all reports indicated—then perhaps the Grizzlies wouldn’t be a story of success and Mayo one of redemption.
This postseason, Mayo has transformed into a barometer for toughness. His defense against the Thunder shows his growth as a basketball player. His ability to stay focused despite disappointments on the court, off the court and in his role is a testament to a professionalism he showed once reality fell short of expectations.
Perhaps the toughest thing Mayo has done all year—on the court at least—is step up to the plate when Lionel Hollins put him in the starting lineup facing elimination in Game 6. The Grizzlies needed someone to space the floor, and after a season and postseason of coming off the bench, Mayo would need to reclaim the aggressiveness of a scorer and push aside the adaptability he learned as a role player.
He finished the night with 16 points on 6-12 shooting, including 4 rebounds and 4 steals. Oklahoma City’s defense had to respect the added shooter on the floor, which opened up the game and lanes for everyone else. The Grizzlies came away with the win and evened the series.
While everything in life is relative and everyone deals with his or her own set of hardships, Mayo’s are public, and it is easy to see something in him that won’t let him quit. Perhaps that’s what’s so special about the Grizzlies’ postseason. Memphis, a team to which success never came easy, is finally able to make winning look that way. And OJ Mayo, a player to which everything seemingly came easy, is providing a blueprint on how to bounce back.
As Mayo had said long before he faced the tribulations of the 2010-11 season, there is no use seeking moral victories. Only the satisfaction of real ones.