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The Memphis Grizzlies’ James Ennis

Ventura, California, raised him, Miami groomed him and now Memphis is his home

In downtown Memphis, the music is loud. The air is filled with soul and rhythm and blues. This is a place where grit meets grind, and where Memphis Grizzlies small forward James Ennis is fitting right in. Ennis was in first grade when he knew he’d play basketball — that was when his father first put a ball in his hand. Ennis is a family guy with five siblings and he adores his parents, who taught him to be afraid of nothing, to not buy into hype, to face adversity head-on and to overcome it quietly. Ask Ennis who’s his fiercest competitor on the court and he’ll tell you that the Chicago Bulls’ Dwyane Wade is the hardest person he’s had to guard. And that’s also him reminiscing about his days on the practice court in Miami when the two were teammates. Now, he’s on the court with Mike Conley facing Wade in a new season — and Ennis, who grew up in a housing project in Southern California — has a new place of business just a block away from historic Beale Street.

What do you do outside of basketball that we don’t know about?

I love playing video games. Call of Duty and Gears of War.

Do you play any of your peers in Call of Duty?

I actually play with Mike Conley on Gears. He called me last night and we played Call of Duty.

Are you an Apple or Android guy?

Apple.

What’s your social media tribe — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter?

Instagram. You get to see pictures of everything. I tweet a little bit, not a lot. Facebook is a scratch now, but Instagram, that’s where it’s at.

“I actually play with Mike Conley on Gears of War. He called me last night and we played Call of Duty.”

Who’s the hardest player that you’ve had to defend?

There’s a lot of good players in the league. DWade. He’s pretty tough to guard. Just his experience, you know, and he’s an All-Star. I like just matching up with people with that experience and that high-caliber player just so I can better my defense and just learn from them. And LeBron [James].

Who’s your fiercest rival team or individual player? Who do you hate to face?

I think no one … I just like to compete, so when it’s time to go out, it’s time to go.

Describe yourself in the offseason.

I go back home [to Ventura, California], stay in L.A., hang out with family, play a lot of pickup with my friends, catch up with them, because I don’t see them during season. I just get my mind right for the following year.

Are you living your dream or do you feel you still have some way to go?

I’m living my dream, but there’s still more that I want to check off. I have high expectations for myself. I want to be an All-Star, so I’ve still got a lot to go. Everybody says once you get in the NBA it’s hard to stay in the NBA, [and when] I hit adversity last year, it felt like I was almost out of the NBA.

Why?

After I got traded from Miami to [Memphis] I didn’t really get an opportunity to play here, so I went to the D-League and … it was tough for me, I was upset, I was tired and I just wanted the opportunity to play in the NBA. What saved me was that call-up by the Pelicans, the nine-game stretch that I played.

“Everybody says once you get in the NBA it’s hard to stay in the NBA.”

What’s the difference, for you, between playing in the D-League and the NBA?

It’s kind of a mental thing and the environment. I went overseas my first year out of college. The D-League is a lot more one-on-one basketball.

Is there is a big difference coming from a major market in Miami to a small market in Memphis?

Not really. I don’t pay attention to all that, I just try to focus on my family, myself and how I can get better and how I can stay in the league as long as I can.

Where do you get your courage?

It’s just what I’ve been through, I guess. I really came from nothing.

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Never give up on your dreams. Anything is possible.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.