Jazz guard Mike Conley says ‘everything just feels backwards’ in his return to Memphis

(Eric Walden | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jazz guard Mike Conley meets with members of the Memphis-based media, and greets Grizzlies employees and FedEx Forum workers upon his first return to city on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.

Memphis, Tenn. • The Utah Jazz did not hold a traditional pregame shootaround Friday morning before playing the Grizzlies. But point guard Mike Conley nevertheless showed up to the FedEx Forum that morning, having agreed to meet with members of the media he’d dealt with over the previous dozen years as a member of the Grizzlies for his first return back to the city.

As he emerged from the tunnel flanked by Jazz PR members, he stopped to greet by name some employees of the organization, and workers in the arena, and even some of those aforementioned reporters.

The adulation he received from every well-wisher made apparent just what an unquestioned understatement it was later when he opined that he hoped he’d been able to make an impact upon the community that went beyond the basketball court.

While he acknowledged the sense of familiarity that stemmed from seeing all the old faces and places he used to know, he also referenced the bizarreness of now coming at it from a different angle.

“It was really weird, I'm not gonna lie. Everything just seems backwards,” Conley said. “I used to come in the players' entrance, now I'm coming in a different entrance. I've never been to the away locker room before, so I'm interested to see that. Staying at the hotel across the street is different. But, you know, seeing a lot of familiar people and faces is bringing me right back.”

The Q&A certainly was dominated by nostalgia.

Asked what moments and montages he would pick if he got to direct his own video tribute, he replied that he hopes the actual one “has a lot to do with the teams I was on and is not just solely about me. I think a lot of the things I was able to accomplish here are because of the guys I played with.” Then he referenced his famed return to Game 2 of the 2015 Western Conference semifinals, in which he took the court wearing a face mask after missing three games due to suffering multiple facial fractures in Game 3 of the Grizzlies’ first-round series vs. Portland.

“Just coming back here and seeing everybody in the crowd had a mask on — I never expected that ever in my life,” Conley said. “That was special, a super, super special moment.”

That then led to him discussing having just met up with old Grit ’N Grind running mate Tony Allen. And a back-and-forth about good friend Dillon Brooks having taken over Conley’s old locker. “I’ll let him have it,” Conley joked. “Hopefully he treats it right.”

Asked what old haunts he was making it a point to see, the guard said he didn’t bother making a list, knowing he wouldn’t have nearly enough time. Instead, after arriving Thursday night, he and his family grabbed some dinner, then he stayed in an watched some basketball and football on TV — “things I would do on a normal day before a game.”

And normalcy has definitely been in short supply of late. While he called his new home of Salt Lake City a great place for both basketball and to raise a family, he conceded he was still getting used to many things, the altitude among them, to say nothing of the surprise he felt at there not actual being around-the-clock snowfall between September and June, as he’d been led to believe.

Given that, he acknowledged feeling “anxious” at having his return to Memphis come so early in the schedule, fully expecting he would not be fully acclimated yet. Alternately, he expressed excitement about the Jazz’s scheduled return trip on Nov. 29, figuring the hype will by then be out of the way, and the atmosphere will resemble something closer to just another game.

Still, he knew there was getting away from Friday’s inherent differentness. Asked if he expected to get emotional upon being introduced and acknowledged by the Memphis crowd, he didn’t bother trying to play it cool.

“I’m pretty sure I will. It’s tough. I kinda get emotional just being in the building right now,” Conley said. “You say you’re not going to cry, you’re not do all that. But I have no idea what’s gonna happen.”