The Memphis Grizzlies traded Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz. He and Eddie George are Tennessee legends who faced the Volunteers as Ohio State Buckeyes.
After 12 years with the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley is finally moving on. He was traded to the Utah Jazz. The announcement came a week after the news that the Tennessee Titans would retire Steve McNair’s and Eddie George’s jerseys.
Conley and George share a connection that many people may not know. Both are legends for pro teams in the state of Tennessee leading their respective franchises to their greatest success. However, both opposed the Vols in college while playing with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
At the end of the 1995 season, George, who had won the Heisman, and the Buckeyes faced Tennessee football in the Citrus Bowl. The game itself was on New Year’s Day, and who better to be opposing George that day than Peyton Manning, who would eventually forge a rivalry with McNair in the pros.
The Vols won that game 20-14, largely thanks to Jay Graham. With it, they finished 11-1, while Ohio State finished 11-2. Perhaps that bitterness is why George, while playing for the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, the first year any Major League sports team was playing in Tennessee, cast his vote for Charles Woodson to win the Heisman over Manning.
At the time, the Oilers were playing in Memphis. But two years later, they opened in their new stadium in Nashville and immediately went to the Super Bowl as the Titans. George became a legend in the state, and the Ohio State bitterness was forgotten.
Two years after that Super Bowl run, though, the Memphis Grizzlies were formed. They had some success early on with Pau Gasol but began to tank in the mid-2000s. At that point, a pair of five-star teammates in Mike Conley and Greg Oden enrolled to play basketball with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Conley and Oden led OSU to the national championship game, where they lost to the Florida Gators. During the season, though, they faced Tennessee basketball twice. The first time was in the regular season, and Conley hit a three-pointer with less than 10 seconds left to win the game for OSU 68-66. But the real heartbreak came in the NCAA Tournament.
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The Vols made it to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 5 team. Bruce Pearl’s team then got red-hot in a matchup against Ohio State and built a 20-point lead. However, the Buckeyes fought back, and late in the second half, they took a one-point lead with seconds left. Ramar Smith had a great look for a game-winning basket, but Oden blocked it.
Later that summer, the Grizzlies, with the worst record in the NBA, expected to get the top pick. Fans ironically desperately wanted Oden. But they got a bad break and fell to the fourth pick. In the process, they drafted the other Buckeye, Mike Conley.
And with that came a 12-year period that saw Conley become the highest paid player in the NBA and the most reliable player in franchise history. He led the team to seven straight playoff appearances and a Western Conference Finals with the Grit and Grind era that included Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol.
So with Conley’s departure to Utah, we look back on the ironic connections the state of Tennessee has to Ohio State. Conley and George were two college superstars at Ohio State who faced the Vols. One voted against Manning to win the Heisman, the other delivered a massive level of heartbreak to them.
However, they then went on to become the biggest stars in their respective sports on their pro franchises, which were located in Tennessee. It’s an interesting bit of irony that few people would have likely predicted back in 1997 when the Oilers first put a pro franchise in Knoxville. Tennessee and Ohio State don’t have a rivalry, but these are major connections.