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Why do the Memphis Grizzlies Play in the Western Conference?

Why do the Memphis Grizzlies Play in the Western Conference?

While the NBA is made up of 30 individual teams across the United States and Canada, it is further divided up by conferences and divisions. Respectively, the NBA is broken out into the Western and Eastern Conferences, with 15 teams being allocated to each individual conference.

Drilling down even further, the NBA is also broken down into 6 individual divisions. There are three divisions, made up of 5 separate NBA teams, within each conference.

And while NBA divisions are not as widely discussed as NBA conferences, they do play an integral part in scheduling of games and eventual playoff contentions.

And while most NBA teams are broken out by Eastern or Western Conference based on their geographical location, some teams are not. Most notably from this list are the Memphis Grizzlies, who happen to play in the Western Conference, though they are geographically located in the eastern half of the United States.

But just why do the Memphis Grizzlies play in the Western Conference and does their being in the Western Conference and division create an unfair advantage for other teams in the Western Conference?

What Are the Two NBA Conferences?

As stated above, the NBA is broken up into two separate conferences, the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Both conferences consists of 15 teams, further organized into three divisions of five teams.

The current divisional and conference alignments were adopted back in the 2004-05 season with the introduction of the NBA’s 30th franchise, the Charlotte Hornets.

The current Eastern Conference teams, in alphabetical order, are below:

Atlanta Hawks
Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets
Charlotte Hornets
Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Miami Heat
Milwaukee Bucks
New York Knicks
Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers
Toronto Raptors
Washington Wizards

Similarly, the current Western Conference teams, in alphabetical order, are below:

Dallas Mavericks
Denver Nuggets
Golden State Warriors
Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Lakers
Memphis Grizzlies
Minnesota Timberwolves
New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns
Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings
San Antonio Spurs
Utah Jazz

What Are the Six NBA Divisions?

As stated above, each conference is evenly divided between three divisions, each with five individual franchise NBA teams.  For the Eastern Conference, the three divisions are outlined below:

  • Atlantic
  • Central
  • Southeast

Atlantic Division

The Atlantic Division is, historically, one of the stronger divisions within the Eastern Conference.  Consisting of the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors.  The Atlantic Division is, perhaps, best led by the Brooklyn Nets for the 2021-22 season.  Led by the likes of Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets are a formidable team and are favorites to reach the NBA Finals.

Central Division

The Central Division has lost much of its former glory, though they are beginning to rebuild their reputation behind their recent champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.  However, the Central Division, consisting of the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and the Milwaukee Bucks were once a more dominant division. 

With NBA greats having played in the division, including Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Reggie Miller, Isaiah Thomas, to name just a few, the division has a number of championship trophies and legendary games.  And with the Bucks unlikely victory in last year’s NBA season, the Central Division is an up-and-coming division once more.

Southeast Division

The Southeast Division is one of the most fun divisions to watch in the entire league, however it is not a particularly strong or powerful division.  The division consists of the Atlanta Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets, the Miami Heat, the Orlando Magic, and the Washington Wizards.

Perhaps the two best teams in the Southeast Division are none other than the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat.  However, we believe that the Miami Heat have the greatest likelihood of winning the division, followed closely by the Atlanta Hawks, led by their prolific guard Trae Young.  

Similar to the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference also has three divisions within the conference.  These divisions are divided into the following:

  • Northwest
  • Pacific
  • Southwest

Northwest Division

The Northwest Division has some formidable teams within its roster.  This division includes the Denver Nuggets,  the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trailblazers, and the Utah Jazz.  And with players such as Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard within the division, they are one of the most fun and dynamic divisions in the entire league.

Pacific Division

In our humble opinion, the Pacific Division is the strongest division in the league in the 2021-22 NBA season.  With the likes of the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns, and the Sacramento Kings within the division, it is not only a formidable one but also a top contender for the NBA Final’s trophy.

Between Steph Curry, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kawahi Leonard, and Anthony Davis, the Pacific Division is extremely stacked and is highly likely to win the NBA Finals this year and for many years to come.

Southwest Division

The Southwest Division was one of the strongest divisions in the NBA.  Consisting of the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets, the Memphis Grizzlies, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the San Antonio Spurs, the Southwest Division has lost much of its former glory with the demise of the San Antonio Spurs since the retirement of their three superstars.

However, there are still many reasons to watch this division, including Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic.  And, as stated above, division leadership can change quickly and rapidly, particularly with a strong draft pick or trade.

Where is Memphis Located?

Memphis is a city in Tennessee, seated in Shelby County and situated alongside the Mississippi River. It has a population of just over 633,000 according to the 2020 U.S. census and is the second-most populous city in Tennessee, following Nashville.

In addition, Memphis is home to Tennessee’s largest African American population, with the city playing a prominent role in the American Civil Rights Movement and was, unfortunately, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination.

Memphis is widely considered by many to be a center for both media and entertainment. With blues clubs lining the main thoroughfares, the city has been nicknamed “Home of the Blues”.

Which Division do the Memphis Grizzlies Play In?

As a member of the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies play in the Southwest Division. The Southwest Division is located in the South Central United States and consists of five teams. The Memphis Grizzlies currently play in FedExForum.

The five teams, including the Memphis Grizzlies, are the Houston Rockets, the New Orleans Pelicans, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Dallas Mavericks.

The Southwest Division was created at the start of the 2004-05 season with the expansion of the NBA from 29 teams to 30.

Consisting of some of the most competitive teams in the NBA, the Southwest Division has seen multiple NBA championships, most notably from the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.

Ok, so Why do the Grizzlies Play in the Western Conference?

To understand why the Memphis Grizzlies play in the Western Conference and not the Eastern one, it is important to understand the history of the team. Originally established as the Vancouver Grizzlies, the team was a Canadian professional basketball team based out of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Initially, the team was part of the Midwest Division of the Western Conference. And when established, the NBA also established the Toronto Raptors within the Eastern Conference. This was done as a way to push the NBA’s popularity into Canada.

However, on March 26, 2001, the Vancouver Grizzlies applied to the NBA to relocate to Memphis. The NBA approved the request on July 3 and the team relocated following the 2000-01 NBA season, keeping the Grizzlies name.

Having been created as an expansion team, the Grizzlies played in Vancouver for six seasons. However, the team performed poorly, only once finishing better than the last team in the Midwest Division and never making the playoffs.

In addition, with the team being located in Canada, the Grizzlies suffered from poor attendance, a weak Canadian dollar, and an unwillingness by many players to live in Canada.

However, the Vancouver Grizzlies were sold in 1999 to Michael Heisley.

Upon purchase, Heisley looked to move the team to the United States, choosing from Anaheim, California, Buffalo, New York, Memphis, Tennessee, New Orleans, Louisiana, Tampa, Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Nevada, and San Diego, California.

Eventually selecting Memphis as the new home of the team, the NBA maintained the team’s conference standings, ensuring an orderly transition and move from Vancouver to Memphis.