Ja Morant Needs To Drop The Tough Guy Act, For Himself And For The City Of Memphis: Mark Harris

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Ja Morant is the most influential person to be associated with the city of Memphis since Elvis Presley was living at Graceland. That may sound like an unfair responsibility to pin on a 23-year-old, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

When you sign a five-year, $193 million contract, get a signature shoe from Nike, and sign more endorsement deals than you can count you immediately become a role model. Morant may not have signed up for that responsibility, but it comes with the territory.

And Morant plays in a city desperate for a positive influence.

Memphis Needs Ja Morant To Be A Leader

I live in Memphis. Like most of my friends and family who call the 901 home, I have a love-hate relationship with this city.

One day Memphis can feel like an incredible community and one of the most disrespected cities in the country. The next day, you could be sitting on the couch with your spouse looking for houses anywhere but here.

Memphis is one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden cities in the country. Over recent years, violent crime in particular has increased dramatically in the city. Data collected in 2021 showed that residents had a 1 in 40 chance of becoming a victim of violent crime in Memphis, and it’s likely those numbers were even scarier in 2022.

There have been 48 reported homicides in the city of Memphis in 2023.

While some Memphis residents claim the city gets a bad rap, numbers do not lie: Memphis is a dangerous place.

Ja Morant recording triple-doubles and leading the Grizzlies on a playoff run isn’t going to stop the crime that takes place in Memphis. The poverty rate is high and the lazy elected officials refuse to even attempt to change things with a built-in excuse of ‘that’s how Memphis has always been.’

What Morant does have the ability to do is influence the younger generation in Memphis. Hell, he already is.

That’s what makes his recent stunts disappointing and sad.


Ja Morant’s Recent Allegations Aren’t Helping Anyone

In January, Morant was reportedly sued after allegedly hitting a teenager multiple times during a pickup game in July 2022. This week, a new report of the incident alleges that he also threatened the 17-year-old with a gun.

Ja Morant allegedly has been involved in a number of off-court incidents. (Getty Images)

Morant admitted to striking the teenager, but claims he was acting in self-defense. Morant said the teen threw the ball at him “intentionally” and “began to approach him as if he wanted to fight.”

Four days before that alleged altercation, Morant and his crew reportedly threatened security at a Memphis mall. One member of Morant’s group allegedly shoved a security director in the head.

While the recent allegations involve incidents last summer, Morant’s entourage was accused of intimidating Indiana Pacers staff members with a red-laser sight gun after a game earlier this season.

In less than a year’s time, Morant’s reputation among many in Memphis and most in the national media has gone from an NBA superstar who the Grizzlies were lucky to draft to a rich kid putting on a tough guy act.

If you take a look at the most successful and wealthiest professional athletes in the world, none carry themselves as a tough guy. Whether it be among fans in your own team’s arena, the Nike exec cutting your check, or those within the media, that act has never worked.

Ja Morant The Family Man

What does work is the way Morant carries himself on the court before, during, and even after games.

Morant has a young daughter, Kaari, who has become somewhat of an unofficial mascot for the Grizzlies.

Ja Morant should promote the family man reputation, not the tough guy. (Getty Images)

More often than not she watches her dad play while sitting courtside in the lap of Morant’s father.

After the final buzzer sounds, Morant’s attention seems to immediately turn to his daughter and father. Morant will often dance with her after wins and run around the court with her over his shoulder. She was even a part of the Nike ad where Morant showed off his soon-to-be-released signature shoe.

Being a proud father and son – which I believe Morant is both – and having the ability to recognize those moments minutes after playing in a hectic NBA game needs to be the story and reputation of Ja Morant.

That reputation won’t just please the Grizzlies and his sponsors, it also sends a positive message for a city filled with an overwhelming amount of negativity.

Out with the tough-guy routine, in with the family man reputation.

Call me naive for thinking Morant has the influence and ability to change Memphis even in the slightest, but being optimistic that someone could impact the city in a positive way is a mindset Memphians may need to adopt.

Follow Mark Harris on Twitter @ItIsMarkHarris

Written by Mark Harris


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  1. I agree but doubt that “role model” transformation will happen. Nothing in the national racial climate suggest that it will. MJ and Kobe are gone … LBJ sees himself as an outspoken activist and Steph Curry is “not from the ‘hood”. Who has the chops to have a “Come To Jesus” intervention with Morant?
    As for crime-ridden cities … those stats can be / are as misleading as one’s agenda requires. I doubt the fine folks in Germantown are as concerned as Memphis-area residents 5 miles further west in “urban Memphis”. Same with St Louis … St Louis is supposed the Worst Crime in America but folks “In the County” are largely unaffected. Simply stay out of the well-known scary parts of town. That city fathers do nothing about those “dark and scary neighborhoods” is another issue all together. … same with Chicago of course.

    • Excellent point Re: Barkley. Comparing Morant to Brandon Miller or the DT at UGA might be more apt. These guys come from a lifetime in a culture that is very different from mine and likely most Outlike viewers. They deal with conflicts differently. Why do these guys make decisions that seem STOOPID to us … but were consistent with their life experiences. When their cultural reactions are viewed in a prism of middle class white rules … ?????

      … I’m really NOT making excuses for them. Just trying to figure out WHY they do what they do … Someone pays you $200,000,000 and you risk all that by acting like an urban thug on a street corner in South Central LA ???

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