It’s Bigger than Basketball

Posted on September 30, 2014


By Casey Black
For the October issue of theGRIND, we want to show you a different side of sports. It’s not always about wins and losses or game stats and playoffs. The fans are ultimately the driving force behind all great teams, college and professional. Below you will find the story of a true BLUE Memphis Grizzlies fan.

It’s been nearly two years- two confusing, heartbreaking years since Nancy Blankenship lost her fairytale love, globetrotting companion and partner in crime. On November 1, 2012, Paul Blankenship, beloved Methodist minister, loyal Memphian and husband of 56 years, died from a stroke.

We always know the day will come when that person we hold closest will be ripped from our grasp. The person who fills each morning with delight over raisin bran and tea, who maintains the impeccable yard that greets your continuous flow of guests, who raves about your chocolate chip cookies to any misguided soul who claims to have the perfect recipe. The person you moved all over the country with and raised children with will one day leave your side; not by choice.

For Nancy Blankenship, nothing could prepare her for this day. Her husband, Paul, was one of the most brilliant and respected men in the community. Paul attended Lambuth College, Vanderbilt University and earned his PhD at Northwestern University, spending much of his career teaching at colleges and seminaries. So, you understand the brilliant part. In the late 1950s, Paul moved Nancy and their two young daughters to Montgomery, Alabama to teach, preach in African American churches and march for equal rights. So, you see just how influential he was. When Paul died, Nancy not only felt the personal pain of losing her ultimate love, but she also felt the anguish of all who were touched by Paul’s extraordinary life.

It’s been nearly two years, and Nancy is doing better. She misses Paul every second of every day, but she’s found that staying busy keeps her focus on the positive parts of her life.

She’s a master gardner, hard-working advocate for the deaf and blind, active member of her church and she’s a Memphis Grizzlies fan.

As a graduate of Memphis State University, Nancy has always loved her Memphis Tigers basketball, but the Grizzlies mean something entirely different. Not too long before Paul passed away, Nancy adopted the Grizzlies as her new love. She built a foundation early on and began carving out time in her busy schedule to catch most of the games. Then, she learned more about the individual players. She decided that the upstanding, starting point guard with the great smile, Mike Conley, was her favorite player on the team. Before too long, there was nothing that could stand in Nancy’s way of watching the Grizzlies games. So, when the fall of 2012 proved to be the hardest of her life, the Grizzlies were there to illuminate her home that otherwise felt so dark. The Grit N’ Grind squad made sure she had something thrilling to look forward to.

It’s been nearly two years since Nancy’s great love died, creating a giant, impossible void in her life. While no one and nothing can ever fill that void, one could say she’s just beginning a new chapter with a whole different kind of love.

Fandom is a bizarre, incalculable creature that consumes humans in the most wonderful way. Even during the hardest times, you can turn on the game and escape. When the game isn’t on, you can read ridiculously entertaining fan blogs and stay up-to-date on the latest trades. Fandom is a perfect 24-hour job.

So, on October 8, you better believe Nancy will be glued to her TV for the first preseason game, wearing the Mike Conley jersey her grandchildren gave her for Christmas. She’ll be cheering on her boys in blue alongside all of her closest friends in Grizz Nation, because that’s what fandom does. It gives you thousands of people, all going through different hardships, coming together with one common goal- a grind it out, hard fought win.

After all, the Grizzlies did teach us to Believe.

Casey Black is a Memphis native who now is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Read her coverage of the Grizzlies at

Posted in: Grizzlies, Sports