Memphis has a very strong sports history. For decades, the University of Memphis has been an elite team on the national stage. However, Tiger basketball is not the only big time event that Memphis has played host to. The St Jude Classic is an annual event that always has signature moments. But does anything come close to the Memphis Grizzlies hosting the Bluff City’s first ever NBA Western Conference Finals?
Here are a few events that have catapulted to the top of the Memphis sports scene:
Mike Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis, Heavyweight Championship, June 8, 2002 at The Pyramid.
World championship boxing matches always bring out the A-list in the entertainment world and this was no exception. Some of the celebrities in attendance were Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, Hugh Hefner, Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, LL Cool J. Wesley Snipes and many others.
This fight was originally scheduled for April 6, 2002 in Las Vegas, but Las Vegas and other states refused to issue Tyson a license to box. Tickets sales were slow at first because of the high cost of $2,400, but 15, 327 show to see Lewis defeat Tyson in eight rounds.
Memphis vs. Tenneseee, No. 1 vs. No. 2, February 23, 2008 at FedExForum.
The Tigers entered the game with a 26-0 record and the Vols were 24-2. Memphis was ranked No.1 in the country and Tennessee was No. 2. Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning were among the stars to show up for this time. There was plenty of tension in the building for an in-state rivalry game on a national stage. John Calipari and Bruce Pearl were opening taking verbal jabs at each other. The Tigers had the longest home active winning streak in the country (47 games). The Vols won the game 66-62. Entertainment Tonight television show was in attendance with the 18,629 fans for the game.
Derrick Rose and Robert Dozier were not able to contain Memphis native J. P. Prince and Chris Lofton off in order to keep their undefeated record alive. The Tigers did go on to play in the National Championship game against the Kansas Jayhawks.
Illinois vs. Alabama, Bear Byrant’s last game, December 29, 1982 at Liberty Bowl Stadium.
After the 1982 season, the legendary coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide decided to end his coaching career. He announced his last game as coach would be at the Liberty Bowl. The Tide lost their final regular season game to the Auburn Tigers. Bryant stated,”This is my school, my alma mater. I love it and I love my players. But in my opinion, they deserved better coaching than they have been getting from me this year.” The Tide won the Liberty Bowl 21-15 over the Illini in front of 54,123 and and what was described as a media “circus” from around the country.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, The Triple OT Game, May 10, 2011 at FedExForum.
The Memphis Grizzlies were coming in off of upsetting the number one seeded San Antonio Spurs and came into this game with a 2 games to 1 advantage over the Thunder. Zach Randolph 34 points and 16 rebounds and Marc Gasol 26 points and 21 rebounds were not event to defeat the Thunder. This133-123 triple overtime thriller won by the Thunder was led by Kevin Durant’s 35 points and Russell Westbrook’s 40 points. The Thunder went on to win the series in seven games. It took three-hours and 52 minutes to play the game. This was the only sporting event ever held in Memphis to be nominated for a ESPY.
Andy Kaufman vs Jerry “The King” Lawler, April 5, 1982 at the Mid-South Coliseum.
Kaufman was a frequent guest on Saturday Night Live (SNL) were he would wrestle women as part of his skits. Kaufman came to Memphis and offered any woman $1,000 if they could beat him. Lawler became tired of his antics and they began a verbal feud. They finally fought and Kaufman won the fight on a disqualification, because Lawler used an illegal move (the piledriver).
The two would meet again on July 28 on the David Letterman show and Lawler would give Kaufman the slap heard around the world. During Lawler’s appearance on the show Kauffman threated to sue Lawler for injuring him in their match and got tired of listening to Kaufman babble and he slapped him. This confrontation between the two actually brought wrestling the national stage. This was the first time wrestling and Hollywood to crossed paths. Memphis was selling out the Mid-South Coliseum every week back then. Lawler vs. Kaufman has been featured in movies (Man on the Moon) and on various TV specials.
These are just a few of the top sporting events that Memphis has hosted. There are plenty of other events that the city has played host to. What are some of your favorite sporting events of all time that has occurred within the city limits of Memphis?
Terry Davis is a regular contriburtor for MemphiSport. Follow him @Terryd515.